What is Leptin?
Ever catch yourself saying “I try to eat healthy, but I’m just hungry all the time and have put on weight!”
If this is you, let me introduce to you a hormone called leptin. You’ve probably heard the term, but aren’t really sure what it means but understanding the role this hormone plays in weight management will help you curb your appetite, significantly reduce food cravings, decrease body fat, and most importantly, improve your health and general wellbeing.
When you learn how to Increase leptin levels and decrease leptin resistance, you will be on your way to a healthier and slimmer you, something we all aspire to.
Leptin is a very important polypeptide hormone that regulates feelings of hunger and satiety and signals the hypothalmus that there are adequate energy (fat) stores. The hypothalamus then stimulates metabolic processes that results in weight loss.
Leptin determines when you are hungry and when you are full. It is produced by fat cells (adipocytes) which specialise in storing energy as fats, so the more overweight you are, typically, the higher your leptin levels.
Before the discovery of leptin in 1994, fat used to be thought of as just excess mass. Researchers now realise fat is actually an active organ that produces leptin and other hormones as well as various inflammatory molecules.
When you are not overweight, your fat cells produce and release leptin in correct amounts. This “tells” the brain the body is fed and energy stores are adequate. In turn, your appetite is controlled and reduced and you will eat less and your weight does not increase.
But if your diet is wrong, you consume food containing refined, processed carbohydrates that breakdown into sugar quickly, your brain stops listening to the leptin signal and in turn the signal to stop eating is delayed and you overeat. Your body fat cells continue to produce more and more leptin, creating a vicious cycle. This physiological problem is called leptin resistance.
Scientists are increasingly pointing out that weight gain and obesity are not caused simply by eating too many calories and the lack of willpower. Leptin resistance is now believed to be the main factor of fat and weight gain in people.
So if you’re always hungry and trying to eat healthier food and lose weight but you can’t, chances are you have leptin resistance and you should definitely embrace a healthy leptin diet.
There is also another hormone that plays an important role in the energy balance regulation. It’s called ghrelin. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that have been recognised to have a major influence on energy balance. Leptin is a mediator of long-term regulation of energy balance, suppressing food intake and thereby inducing weight loss.
- slower acting hormone
- known as "satiety hormone"
- made by fat cells
- gives signal to the brain when you are full
- leptin resistance is often a problem
- fast acting hormone
- known as "hunger hormone"
- plays role in meal initiation
- when the stomach is empty, ghrelin is secreted
- spikes 4 hours after fasting so don't skip meals
Ghrelin on the other hand is a fast-acting hormone, seemingly playing a role in meal initiation. As a growing number of people suffer from obesity, the circulating level of the hormone leptin is increased, whereas surprisingly, the level of the ghrelin is decreased.
Leptin plays an important role in regulating the metabolism and regulates how much energy (food) we are going to “let in”. When leptin level is low, we get hungry and crave food. The level increases as we eat food. Eventually, when the level is high enough, our brain receives a signal that we are full.
Take-Home Message 1: High levels of leptin stimulate the release of appetite suppressing chemicals so we start feeling full but if you are resistant to leptin you will keep eating and putting on weight.
Symptoms and Consequences of Chronically High Leptin
Many people these days are leptin resistant and have health problems tied to this issue. Uncontrollable cravings, late night and stress eating are the most “visible” symptoms of poor leptin control. The other symptoms may include:
- Weight gain
- Urge to snack soon after meals
- Fatigue especially after eating
- Increased blood pressure
- Frequent anxiety
- Sugar cravings
- Increase in triglycerides
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Inability to lose weight no matter how much you exercise
- Lack of motivation
Recent research clearly indicates that leptin resistance is the key risk factor for obesity. High leptin levels are also associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as blood sugar related problems and consequently another import health issue – insulin resistance.
In a recent study, scientists from China confirmed that serum leptin concentration is an important predictor of insulin resistance and other metabolic risks irrespective of obesity levels. They concluded that leptin levels may be used to identify the cardio-metabolic risk in obese and overweight population.
High leptin levels as a result of being overweight are very pro-inflammatory and can lead to inflammatory disease such as arthritis and diabetes. Leptin is probably much more important to your heart health than cholesterol but generally doctors know very little about it.
When your leptin level is high and you suffer from leptin resistance your fertility can be affected, you will most likely age faster, gain weight and won’t be able to lose it easily. It can eventually lead to obesity and all the problems associated with it.
Leptin Resistance – Why Can’t I Lose Weight?
Leptin hormone is produced by fat tissues in the body. The more fat a person has, the more leptin they have in their system.
