Men are not strangers to belly fat. “Beer gut” is an all too familiar term and is a problem for many men. It can be caused by several factors including age, genetics, and lifestyle habits. Sometimes, it’s caused by hormones. A hormonal belly can be stubborn to get rid of. It grows with age and is associated with long-term health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even some cancers (15). In this article we’ll review which hormones are responsible, the problems they cause for men, and how to improve a hormonal belly.
Hormones Responsible For Lower Belly Fat In Men
There are several hormones that may contribute to the accumulation of excess belly fat in men. They include:
The Thyroid Gland produces two different hormones, T4 and T3, which are responsible for your basal metabolic rate. When the body needs more energy, these hormones work to increase the basal metabolic rate. A faster metabolism increases fat burning (18).
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones for the body’s needs. One of the changes that can happen with hypothyroidism is a slower metabolism which leads to an accumulation of belly fat (18).
Cortisol regulates blood pressure and blood sugar levels along with systemic responses to stress (5).
Under normal circumstances, cortisol is released in a natural daily rhythm known as the cortisol curve. Levels of cortisol begin to rise in the early morning and peak in the early evening allowing for a burst of energy and attention when needed most during waking hours.
In some people with high levels of constant stress, however, cortisol is released at a constant rate. One of the results of this can be an accumulation of abdominal fat. The excess cortisol can also contribute to insulin resistance or even diabetes (5).
Research shows that abdominal fat cells are highly sensitive to cortisol and chronic exposure increases the amount of fat stored in the belly (5).
Fat cells release a hormone called leptin to reduce appetite when the stomach is full or stops releasing it to increase appetite when fat stores are low (11).
When a person has leptin resistance, his brain never gets the message that he is full, so he tends to overeat. This can result in increased abdominal fat (11).
When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose which is then used for energy or stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver. The pancreas releases insulin to transport the glucose from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for energy (9).
If you have insulin resistance, your pancreas must secrete more and more insulin to deal with the blood sugar. When insulin levels are high all the time, it can lead to abdominal obesity (9).
The female hormone, estrogen, is present at lower levels in men than women which is one reason why men naturally have more muscle mass than women.
Low levels of estradiol (a type of estrogen hormone) in men may contribute to abdominal obesity (3).
Research has also found that abnormally high levels of estrogen in men may also cause weight gain (3).
Testosterone is responsible for secondary male characteristics such as muscle mass, body hair, and deep voice (12).
When a man loses testosterone levels which naturally happen with age he will generally lose muscle strength. This can lead to weight gain despite physical exercise because the metabolism slows down naturally with age (12).
In addition to weight gain, low testosterone levels have been associated with low energy levels, muscle mass decline and fatigue (12).
How Do You Get Rid Of Hormonal Belly Fat?
The approach to fixing hormonal belly fat in men is simple: fix the underlying hormone problem.
In most cases, this means going through the appropriate diagnostic testing with a healthcare provider to determine if a hormonal imbalance is present. For example, hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by a simple blood test.
Once the underlying hormonal imbalance is determined, it is important to fix the problem at its root with proper medical treatment. Supplements are sometimes used to help balance hormones but in most cases, hormone replacement therapy is necessary.
It is also important to address the underlying hormonal imbalance with a healthy lifestyle. This will allow for long-term weight management and a lower risk of hormone imbalances going forward.
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Lifestyle Changes For Losing Hormonal Belly Fat
A healthy lifestyle can help you lose hormonal belly fat. It includes:
Eating The Right Amount Of Calories
Base your calorie consumption on your resting metabolic rate. This can be determined by using special formulas that will give you the exact amount of calories your body needs for basic daily functions.
Eating too much or not eating enough can both cause belly fat. While it’s obvious why eating too much leads to gain, not eating enough can also cause gain because the body goes into “starvation mode” where it tries to conserve calories and reserves (1).
Eating More Whole Foods And Less Processed Ones
A few studies have shown that whole foods are more effective at reducing belly fat than processed ones (21). Less processed meats, vegetables, and fruits can help reduce abdominal fat because they provide the body with essential vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.
On the other hand, highly processed foods, such as chips and cookies can cause belly fat because they contain:
- Added sugar
- Added salt
- A lot of fat and calories
In addition, processed foods can contain trans fats which have been linked to a variety of health problems.
Cutting Back On Refined Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a necessary part of a healthy diet, but some types can contribute to weight gain. Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, have been stripped of their natural fiber content. This makes it easier for the body to convert them into glucose quickly and use as energy. It’s often more energy than your body needs immediately, so the excess is stored as fat.
When your diet has too many refined carbohydrates, it can lead to insulin resistance over time (8). In turn, this may cause the body to store more fat in the abdominal area which increases the risk for hormonal belly fat.
On the other hand, whole grain carbs like brown rice and oatmeal still contain their fiber and as such will keep you feeling full longer. When you eat whole grains, you typically feel full on a smaller, more appropriate portion size. They also have a lower glycemic index and will provide a slower, more sustained source of energy which.
Eating More Protein
A high protein diet has been linked to reduced abdominal fat storage (17).
Some studies have shown that consuming 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day can help reduce fat mass and maintain muscle mass, along with other positive health outcomes (17).
It is important to note however that the results were not the same for all groups in these studies, so there is no definitive amount or type of protein to eat in order to lose hormonal belly fat.
However, one commonality among these studies is that plant-based proteins and lean meats were linked to an increased amount of fat loss compared to diets high in red and processed meats. Some research also points to the potential importance of meal-specific quantities of protein (25-30 grams at each meal, for example) (17).
