Maybe you’ve just read my blog about the hormone Leptin and how it’s sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Now I need to give you a heads up about another hormone that affects your weight, calorie intake, and those darned sugar cravings. Most importantly, I want to tell you what you can do about it.
Ghrelin is a wonderful hormone that says, “Hey feed me. It’s time to eat.” Ghrelin gets your gastric acid juices flowing in preparation to eat. Found mainly in the gut, ghrelin increases before a meal and, when all things are right in the world, decreases after a meal. The gist of it is ghrelin makes you hungry and leptin lets you know you are full. Studies suggest that people with more body fat are more sensitive to the signals of ghrelin. When you crash diet the blood level of ghrelin rises and you experience cravings for high-calorie, sugary foods. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is actually a good thing. Ghrelin says, “Hey, we aren’t getting what we need. Go eat some carbs.” Ghrelin also favours the storage of belly fat since crash dieting and yo-yo dieting give the message to your system that you are starving, you better store some fat, just in case. The effect of ghrelin is one of the main reasons crash diets lead to weight gain.
When functioning properly ghrelin stimulates hunger before a meal and drops afterwards, letting you know you are full.
Excess fat may increase sensitivity to ghrelin because there may be more receptors for this hormone in a person who is overweight. This person may be getting stronger “I’m hungry!”messages than a leaner person gets.
Dieting increases levels of ghrelin causing cravings for high-calorie foods, which if indulged, lead to thwarted weight loss efforts.
Elevated levels of ghrelin also encourage the accumulation of belly fat or muffin top. This type of fat storage is correlated to hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and fatty liver.
Your gut affects your brain chemistry, hormones, and your weight.
Many scientists call the gut the “second brain.” This makes sense if you think about it. We absorb almost all of our nutrients in the small intestine and it is these very nutrients that allow our brains to make chemicals that determine our mood, the way we focus, and how motivated we are to do things. The chemical messengers in our brains determine everything we do. If our gut health is compromised, so too is our brain – ultimately, our hunger and satiety hormones will stop working properly.
Ghrelin helps manage Inflammation in the Gut.
When we eat a high processed-food diet, colonies of bad bacteria in our gut have a party and multiply. These nasty bacteria produce a toxin called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) that causes inflammation in the intestine. One of the jobs of ghrelin is to fight inflammation in the gut and clear your body of LPS. Unfortunately, once the ghrelin hormone is elevated it signals that you are hungry for high-calorie foods, and so the cycle continues. We have already learned that people with a higher percentage of fat cells are leptin insensitive and so their brains do not get the message that they are full. When leptin and ghrelin are imbalanced, the mechanism signalling satiety is switched off and the mechanism signalling hunger is switched on. No wonder the cards seem stacked against us when we try to lose weight.
Zombie apocalypse in your gut. It is quite possible there is a war going on in your gut. On one hand, you have the super hero Ghrelin trying to make your gut better by reducing inflammation and preventing the gut from allowing toxins to enter your blood stream. On the other hand, these sneaky little critters produce LPS. LPS has been linked to blocking leptin (the satiety hormone) from entering the brain, disrupting the hormone insulin, favouring fat accumulation in the abdomen, and decreasing ghrelin to further the survival of the bacteria.
Hormones never act alone. There is a delicate balance between hormones, gut health, and body fat. Remember, your fat cells produce hormones and are affected by hormones. Bacteria in the gut have a direct effect on hormone health, how you absorb your nutrients, and your ability to lose weight.
Symptoms of the Zombie bacteria in your gut:
- Waking up without hunger
- Restless sleep, not waking up feeling rested
- Always feeling hungry
- Intense cravings for high calorie, processed, sugary foods
- Strong desire for everything to taste sweet
- Being satiated after a meal but hungry 20 minutes later
Follow these 5 steps to rebalance your gut flora and hormones:
- Eat a fibre–rich, whole foods diet. Aim for 40-60 grams of fiber every day— beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains (not whole wheat), some fruits, and lots of vegetables.
- Balance your meals to promote blood sugar and hormone balance. Start by limiting sugar, processed foods, and limiting your total fat intake to 30%.
- Take a good probiotic and digestive enzymes as recommended by your health care professional. This friendly flora can improve your digestive health and reduce inflammation and allergies.
- Test yourself for food sensitivities.Eliminate the most common food allergens for 12 weeks – dairy, gluten, yeast, eggs, corn, soy, and peanuts. After 12 weeks, reintroduce them, one at a time, to see if they cause symptoms. This is an effective way to identify the foods that may be causing problems in your gut.
- Get your vitamin D level checked and treat accordingly; Vitamin D puts a lid on inflammation in the gut and your entire system.
Many people come to me with digestive complaints, chronic fatigue, insomnia, night sweats, thyroid problems, and unexplained stubborn weight gain. No matter what their complaint or symptom my bottom line recommendations remain the same: heal your gut, eat whole foods, balance your blood sugar, eat more fibre, remove excess sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. Isn’t that a no-brainer? Not really. When you are up against a wall, and you’re so darned tired that eating breakfast is a chore, then you need support. For precisely this reason, I’ve developed my 12 Week Body Beautiful Weight Loss & Nutrition Program for Every Body. Click for more details. The next program starts Wednesday October 7th from 6 – 7 p.m. Let’s not let the zombies win!
- Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist http://goo.gl/IOFQlL
- Mark Hyman, MD http://goo.gl/XElw3t
- ^Ghrelin-Driven Weight Ghrelin-Driven Weight Gain is TRying to Protect Against Digestive Inflammation Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. Hyland NP, Chambers AP, Keenan CM, Pittman QJ, Sharkey KA.
- ^The Story of Ghrelin and Obesity PNAS Ralf M. Nass, Bruce D. Gaylinn, Alan D. Rogol, and Michael O. Thorner.
- ^Ghrelin Raises Desire for High-Calorie Foods Annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in San Diego, 2010. Tony Goldstone, et al.
- ^Food Cravings, Pleasure, Ghrelin, and Stress Eating Michopoulos V, Loucks T, Berga SL, Rivier J, Wilson ME.
- ^Ghrelin Links NPY and Growth Hormone Activation PLoS ONE Guillaume Osterstock,, Pauline Escobar, Violeta Mitutsova, Laurie-Anne Gouty-Colomer, Pierre Fontanaud, François Molino, Jean-Alain Fehrentz, Danielle Carmignac, Jean Martinez, Nathalie C. Guerineau.
- ^Ghrelin is Intimately Involved in Digestive Tract Repair PLoS ONE. Wu R, Dong W, Ji Y, Zhou M, Marini CP, Ravikumar TS, Wang P.
- ^Ghrelin Helps Combat LPS Toxicity Soriano RN, Nicoli LG, Carnio EC, Branco LG.
- ^Ghrelin Helps Protect Against Stress-Induced Leaky Gut J Neurotrauma. Bansal V, Ryu SY, Blow C, Costantini T, Loomis W, Eliceiri B, Baird A, Wolf P, Coimbra R.
- Lin, H. (2004). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 292:852-858.
- ^LPS Tries to Knock Out Ghrelin Activation Stengel A, Goebel M, Wang L, Reeve JR Jr, Taché Y, Lambrecht NW.
- ^LPS Causes Insulin Resistance Osto M, Zini E, Franchini M, Wolfrum C, Guscetti F, Hafner M, Ackermann M, Reusch CE, Lutz TA.
- ^LPS Toxicity Inhibits Leptin Entry Into Brain Brain Res. Nonaka N, Hileman SM, Shioda S, Vo TQ, Banks WA.