You would think people who are overweight would never feel hungry – after all, they have all that extra food and fat to burn. But carrying excess fat can actually make you more hungry.
The body is slow in adjusting leptin levels when a person gains or loses weight. The brain also becomes less sensitive when the levels remain high for long periods of time. This reduced sensitivity is known as leptin resistance.
This condition can result from repeatedly going on crash diets. Leptin levels are less sensitive to overeating and much more sensitive to starvation. When a person is dieting, their leptin levels will decrease rapidly, causing hunger but when a person overeats, the levels respond much slower, making it easier to eat too much. This physiological response helps the body to prevent starvation, but it is not helpful in preventing excess weight gain.
Leptin and Weight Loss
When people fall into a cycle of overeating followed by crash diets, they lose sensitivity to leptin and it results in leptin resistance. This makes it more difficult to lose weight and maintain the metabolism at a proper, healthy level.
Researchers have been looking for a way to overcome leptin resistance and ultimately help with weight loss. They have found that the key to reversing it, is making lasting health changes through good diet and exercise.
When overweight people attempt to lose weight, leptin resistance makes it very difficult to do so. The body takes a long time to adjust to the proper leptin level when a person reduces calories which causes a person to feel hungry because they are dieting.
High triglyceride levels have been shown to block leptin to pass through the blood brain barrier to tell you that you are full. Diets high in alcohol, sugars and carbohydrate-rich foods, such as breads, pasta, rice, and potatoes, raise triglycerides considerably.
Stress, overeating and high levels of sugar also hamper the body’s ability to make the proper adjustments, so relax and beware of highly processed foods including most cereals, biscuits and any other highly processed carbohydrate containing foods as they are particularly undesirable and unhealthy.
The video by Dr Cole further explains how leptin resistance impacts your health.
Leptin Supplements – Is There a Quick Solution?
For the last 20 years researchers have been trying to explore leptin as a possible treatment for obesity.
It is quite reasonable to think that if low leptin makes us hungry, supplements for leptin resistance would raise leptin levels and should be able to help us control cravings, overeating and lose weight. This idea was tested in a clinical study in 1999.
Hormone leptin supplements were given to both obese and lean adults. Although leptin did induce small weight loss in some obese people who were given the highest doses, the amount of weight loss was not significant. The study also showed that there was no difference in weight loss between lean and obese patients, which questioned the theory that obese people are more leptin-resistant and demonstrated that leptin pills simply are not effective for weight loss.
Giving leptin only helps in some extremely rare cases in which people make no leptin at all, which causes them to eat far too much and become obese. For the vast majority of people, the treatment does not result in any weight loss.
There is another reason why you should think twice before spending money on so called “leptin supplements” sold on the Internet and in health shops.
Did you know …
- Leptin is a digestible protein that doesn’t enter the bloodstream. Therefore it won’t work when taken as a supplement.
- Leptin supplements don’t actually contain leptin, even though their name often contains the word “leptin”. Instead, these supplements contain ingredients that are aimed at total wellness or general optimum health e.g. essential fatty acids or certain plant extracts. They certainly won’t cause you any harm but they will not help you control leptin resistance in any measurable way.
Take-Home Message 2: Don’t waste money on leptin supplements because they have no base in science and are not likely to help you with weight loss.
Read on about the factors that over time, will help improve leptin response.
UPDATE – June 2014. The research, published in the June 1 issue of Nature Neuroscience, can eventually lead to development of treatments for metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found that the hormone also acts on other types of cells (other than neurons) to control appetite.
“Until now, the scientific community thought that leptin acts exclusively in neurons to modulate behaviour and body weight,” said Tamas Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace professor of biomedical research at Yale School of Medicine.
How to Reverse Leptin Resistance: Leptin Diet and Exercise to the Rescue
There is no drug, nutritional supplements or specific treatment that can help you with this health issue.
The good news is that leptin resistance can be reversed over time by following a good diet and exercise plan. The key to reverse leptin resistance is to adopt a diet that will restore leptin sensitivity.
What does this mean? You need to change your eating habits that typically lead to being overweight. Cut down on sweets and starchy foods, processed foods and fried foods as these result in the loss of sensitivity to leptin. Just follow the following steps to combat this problem.
- Stop going on crash diets. They won't help you lose weight. You will be hungry and unhappy and any weight loss will be temporary.
- Avoid Very-Low-Calorie Diets (1000 cal and under) because as a recent study demonstrates that caloric restriction results in a rapid, profound reduction in circulating levels of leptin. By eating more food, you’ll avoid the diet hormone surges that trigger uncontrollable hunger and the inevitable weight gain that follows.
