Essential Takeaways: 

  • Hormonal weight gain is an intricate phenomenon that affects around 45-60% of women with menstrual cycles (1). 
     
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) adopts a holistic approach to address these hormonal imbalances by emphasizing the restoration of harmony and balance within the body (2). 
     
  • TCM herbs like astragalus root, angelica sinensis, and chaste tree berry have demonstrated promising outcomes in promoting hormonal balance and assisting in weight management (3). 
     
  • By supporting your unique root causes of hormonal weight gain, Cycle Balance works to balance your hormones and ease the symptoms associated with hormonal weight gain. 

Dr. Chloe A. Givens, is a forward-thinking functional pharmacist and Certified CBD Expert. As a passionately curious science communicator, Dr. Chloe is teaching and inspiring others to utilize holistic modalities like herbal medicine to heal all aspects of their unique root causes of disease.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice, hormonal weight gain is perceived as a consequence of imbalances within the body's vital energies, referred to as Qi and Yin Yang. Yin is associated with estrogen, while Yang is akin to testosterone (5). The body continuously strives to maintain a balance between these two elements, but as we age, hormone levels intuitively undergo adjustments, leading to bodily changes like hormonal weight gain. This change in weight can also be attributed to the accumulation of "dampness" within the body. Prolonged dampness can disrupt the normal functioning of organs and systems throughout the body, leading to significant health risks for the kidneys, spleen, heart, and lungs. It’s important to note that higher levels of estrogen (endogenous or exogenous) can cause an increase in unwanted fat storage, water retention, bloating, and ultimately weight gain (2).

The beauty of TCM practice is that it acknowledges the crucial role hormones play in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism and weight management. TCM practitioners meticulously select herbs based on their specific properties and effects on the body, with the goal of regulating hormone levels and improving metabolism. By addressing the underlying causes of hormonal weight gain, which we will discuss in this guide, TCM strives to promote hormone balance, facilitate healthy weight management, and promote overall well-being.

What Causes Hormonal Weight Gain? 

There are a variety of factors that influence hormonal weight gain, including:

Imbalances in Estrogen & Progesterone

 Estrogen assumes a pivotal role in metabolic regulation and weight management. As levels decline, particularly observed during the transformative stage of menopause, a propensity for weight gain ensues. Ironically, elevations in estrogen levels can also contribute to weight gain, further disrupting the complex mechanisms involved in hormonal weight regulation. Alongside estrogen, progesterone emerges as another influential sex hormone, and its diminishing presence manifests in water retention, bloating, and weight gain. Progesterone is also involved in maintaining insulin equilibrium and its deficiency can lead to the emergence of insulin resistance, further discussed below (6).

Androgen Imbalance

 Androgens, namely testosterone, are hormones traditionally associated with masculinity. When their equilibrium falters, these hormones will exert their authority within female physiology by negatively influencing hormonal weight gain. The excessive presence of androgens will result in an increased tendency for the accumulation of body fat, further perpetuating the cycle of hormonal weight gain (7).

Insulin Resistance & Metabolic Dysfunction

 Insulin resistance manifests as a condition marked by the diminished responsiveness of our cells to the influence of insulin. This diminished response causes heightened levels of sugar to accumulate in the bloodstream, and further contributes to metabolic dysfunction (8). The body’s resistance to insulin impedes its ability to orchestrate metabolic processes and harness glucose efficiently. As a result, weight gain arises, and the body's innate equilibrium is further thrown off balance (9).

Thyroid Hormone Deficiency 

Thyroid hormone deficiency, also known as hypothyroidism, is another condition that can cause unwanted weight gain. When the thyroid is underactive, insufficient thyroid hormones will be produced and the body's metabolic rate will decrease. The result is a host of additional symptoms including fatigue, heavy or irregular menstrual cycles, depression, and unwanted weight gain (10).

 Leptin Resistance

Leptin is a hormone synthesized by our adipose cells and helps regulate both hunger and metabolism. In the presence of leptin resistance, the body's sensitivity to leptin’s influence diminishes, resulting in heightened cravings and a decrease in energy expenditure. Consequently, this can contribute to weight gain and pose challenges in achieving weight loss in the future (11).

