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Dietary Intake and Hormones

Many individuals are aware of the vast health benefits when they modify their diet and adopt Paleo.1, 2, 3, 4 However, much of that awareness stems from how we feel overall, not specific recognition of a body process or system.5, 6, 7, 8 However, the hormones secreted by our endocrine system has vast importance to our overall physical health, mental health, and well being.9, 10 Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig has made quite a splash in the nutrition world, assuming a notable role in battling the current pandemic of obesity and disease, which we all face.11, 12 My hope is more endocrinologists step up to the plate.

If you look to the scientific literature, studies comparing hormonal responses to different dietary approaches are abundant.13, 14, 15 One study found that vegans had higher testosterone levels than vegetarians and meat-eaters, but this was offset by higher sex hormone binding globulin. In the same study, there were no differences between diet groups in free testosterone, androstanediol glucuronide or luteinizing hormone.16 Another study found a decrease in dietary fat content and an increase in the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids reduces the serum concentrations of androstenedione, testosterone and free testosterone among male participants.17 Small dietary considerations like substituting varying amounts of saturated fats to unsaturated fats, can have tremendous hormonal results.18, 19, 20

Other researchers have found that diet type, adipokines, and gut signals, affect the presence and activity levels of hypothalamic microglia in obesity. Body weight, however, did not play a role.21 This is important, because the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus plays a key role in sensing metabolic feedback and regulating energy homeostasis.22 The microglia have been found to be higher in number and more active in mice with high–fat diet induced obesity. This should make clear just how important hormonal response to diet can be. For better or worse, your hormones run your life. If they’re not happy and functioning well, you’re not happy and functioning well.

In fact, even scientists are somewhat baffled, as to the overall complexity and intricacies of the endocrine system, and, more specifically, how diet can affect it.23, 24, 25, 26 One recent study summed it up nicely:

“Research continues to unravel the pathways and mechanisms underlying the nutrient-induced and diet-induced regulation of energy intake, as well as the changes, both peripherally and in the central nervous system, brought about by the consumption of high-fat, energy-dense diets. Much further work is required to translate this knowledge into novel, and effective, approaches for the management and treatment of obesity and associated metabolic disorders.”27

It’s important to note here that, almost always, researchers refer to the typical Western diet which is actually high fat and high sugar, as simply ‘high fat.’28 This is extremely frustrating trend from a research point of view, as it clouds the public’s judgment.

Just a few months ago, researchers found that uric acid may play a direct, causative role in the development of metabolic syndrome.29 The metabolic syndrome may be the biggest health problem for the world at large.30, 31 Since GLUT9, a glucose transporter, is part of the issue with uric acid, we must think about how this can affect our hormones, and how, by limiting glucose in the diet, we can help to better control our hormones.32 Thus, lowering our risk for disease.

I know it may seem like a complex problem, but as scientific research progresses, the findings clearly show the benefits of a low stress, healthy, nutrient-rich and sleep filled, lifestyle.33, 34 This is shown in a variety of fields of research, not just in the scope of endocrinology. Though not all of the research in all fields has been conducted, no doubt the Paleo Diet and lifestyle is likely to come out on top.

Other research has shown a possible role of diet leading to alterations in serum testosterone and free testosterone during prolonged strength training. They concluded that diets with insufficient fat and/or excessive protein may compromise the anabolic hormonal environment.35 For men looking to keep their body healthy and muscular, especially over the course of a lifetime, this is vital information, and they should consider a Paleo Diet where proteins and fats are balanced.

Another interesting study showed increased levels of leptin, when subjects consumed most of their carbohydrates at dinner. This simple change shows how humans can feel more full, and thus, more easily stick to a diet and maintain weight loss, by manipulating your hormones through diet.36

If the issue of hormones and dietary intake seems complex, unclear, and confusing – you are correct. What is known, and clear in the scientific literature, is that eating whole, real foods, in healthy concentrations, and getting lots of sleep and limiting stress – is beneficial for your entire endocrine system. A Paleo Diet and lifestyle is the safest and easiest way to control your hormones, and improve your quality of life.


[1] Loncarević-vasiljković N, Pesić V, Tanić N, et al. Changes in markers of neuronal and glial plasticity after cortical injury induced by food restriction. Exp Neurol. 2009;220(1):198-206.

[2] Schoffen JP, Santi rampazzo AP, Cirilo CP, et al. Food restriction enhances oxidative status in aging rats with neuroprotective effects on myenteric neuron populations in the proximal colon. Exp Gerontol. 2014;51:54-64.

[3] Smulders TV, Shiflett MW, Sperling AJ, Devoogd TJ. Seasonal changes in neuron numbers in the hippocampal formation of a food-hoarding bird: the black-capped chickadee. J Neurobiol. 2000;44(4):414-22.

[4] Quercia S, Candela M, Giuliani C, et al. From lifetime to evolution: timescales of human gut microbiota adaptation. Front Microbiol. 2014;5:587.

[5] David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014;505(7484):559-63.

