How Do Hormones Cause Belly Problems?

Changes with hormones like cortisol, estrogen, and insulin can have different effects.

Hormones are chemical messengers made by groups of cells called endocrine glands. These messengers have roles in body growth, mood, and reproduction.

Some hormones can also play a role in digestion and metabolism—and hormonal changes can affect make these and other processes slow down or speed up.

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If digestion or metabolism get faster or slower, it can cause belly-focused issues: A person might end up with weight gain (e.g., around the stomach area) or gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (e.g., constipation). When hormonal changes lead to belly issues, it's sometimes called hormone belly.

Here's more about hormonal effects on your belly and what to do to ease any symptoms.

Hormones and Their Effects Involving the Belly

A few hormones can make things go awry with your belly.

Thyroid Hormones

Thyroid hormones come from the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. These hormones help manage:

  • Weight
  • Body temperature
  • Muscle strength
  • Mood

While fewer thyroid hormones can slow things down in the body, more thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) can speed things up. The result is GI symptoms like constipation or frequent bowel movements.

Another effect of thyroid changes is hormone belly (also called hormonal belly). Hormone belly is not a medical term. But it usually refers to having more fat around the area of the stomach due to the ups and downs of hormone levels.

When thyroid levels are too low (hypothyroidism), a person might gain weight around their midsection. Researchers found that those with lower thyroid hormone levels had higher fat mass as well as thicker fat around their stomach areas.

Sex Hormones

One study found that most people experience one or more GI symptoms before or during their period. That's because estrogen and progesterone, two sex hormones, play a role in controlling your menstrual cycle.

Before your period arrives, your progesterone levels spike after ovulation. Then, your estrogen levels dip just before your period. But when your period ends, your estrogen levels start increasing again.

As their levels go up and down, GI issues can follow. For example, when estrogen levels are high, a person might experience decreased GI motility—or slower movement of food through their system—resulting in bloating.

Hormonal changes can also cause or worsen issues related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS comes with symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.

And when a person reaches menopause, they have lower levels of estrogen but higher levels of androgens, another sex hormone. The differences between these hormone levels can also lead to hormone belly since low estrogen and high androgen lead to more stomach fat.

Stress Hormones

Cortisol and adrenaline are well-known stress hormones. To help your body respond to stress, the amounts of these hormones get higher when you are more stressed.

As a result, stress can do a number on a person's digestive system. High or long-term stress might result in GI symptoms like:

  • Bloating
  • Gassiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that comes from the pancreas. Its main role is to make sure your blood sugar is balanced. When the body has a hard time responding to insulin, it's called insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance has been linked to more stomach fat. This link suggests that if your body is resisting insulin, you might end up with hormone belly.

What To Do When Hormones Cause Belly Problems

Based on the issue, there are ways to get potential relief from belly-related symptoms due to hormonal changes.

If stress is the problem, finding ways to reduce stress (e.g., reading a book, going for a walk) may help with any GI symptoms you have. And if you're under a lot of stress, you might also benefit from seeing a mental health professional for talk therapy or stress relief methods.

Being physically active can also be helpful for dealing with different hormones. For example, exercise can lead to lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. You may also be able to reduce hormone belly with exercise. Getting enough exercise can help people manage their blood sugar and weight overall.

Medical treatments may be needed for problems coming from thyroid hormones and sex hormones related to menopause.

For thyroid issues, a person may need to take medicines to replace thyroid hormones or to decrease thyroid hormone levels. Hyperthyroidism might also call for the use of radioiodine therapy (for getting rid of cells that produce thyroid hormones) or surgery to remove a part of the thyroid.

With menopause, a healthcare provider may recommend hormone therapy, where a person may be prescribed one or more of the following:

  • Estrogen
  • Progestin (a kind of progesterone)
  • Testosterone (sometimes)

But if your belly symptoms related to hormones impact your daily life, see a gastroenterologist, an OB-GYN, or a certified menopause practitioner.

A Quick Review

Different hormones in your body—like thyroid or sex hormones—can affect your body inside and out. These effects can include GI symptoms and hormone belly.

There are ways to get relief from these effects, such as managing stress and becoming more physically active. However, if you still have concerns about your hormone levels and their effects, consult a healthcare provider.

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