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome encompasses several interconnected conditions including elevated blood pressure, hyperglycemia, and dysregulated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. This syndrome not only heightens the propensity for weight gain but also increases the risk of obesity-related complications in the future. This state arises from perturbed metabolic pathways and the disarray of hormonal equilibrium, further exacerbating the complexities surrounding weight regulation (12).

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by a multifaceted interplay of genetic, hormonal, and reproductive factors. This complex disorder afflicts women during their reproductive years (age 15-49), and 1 in 10 women in the United States will be affected. This disorder is often associated with irregular or painful menstrual cycles, hair loss, hormonal acne, insulin resistance, infertility, and even obesity. Because this disorder impacts the hormones, elevated levels of insulin, androgens, and estrogen can all be experienced, further leading to unwanted weight gain (9). If left untreated, PCOS can even lead to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Because PCOS is a disease state that requires a holistic approach to healing, lifestyle modifications and diet must be at the core of treatment to support long-term hormone and insulin balance. If you’d like to learn more about PCOS from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, you can find more information here, here, and here.

Pituitary Disorders

The pituitary gland assumes an essential role in regulating hormone production and maintaining equilibrium of the endocrine system. There are several disorders that can disrupt the synthesis and release of hormones produced by the pituitary, and this results in dysregulated metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, and weight management (13).

Growth Hormone Deficiency

Human Growth hormone (HGH) is a multifunctional hormone that is responsible for maintaining physiological harmony within the body. It is produced by the pituitary gland, as well as locally by the ovaries, and contributes to both lean body mass and reduced fat mass. GH is involved in the regulation of male and female fertility, and when deficient, the scales of weight tend to tip towards excess weight gain. This deficiency further amplifies hormonal weight gain and future difficulty losing weight, particularly around the midsection (13).

Cortisol Excess

Cortisol is the conductor of our body's response to stress and is produced by the adrenal glands. With persistent and prolonged exposure to stressful stimuli, the adrenal glands become fatigued, cortisol levels rise, fat storage increases, and metabolism wanes, causing unwanted weight gain (14). 

Prolactin Excess

Prolactin is another hormone made by the pituitary gland and is primarily involved with milk production in women. During pregnancy, prolactin causes the breasts to grow, allowing for adequate milk production after birth (6). Levels are typically high during pregnancy and postpartum, and low for nonpregnant women and for men. However, when there is an abnormal excess of prolactin circulating, a condition known as hyperprolactinemia occurs. This condition can be caused by several different factors including excess estrogen and hypothyroidism. These imbalances contribute to a disrupted metabolism and unsurprisingly, additional weight gain.

While many women may experience similar signs and symptoms associated with hormonal weight gain, most likely the condition will manifest differently for each unique individual (7). This is why a proper diagnosis is essential to not only determine the underlying cause of hormonal weight gain but to ensure equilibrium can be restored to the body.

What are the Signs & Symptoms Associated with Hormonal Weight Gain?

 Any of the following signs and symptoms can be present with hormonal weight gain. It’s important to remember that each person is unique, therefore your symptoms will most likely look a bit different from someone else’s (15).

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Acne
  • Amenorrhea, characterized by a missed or absent menstrual period
  • Menorrhagia, characterized by abnormally heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding
  • Hirsutism, characterized by excessive hair growth in a typical male pattern
  • Galactorrhea, characterized by milky breast discharge in non-pregnant or non-breastfeeding women
  • Thyroid goiter, characterized by the enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • Proximal muscle weakness, characterized by symmetrical weakness in the upper and lower limbs
  • Central obesity, characterized by a specific pattern of weight gain that manifests as an increase in abdominal and visceral fat

Are there Additional Risk Factors Associated with Hormonal Weight Gain?

 Some of the risk factors associated with hormonal weight gain include:

  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Insufficient physical activity can disrupt hormonal balance and contribute to weight gain (16). 
  • Aging: Hormonal imbalances become more prevalent as women age, particularly during the menopausal phase.
  • Genetics: A family history of hormonal imbalances can heighten the risk of experiencing hormonal weight gain.
  • Diabetes: Managing diabetes through insulin treatment may result in weight gain if insulin intake surpasses daily energy expenditure (17).

