Obesity afflicts one out of three adults in the United States alone, according to the Mayo Clinic, which recommends losing weight through a combination of diet and exercise. In some cases, however, a hormonal problem issuing from a part of the brain called the hypothalamus may have caused those extra pounds. Correcting the imbalance may “reset” the hypothalamus, so the body can lose weight normally again.
Weight and Metabolism
The human body converts the food we eat to heat energy in a process called metabolism. The Mayo Clinic describes metabolism as a complex chain of chemical reactions that produce energy, measured as calories. Individuals have a consistent number of calories they need for their everyday body functions. This level, the basal metabolism, varies from person to person according to size, age and sex. Exercise and the digestion process itself also require energy. A set of glands, controlled in part by the hypothalamus, regulate the routing of energy to body processes.
The hypothalamus maintains the body’s functions at a regular level called a “set point,” according to the Washington University School of Medicine. This set point acts as a kind of biochemical thermostat, maintaining our body functions within a narrow set of parameters. The set point also keeps body weight under control. According to a University of Maryland Medical Center article on hypothalamic dysfunction, the hypothalamus influences the pituitary, which in turn influences the thyroid gland. The Mayo Clinic describes the thyroid as having a huge effect on metabolic processes, including appetite.
The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that a region called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA may affect weight by causing an urge to overeat. The interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands work together to control both mood and hunger. If the HPA emits the wrong balances of certain hormones, people may feel extra “reward” sensations from eating.
Modern science possesses several options for treating hypothalamic problems, depending on the underlying cause. The University of Maryland Medical Center article mentions that if a simple hormone deficiency has caused an imbalance, hormone therapy may “reset” the hypothalamus’s set point to a normal level, allowing for easier weight loss. A tumor of the hypothalamus, on the other hand, may require surgical removal or radiation therapy.
Some health and fitness “gurus” believe that we can reset the hypothalamus without hormone therapy or surgery. An article on the Start Yoga Now website claims that switching to a diet higher in complex carbohydrates, which tend to digest slowly, can sidestep a perceived need by the hypothalamus to store fats. Websites such as Obesity-Protocol.com offer supplements alleged to help people raise metabolism and lose weight, but the Mayo Clinic warns that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot enforce safety standards for over-the-counter dietary supplements and advises anyone seeking to lose weight to first get a professional medical opinion.