Hormones and weight gain

If you are someone who has gained weight despite maintaining a healthy diet and doing regular exercise, you are not alone. Eating less and working out more is not all that drives weight loss. More often than not, unexpected weight gain is caused by hormonal imbalances in our body. Hormones control how fast you gain weight by consuming a certain amount of calories. That is why fixing your hormones may help in losing weight and reaching a healthy BMI.

What's Inside?

Which are the hormonal conditions that cause weight gain?

1. PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome)

PCOS is a condition caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones in women. In many cases, the higher levels of male hormones (androgens) in the body than is normal. A recent study stated that upto 70% of women with PCOS have not yet been diagnosed.It is most common among women in their reproductive years.

It has been observed that PCOS is associated with insulin resistance, which is a diminished ability of insulin in the body to process glucose obtained from food and convert it to energy.

PCOS is identified by:

  • Presence of cysts in ovaries
  • Elevated levels of male hormones (androgens)
  • Missed or irregular periods


You can read more on PCOS and how it is related to weight gain.

2. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland gland produces insufficient quantities of thyroid hormones (T3, T4). Every other part of the body is directly or indirectly affected by the quantity of thyroid hormones produced because they directly affect metabolism. So, an underactive thyroid that produces less than required quantities of thyroid hormones leading to a reduced metabolism. Accumulation of excess salt and water leads to an increase in weight.

Studies have shown that hypothyroidism is more common among women than among men.

3. Hyper-prolactinemia

Hyperprolactinemia is a condition of excess production of the hormone prolactin by the pituitary gland. This hormone is essential for maintaining lactation in breastfeeding mothers. An excess production of this hormone has been commonly associated with a corresponding weight gain because it leads to a reduction in the ability of fatty tissue to store fat and sugar which may then be deposited in the blood and tissues.

The presence of too much prolactin (>99 ng/ml) is suggestive of pituitary adenoma, which is the development of a non-cancerous tumour in the brain.

4. Stress

Unknown to many, stress can be responsible for weight gain. Our bodies respond to stress by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol temporarily suppresses functions that are non-essential, such as your digestive, immune, and reproductive responses, slowing down metabolism and leading to weight gain. Cortisol also creates junk and sugar craving, worsening stress eating and weight gain.

How do physicians diagnose the conditions above?

  • When you visit a physician, your visit will ideally include a discussion with the doctor around your present bothersome symptoms. 
  • Your health providers will perform a physical examination to look for any obvious signs of your disorder such as acne or hirsutism for instance. They will also check your weight, BMI and hip to waist ratio . These values are useful indicators of the presence of fat in your body. 
  • Besides your menstrual history, the gynaecologist or healthcare providerwill also ask about your present medical or surgical history and if any of these conditions run on your family. 
  • In most cases, hormonal blood tests( FSH, LH, E2, Testosterone, TSH, PRL) will be requested for conclusive diagnosis. The providers may also ask for additional investigations such as an ultrasound.
  • The decision to take all these tests ultimately lies in the hands of the patient.

Do these tests hurt?

Some hormonal tests should ideally be done on the 2nd day of your menstrual cycle for best results. These are blood tests that involve drawing blood via a sterilized needle and are generally done by experts. If the sample is collected by an expert, it should not hurt more than a slight needle prick. At Proactive, we are working towards creating home-test kits that enable you to take blood tests at your home.