Again, it is important to acknowledge that hormonal imbalances vary in their impact on each unique individual. For this reason, consulting a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis is essential in uncovering the underlying causes of your hormonal weight gain.

How is Hormonal Weight Gain Diagnosed?

Consulting an endocrinologist can provide valuable insights into whether a hormonal condition is the root cause of your weight gain. While laboratory tests can offer valuable information when combined with overall presentation, they may not provide a complete picture (6). Blood and urine results can be influenced by various factors, therefore, specialized evaluations to establish the correlation between metabolic information and the laboratory data may be necessary (16). During a healthcare consultation, a physical examination may be conducted, along with inquiries about symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle habits. Blood tests can be ordered to assess hormone levels, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones. Imaging tests like ultrasounds or MRIs might also be employed to investigate potential tumors or abnormalities in the endocrine glands. Once the underlying cause of hormonal weight gain is determined, the healthcare professional will devise a treatment plan. In TCM practice, a treatment plan may incorporate lifestyle adjustments, herbal tinctures, and complementary therapies to restore hormonal balance and promote healthy weight management.

Medical tests used to diagnose hormonal weight gain include:

  • Blood tests 
  • Urine tests
  • Saliva tests 
  • Imaging tests like ultrasounds or MRIs 

Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Hormonal Balance

TCM values a holistic approach to health, focusing on the interplay between the body, mind, and spirit. This integrative methodology acknowledges the impact the external environment, our flow of Qi, and the equilibrium between Yin and Yang forces has on our overall well-being (18). TCM also acknowledges the body's inherent ability to self-heal and employs strategies to restore this balance and nurture this natural healing process. By addressing the root cause of health issues like hormonal weight gain, TCM practitioners develop personalized treatment plans in collaboration with patients, promoting comprehensive well-being beyond simply managing symptoms. Herbal medicine is also the mainstay of TCM practice, and herbal formulas like Cycle Balance® can significantly help balance hormones and aid in healthy weight management.

TCM Herbs for Hormonal Balance & Weight Management

A plethora of herbs exists within TCM practice that can be harnessed for their potential in weight loss and hormonal equilibrium. Some of the renowned and frequently employed herbal allies in this pursuit are listed below.

For Insulin Regulation & Metabolic Support
  • Lotus leaf (He Ye): Lotus leaf offers several benefits for weight management and hormonal balance including reducing levels of fat in the blood, helping lower high blood pressure, and reducing dampness throughout the body, all of which are contributing factors to hormonal weight gain (19). 
  • Poria (Fu Ling): Fu Ling mushroom filaments are known for their ability to alleviate stress, fatigue, and anxiety, all of which are associated with hormonal weight gain (20). By promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation, Fu Ling can help combat hormonal weight gain and help restore harmony throughout the body (12).
  • Astragalus root (Huang Qi): Used successfully for thousands of years, astragalus root is an adaptogenic herb known for bolstering the immune response, regulating digestion, kickstarting metabolism, reducing inflammation, and increasing energy levels. It has been studied to work best when used preventatively and taken regularly (5).
  • Hawthorn fruit (Shan Zha): This TCM herb can help lower cholesterol levels, remove stagnation within the colon, decrease high blood pressure, and reduce inflammation throughout the body (21).
  • Bitter melon (Karela, Momordica Charantia): Known for its hypoglycemic effect, bitter melon can help improve glucose tolerance, lower cholesterol, and reduce adiposity, all of which can contribute to hormonal weight gain (22).
  • White peony root (Bai Shao): This highly esteemed TCM herb is celebrated by herbalists for its emotional stabilization and mental focus properties (23). It is also recognized for its immune-boosting benefits, all of which contribute to balanced hormones, reduced premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, and healthy weight management.
For Estrogen & Progesterone Balance
  •  Dong Quai (Dang Gui) (Angelica Sinensis): Studied to help regulate menstruation, angelica sinensis contains anti-inflammatory properties that improve blood flow, decrease water retention, and ultimately reduce PMS symptoms like bloating and hormonal weight gain (24).
  • Goji Berry (Gou Qi Zi): Rich in key nutrients and antioxidants, goji berry supplementation can help reduce inflammation, protect the body against oxidative stress, boost the immune system, and balance hormones in support of healthy weight management (4).
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea Villosa): Wild yam contains diosgenin, a phytoestrogen that can be converted into progesterone (25). Progesterone plays a key role in regulating the menstrual cycle, so wild yam naturally helps balance hormones and reduce the risk of hormonal weight gain. It is also known for relieving menstrual cramps and reducing inflammation.
  • Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex Agnus-Castus): In a 2017 review study, chasteberry was found to be effective in treating PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (26). It also demonstrated the ability to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and decrease the frequency and duration of migraine attacks associated with these conditions (27). Additionally, research suggests that chasteberry inhibits gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in the hypothalamus, leading to the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland (2). This hormonal regulation subsequently influences estrogen and progesterone production in the ovaries, leading to balanced hormone levels and reduced PMS symptoms.
For Thyroid Health & Weight Control
  • Cyperus (Cyperus Rotundus): Found to help reduce weight gain and lower stress hormones, cyperus can aid in proper glucose metabolism, lipid metabolism, and help improve digestion (17).
  • Rehmannia (Rehmannia Glutinosa): Studies suggest that rehmannia may help prevent postmenopausal obesity from occurring (28). This herb also supports adrenal function, balances hormones, and reduces inflammation throughout the body, all of which can help reduce hormonal weight gain.