[6] Weimer PJ, Waghorn GC, Odt CL, Mertens DR. Effect of diet on populations of three species of ruminal cellulolytic bacteria in lactating dairy cows. J Dairy Sci. 1999;82(1):122-34.

[7] Barkeling B, Linné Y, Lindroos AK, Birkhed D, Rooth P, Rössner S. Intake of sweet foods and counts of cariogenic microorganisms in relation to body mass index and psychometric variables in women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002;26(9):1239-44.

[8] Barella LF, Miranda RA, Franco CC, et al. Vagus nerve partially contributes to metabolic syndrome in high-fat diet fed young and adult rats. Exp Physiol. 2014;

[9] Keizer HA, Kuipers H, De haan J, Beckers E, Habets L. Multiple hormonal responses to physical exercise in eumenorrheic trained and untrained women. Int J Sports Med. 1987;8 Suppl 3:139-50.

[10] Available at: // Accessed December 1, 2014.

[11] Lustig RH. Fructose: it’s “alcohol without the buzz”. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(2):226-35.

[12] Swinburn BA, Sacks G, Hall KD, et al. The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments. Lancet. 2011;378(9793):804-14.

[13] Gagnon J, Baggio LL, Drucker DJ, Brubaker PL. Ghrelin is a Novel Regulator of Glucagon-like Peptide-1 Secretion. Diabetes. 2014;

[14] Galland L. The Gut Microbiome and the Brain. J Med Food. 2014;


[16] Allen NE, Appleby PN, Davey GK, Key TJ. Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men. Br J Cancer. 2000;83(1):95-7.

[17] Hämäläinen E, Adlercreutz H, Puska P, Pietinen P. Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men. J Steroid Biochem. 1984;20(1):459-64.

[18] Mul JD, Begg DP, Barrera JG, et al. High-fat diet changes the temporal profile of GLP-1 receptor-mediated hypophagia in rats. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013;305(1):R68-77.

[19] Massimino SP, Mcburney MI, Field CJ, et al. Fermentable dietary fiber increases GLP-1 secretion and improves glucose homeostasis despite increased intestinal glucose transport capacity in healthy dogs. J Nutr. 1998;128(10):1786-93.

[20] Prieto PG, Cancelas J, Villanueva-peñacarrillo ML, Valverde I, Malaisse WJ. Effects of an olive oil-enriched diet on plasma GLP-1 concentration and intestinal content, plasma insulin concentration, and glucose tolerance in normal rats. Endocrine. 2005;26(2):107-15.

[21] Gao Y, Ottaway N, Schriever SC, et al. Hormones and diet, but not body weight, control hypothalamic microglial activity. Glia. 2014;62(1):17-25.

[22] Coppari R, Ichinose M, Lee CE, et al. The hypothalamic arcuate nucleus: a key site for mediating leptin’s effects on glucose homeostasis and locomotor activity. Cell Metab. 2005;1(1):63-72.

[23] Myers MG, Leibel RL, Seeley RJ, Schwartz MW. Obesity and leptin resistance: distinguishing cause from effect. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2010;21(11):643-51.

[24] Manninen AH. Metabolic effects of the very-low-carbohydrate diets: misunderstood “villains” of human metabolism. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2004;1(2):7-11.

[25] Betts JA, Richardson JD, Chowdhury EA, Holman GD, Tsintzas K, Thompson D. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(2):539-547.

[26] Barrett JR. The science of soy: what do we really know?. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(6):A352-8.

[27] Feinle-bisset C. Modulation of hunger and satiety: hormones and diet. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2014;17(5):458-64.

[28] Kuo LE, Czarnecka M, Kitlinska JB, Tilan JU, Kvetnanský R, Zukowska Z. Chronic stress, combined with a high-fat/high-sugar diet, shifts sympathetic signaling toward neuropeptide Y and leads to obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1148:232-7.

[29] Debosch BJ, Kluth O, Fujiwara H, Schürmann A, Moley K. Early-onset metabolic syndrome in mice lacking the intestinal uric acid transporter SLC2A9. Nat Commun. 2014;5:4642.

[30] Lemieux MJ, Aljawadi A, Moustaid-moussa N. Nutrimetabolomics. Adv Nutr. 2014;5(6):792-4.

[31] Agrawal R, Gomez-pinilla F. ‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition. J Physiol (Lond). 2012;590(Pt 10):2485-99.

[32] So A, Thorens B. Uric acid transport and disease. J Clin Invest. 2010;120(6):1791-9.

[33] Klonoff DC. The beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on type 2 diabetes and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2009;3(6):1229-32.

[34] Rupp TL, Wesensten NJ, Bliese PD, Balkin TJ. Banking sleep: realization of benefits during subsequent sleep restriction and recovery. Sleep. 2009;32(3):311-21.

[35] Sallinen J, Pakarinen A, Ahtiainen J, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Häkkinen K. Relationship between diet and serum anabolic hormone responses to heavy-resistance exercise in men. Int J Sports Med. 2004;25(8):627-33.

[36] Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011;19(10):2006-14.

Casey Thaler, B.A., NASM-CPT, FNS

Casey Thaler is a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist.

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