A variety of conditions can unbalance a person’s hormones. This disruption can lead to hormonal belly, which is excess weight gain around the stomach.
Sometimes, excess fat around the belly is due to hormones. Hormones help regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism, stress, hunger, and sex drive. If a person has a deficiency in certain hormones, it may result in weight gain around the abdomen, which is known as a hormonal belly.
In this article, we discuss the different causes of hormonal belly and treatment options.
The thyroid releases hormones that help to control metabolism, which is the way the body uses energy. As a result, these hormones affect each organ in the body.
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. When this happens, many of the body’s functions slow down.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), a common symptom of an underactive thyroid is weight gain, often around the abdomen.
The American Thyroid Association state that the weight gain may not necessarily be due to the build up of fat but may be due to the accumulation of salt and water.
A doctor can prescribe levothyroxine, which is a medication that mimics natural thyroid hormones.
A person can expect to lose less than 10% of body weight as most of the weight gain with hypothyroidism is the accumulation of salt and water.
However, once a person’s thyroid levels are in the typical range, their ability to gain and lose weight is the same as those without hypothyroidism.
Cortisol helps the mind and body manage stress and plays a key role in the fight-or-flight response. When a person feels anxious or stressed, the body often goes into survival mode.
When this happens, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol, which triggers the body to store more fat. The body often redistributes this fat to the stomach, chest, and face.
However, according to the NIDDK, if the body continues to produce high levels of cortisol for an extended period, it can lead to more severe conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Cushing’s syndrome can be very serious, and symptoms include:
- fatty hump between a person’s shoulders
- increase in fat around the base of a person’s neck
- thin legs and arms
- easy bruising
- weakened muscles
- purple stretch marks along the abdomen, hips, under the arms, and breasts
Certain drugs, especially glucocorticoids, may cause Cushing’s. Pituitary tumors can also cause this disease.
Treatment depends on the cause. If a person has Cushing’s syndrome, treatment may include drug changes or surgery to remove a tumor.
However, if cortisol levels increase due to stress, a person can try some natural ways to reduce it.
Learn how to reduce cortisol levels naturally here.
The fat cells release a hormone called leptin. Leptin targets nerve cells in the brain, particularly the hypothalamus, and triggers a feeling of fullness.
According to an older study, the leptin levels in the body correlate to the amount of fat the body has stored. Higher leptin levels tell the brain that a person has stored enough fat, triggering the feeling of fullness after eating.
People with overweight tend to have lots of body fat in the cells and high levels of leptin. In theory, the brain should know that the body has stored enough energy.
However, if the signaling between leptin and the brain is not working, leptin resistance can occur.
Doctors do not fully understand what causes leptin resistance, though genetic mutations and changes in brain chemistry may play a role.
For this reason, doctors may recommend lifestyle interventions to reduce inflammation, such as exercise or eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
However, research on leptin resistance is relatively new, so no specific remedy offers certainty for treating this symptom.
Some causes of a hormonal belly in males are as follows:
Low testosterone levels
Testosterone is the most important male sex hormone, although females produce it too. Testosterone is the hormone that helps determine typical male characteristics, such as body and facial hair.
It also promotes muscle growth in both genders. According to the Urology Care Foundation, testosterone is a hormone that can decrease as males age. A deficiency can halt muscle growth and lead to weight gain.
One study found that 30% of men with obesity had low testosterone levels.
Testosterone deficiency can occur due to certain medical conditions, such as Noonan syndrome. It can also occur due to damage to or the removal of the testicles.
Other causes can include infection, autoimmune conditions, chemotherapy, and pituitary gland disease.
As well as weight gain, testosterone deficiency can cause the following symptoms:
A doctor may prescribe testosterone supplements or recommend lifestyle changes, such as more exercise and a reduced-calorie diet.
According to a 2016 article, in males, estradiol is essential in modulating the libido, the production of sperm, and erectile function.
Low levels of estrogen can cause low sexual desire and excess fat around the belly.
However, according to a 2018 article, high estrogen levels can cause weight gain in males under 60.
A doctor may recommend dietary and lifestyle changes, alongside medications.
Learn more about estrogen and weight gain here.
The following are causes of hormonal belly in females:
Polycystic ovary syndrome
According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is common, affecting approximately 1 in 10 females of reproductive age.
According to the OWH, females with PCOS may have higher levels of androgens, or male hormones, and higher insulin levels, which is a hormone that affects how the body turns food into energy.
As a result, people may gain weight, particularly around the abdomen.
Other symptoms of PCOS include:
- irregular menstrual cycle
- thinning of the hair
- darkening of the skin
- skin tags
Hormonal birth control methods may help treat PCOS in females who do not want to become pregnant.
Drugs such as metformin may ease insulin resistance.
Dietary changes, especially the elimination of foods that cause blood sugar spikes, can also help.
Learn more about PCOS, endometriosis, and weight gain here.
When a person enters menopause, estrogen levels drop.
According to one 2014 review article, reduced estrogen levels can increase abdominal fat in menopausal women.
A person can also exercise regularly and maintain a healthful diet.
Period-related fluid retention
Some people retain fluid during their period. This can cause bloating, especially in the stomach, and temporary weight gain.
The researchers did not find a correlation between fluid retention and hormone levels, suggesting something else might explain this phenomenon.
A person can try dietary and lifestyle changes to help reduce fluid retention and bloating during menstruation.
Reducing belly fat requires a person to treat the underlying cause.
A combination of diet and exercise may help symptoms.
A person can perform exercises that burn fat, such as running, walking, and other aerobic activity. Reducing the calories a person consumes can also help.
A person may gain weight around the abdomen due to hormonal deficiencies and imbalances.
The conditions that cause hormonal belly weight may also cause other health problems.
Hormonal deficiencies may require treatment, so it is a good idea to see a doctor for a diagnosis.
Treatment may include hormone replacement therapy, medications, or lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.