- Reduce the amount of sugar and processed, unhealthy carbs as well as fried food in the diet. Embrace high-protein foods and low-glycemic carbohydrates.
- Increase Protein. Protein reduces hunger despite the typical decrease in leptin and increase in ghrelin that occur with dieting. Research also suggests that protein improves leptin sensitivity.
- Increase Healthy Fats. Eating more fatty fish such as sardines, herring or salmon may help. Studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids may help fight leptin resistance. If you’re not a fish eater, try to supplement with a high quality, cold-distilled fish oil.
- Exercise on a regular basis. Exercise plays an important part in reversing leptin resistance. When you do exercise, make sure that you concentrate on high intensity training (HIT) and weight lifting. This type of exercise has been proven to be great for weight loss and building your muscles so you can have trim and firm body.
- Sleep is another important factor in reversing leptin resistance. Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc with leptin levels. Getting at least seven hours of sleep per night is important for maintaining good health and also proper leptin levels. In a study of over 1,000 participants, getting less than 8 hours a night reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin and increased body mass index (BMI). Those who slept only 5 hours a night produced 15.5% lower leptin and 14.9% higher ghrelin.
- Ensure Healthy Gut. Science is starting to learn that our gut health can impact many areas of our health, including regulation of weight. A healthy intestine can help control appetite; conversely, leptin and ghrelin imbalances have been observed in gut disorders like colitis. So take good probiotic as this can be helpful as well.
Eating foods that lower insulin levels and increase the metabolism can definitely help. The following are some examples of healthy foods that you can include in your diet to reverse resistance to leptin.
- Unprocessed oatmeal is one of the best foods to increase ones metabolism and reverse leptin resistance. Oatmeal is low-glycemic (low GI) carbohydrate and it lowers insulin levels and is loaded with fibre. Great for breakfast, oats also lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, which is a serious problem for obese people.
- Grapefruit is another food that helps to reduce insulin levels. This helps the body to digest food more quickly and efficiently which results in less calories being stored as fat. It also helps you burn more calories.
- Peppers are an excellent for weight loss. They contain capsaicin, which is a chemical that causes the metabolism to rise. Capsaicin also gives peppers their spiciness. Eating hot peppers causes the metabolism to remain higher for hours after eating them.
- Yogurt is another excellent food for lower insulin and raising the metabolism. Whether Greek or regular yogurt has many benefits and is loaded with protein and calcium. It also helps to regulate the digestive tract. It provides energy to help the body burn more calories.
- Chicken, turkey, and other lean meats have high levels of protein that requires a lot of energy to digest. That causes the body to burn a lot of calories when digesting these meats. Meats supply proteins which aid in building muscle. Muscles burn more fat per pound than fat does.
- Fish like salmon and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower leptin levels. Salmon, mackerel and trout are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. It may be difficult to get enough fish in the diet, so taking a high quality (purified) omega-3 supplement can help increase metabolism as well.
- Green tea is the best drink for losing weight other than water. The caffeine causes the heart rate to accelerate slightly which increases the metabolism. Unlike coffee, which has a much higher caffeine level, it does not cause insulin to spike. Green tea also has a chemical called EGCG which causes the body to burn more calories by stimulating the nervous system.
- Most people would not think of almonds and walnuts as a weight loss food because they are very high in calories. However, eating them in moderation will increase the metabolism because they are loaded with essential fatty acids. Nuts make a great snack food. They also make a great addition to a salad.
- Broccoli is another food that boosts the metabolism. Broccoli is high in vitamin C and calcium. These nutrients work together to help the body burn calories at a higher rate and more efficiently to promote weight loss.
You probably have heard that Green Coffee is a great “drug-free” dietary supplement developed from a blend of herbal extracts and it helps your body to burn fat and calories. Some people believe that this product is very beneficial and helps as an effective appetite suppressant, however it is not likely to have a great effect unless it is used in conjunction with a healthy diet.
Take-Home Message 3: Leptin resistance can be overcome by so-called leptin diet which means eating healthy, metabolism raising foods. Exercise is also vital as well as reducing stress and getting enough sleep every night.
Understanding the role that leptin plays in regulating hunger and the metabolism is an important part of a person’s knowledge of how to attain a healthy body.
If you have issues with hunger, it is probably leptin and ghrelin imbalances kicking in. Don’t count on willpower. Use the ideas above to help you deal with leptin resistance so you can deal with any weight issues you might have.
Let me know if you found this article and advice helpful and whether leptin resistance has been something you are concerned about.