Each meticulously formulated Cycle Balance® formula integrates TCM herbs that not only promote hormonal balance but supply the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle. Diverging from the conventional approach of simply managing symptoms, Cycle Balance® embraces the potency of whole herb extracts to support your cycle and nurture whole-body wellness. Wondering how to properly take Cycle Balance®? You can learn more here.

Herbal Precautions & Considerations 

As with any aspect of your menstrual health journey, prevention and treatment will always be patient specific. While TCM herbs are generally safe, they can potentially trigger side effects or interact with other medications in specific situations (29). Make sure you engage in a thorough discussion regarding any potential side effects or interactions with your trusted TCM practitioner and prescribing doctor, prior to commencing treatment. In essence, TCM herbs wield a safe and effective approach for addressing the causes of hormonal weight gain and helping restore harmony to your cycle.

Support Grounded in Ancient Wisdom & Proven by Modern Science

 For generations, herbal medicine has stood as the cornerstone of ancient Chinese tradition. This integrated approach to whole-body healing is the same methodology Elix implements to create your personalized Cycle Balance® formula. To achieve the utmost efficacy from your unique tincture, consider integrating the tenets of lifestyle medicine like daily movement, wholesome nutrition, restorative sleep, stress management, nurturing social connections, and grounding experiences spent in nature. These time-tested modalities work synergistically to harness your body's vital energy and ultimately restore equilibrium to help heal your hormones. If you’re feeling empowered to uncover the root cause of your symptoms and truly regain control of your menstrual cycle, take our Health Assessment online to discover your tailored formula and receive 20% off your first supply.

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  26.   Mahmoud. Rafieian-Kopaei, Rafieian-Kopaei M, Movahedi M, Minoo. Movahedi. Systematic Review of Premenstrual, Postmenstrual and Infertility Disorders of Vitex Agnus Castus. Electron Physician. 2017;9(1):3685-3689. doi:10.19082/3685
  27.   Liu J, Liu J, Burdette JE, et al. Isolation of linoleic acid as an estrogenic compound from the fruits of Vitex agnus-castus L. (chaste-berry). Phytomedicine. 2004;11(1):18-23. doi:10.1078/0944-7113-00331
  28.   Lee YH, Jin B, Lee SH, et al. A Herbal Formula HT051, a Combination of Pueraria lobata and Rehmannia glutinosa, Prevents Postmenopausal Obesity in Ovariectomized Rats. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:8641535-8641535. doi:10.1155/2017/8641535
  29.   Hasani-Ranjbar S, Nayebi N, Larijani B, Larijani B, Abdollahi M. A systematic review of the efficacy and safety of herbal medicines used in the treatment of obesity. World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15(25):3073-3085. doi:10.3748/wjg.15.3073

This article was reviewed by Dr. Jessica Ritch.

Dr. Jessica Ritch is a board-certified and fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologist who specializes in the management of benign gynecologic conditions such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. She completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, where she was selected as chief resident and received the prestigious AAGL Outstanding Resident in Minimally Invasive Gynecology award.

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