Drinking More Water
This is thought to be because increased water intake improves digestion, reduces appetite, and boosts metabolism. Moreover, the researchers point out that drinking water before a meal can also help reduce the amount of food eaten (19).
In addition, water is calorie-free which means that it will not contribute to weight gain like sugary drinks or alcohol could.
If you don’t like water and find it bland, try adding a slice of lemon or cucumber to give it some flavor.
Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol; both can cause weight gain because they contain a large number of calories and no nutritional value (14).
Sugary drinks are also linked to insulin resistance which is one of the main causes of hormonal belly fat.
Limit Salt Intake
Excess salt can cause water retention, which may lead to weight gain and abdominal bloating (10).
When you eat too much salt it can also increase your blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to greater risk of heart disease and stroke (10).
High blood pressure and chronic stress often go hand in hand. Cortisol can contribute to increased belly fat and insulin resistance and having too much of it in the body for a long time is linked to health problems such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and type-2 diabetes (4).
A regular exercise routine can be used for hormone balancing and weight loss, particularly hormonal belly fat. Some studies have shown that exercising for as little as 80 minutes per week can prevent weight regain following weight loss (6).
Regular physical activity not only helps you lose weight but it also boosts metabolism, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, and reduces stress which is closely linked to abdominal fat accumulation (7).
It is important to note, however, that people with hormonal imbalances may need medical treatment alongside lifestyle changes.
The best way to become more active is by integrating physical activity into your daily life. This could involve taking short walks throughout the day, going for a jog in the evenings, or keeping active at home by doing household chores.
Aerobic exercise is the type most doctors would recommend for people with hormonal imbalance. It includes working out at a moderate intensity, such as walking or jogging. This helps reduce belly fat by increasing the number of calories burned and increasing metabolism rate.
Strength training is also particularly effective at reducing belly fat because it helps build muscle and increase your body’s metabolism (20).
It is also beneficial because it is known to increase metabolic rate for several hours after a workout is finished. In addition, it may increase testosterone production which could help you burn more fat in the abdominal area.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress is one of the leading causes of belly fat. Long-term stress can cause your body to produce excess cortisol which increases your appetite and drives your cravings for bad foods such as junk food and fast food (13).
In addition, this excess cortisol directly contributes to weight gain because it promotes abdominal fat storage (13).
To reduce stress, try getting more sleep, taking up meditation or yoga, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.
Getting Adequate Sleep
Lack of sleep is one of the major factors behind increased stress levels which can cause hormone imbalances, weight gain and mood changes (16).
A study of over 1,000 people found that lack of sleep was associated with higher ghrelin levels and increased feelings of hunger. Ghrelin is a hormone which causes us to feel hungry (2). As a result, people who do not get enough sleep may be hungrier and more likely to overeat, especially on high-carbohydrate and high-sugar foods.
Poor sleep is caused by a number of factors, including:
- Bright lights at night (phones etc.)
- Loud noises interrupting sleep
- Going to bed too late.
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night can help avoid these issues and keep your hormones balanced (22). Improving your sleep hygiene can help you get more quality rest each night which will allow for better hormonal balance and weight loss. Some tips include:
- Going to bed at the same time every night
- Only using your bed for sleep (not reading or watching TV)
- Staying away from electronics (phones etc.) at least an hour before bed (use that time to meditate/stretch instead).
- Keeping your bedroom cool and dark
- Keeping the room free of external noises.
Stress can also disrupt your sleep so finding ways to reduce it is also important in getting the right amount of rest each night. Some helpful tips for reducing stress include:
- Yoga and stretching
- Meditation and breathing exercises
- Talking to a therapist
You may also want to talk to your doctor about prescription sleeping aids that are safe to use in moderation. It’s important not to rely on medication for sleep, however, since it can be habit-forming and cause other health problems.
The Bottom Line
Hormonal belly in men is caused by more than just fat gain. It’s sometimes the result of complex hormonal changes which can lead to a number of health problems. A belly that once seemed normal may not be so healthy anymore and should be taken seriously as a sign of potential health concerns.
Fortunately, it is possible to improve this problem with lifestyle changes that help the body get rid of excess fat.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Adaptive thermogenesis in humans (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Chapter 24: Estrogens and Body Weight Regulation in Men (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cortisol, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome: A cross‐sectional study of obese subjects and review of the literature (2013, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Cortisol dysregulation: the bidirectional link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise Training Prevents Regain of Visceral Fat for 1 Year Following Weight Loss (2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment (2004, academic.oup.com)
- Insulin and Insulin Resistance (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Is too much salt harmful? Yes (2019, link.springer.com)
- Leptin resistance: underlying mechanisms and diagnosis (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) d
- Physiology, Testosterone (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Stress, Cortisol and Abdominal Fat (2004, stress.org)
- Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk | Circulation (2010, ahajournals.org)
- THE DANGERS OF VISCERAL FAT – Endocrine News (2013, endocrine.org)
- The impact of stress on body function: A review (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance (2015, academic.oup.com)
- The thyroid gland – Endocrinology – NCBI Bookshelf (2001, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle‐aged and Older Adults (2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Weight training appears key to controlling belly fat | News | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (2014, hsph.harvard.edu)
- Whole Grains Fight Belly Fat (2008, webmd.com)
- Why you only need 7 hours of sleep (2015, sleepeducation.org)