Leptin: What Is It & Why Should We Care?
In the past 20 years or so, science has realised that leptin plays a major role in the increasing trend of obesity around the globe. Have you heard of leptin? I hadn’t, but when I found out more, it turned everything I thought I knew about weight loss upside down.
Weight loss and obesity have been considered truly insurmountable challenges for millions of people. According to the World Health Organization, “In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, are overweight. Of these, over 600 million are obese.”
Obesity is an extremely emotional and physical battle with many serious and even fatal complications. The University of Maryland Medical Center states, “Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for a number of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, gallbladder disease,osteoarthritis, and respiratory disorders.
With risks like these, why does obesity remain such an epidemic? Doesn’t the risk of disease and death outweigh the desire or need to overeat? As we all know, food can be an addiction, just like any other. But why? Why do people become addicted to food and worse, remain addicted after short bouts of successful weight loss?
Beyond the risks and scare tactics, there exist fad diets, quick-cleanses and silver bullet programs. They have flooded our televisions, radios and magazine pages for decades. Still none of these are truly solving our obesity problem. People try fitness programs, surgery, and restrictive diets yet they still fail again and again… and again.
How is this possible? Why do scientifically-proven diet and exercise programs fail to keep obesity at bay in the long-term? Why do people not make a chance when they are aware of the risk of disease and death that comes along with obesity?
Researchers have finally taken a look at the hormone leptin and its effects on our appetite, metabolism and energy processes. This little hormone, which works extremely well in the bodies of wild animals, may be causing some distress in the bodies of humans. Let’s take a look.
What is Leptin?
Leptin is a hormone that plays a major role in the regulation of your body’s energy intake and expenditure. This means leptin has a direct say in how your appetite, metabolism and hunger signals operate.
Leptin is created in your adipose tissue, a.k.a. fat. According to Precision Nutrition, this hormone is secreted into your circulatory system and travels up to your hypothalamus, a small but important function center of your brain. Once leptin arrives in your hypothalamus, it communicates to your brain that you’re full and don’t need any more food.
Leptin has been dubbed the “fullness hormone.” It is the one true indicator that signals when you are full and should stop eating. Luckily, the more fat you have and the more food you eat, the more leptin your body produces. Perfect, right? Not quite…
When Leptin Goes Wrong
If you eat too much or have too much fat on your body, your leptin levels will rise. Surely, since this tells your body not to eat any more, we should never become overweight, right? Obviously this isn’t the case. Unfortunately there’s a bit more to it than that.
In 1994, researchers found that when obese mice were given leptin injections, only 5%-10% actually lost weight. The other 90-95% saw no change in weight. It was only the mice who were actually “leptin deficient” that experienced weight loss. Researchers realized that the remaining mice actually developed “leptin resistance”, making the leptin injections ineffective.
As you can imagine, much to researchers’ dismay, this study proved that increasing your leptin levels wasn’t the be-all, end-all solution to obesity. Leptin resistance is a huge barrier to weight loss and is unfortunately very common and easy to develop.
How Do You Develop Leptin Resistance?
Leptin resistance is the result of continuous exposure to high levels of leptin and is very similar to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when excess insulin is produced. This occurs with diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. When you are exposed to too much insulin, your brain stops listening to insulin’s signals.
Leptin resistance works the same way. According to Precision Nutrition, the vicious cycle goes like this:
- Eat more, gain body fat.
- More body fat means more leptin in fat cells
- Too much fat means that proper leptin signaling is disrupted
- The brain thinks you’re starving, which makes you want to eat more
- You get fatter. And hungrier.
- You eat more. Gain more fat
- And so on.
Precision Nutrition explains this well by stating, “...you can have a lot of fat making a lot of leptin, but it doesn’t work. The brain isn’t listening. No drop in appetite. No increased metabolism. Your brain might even think you’re starving, because as far as it’s concerned, there’s not enough leptin. So it makes you even hungrier. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Sugar and Leptin
So as you can see, when you have high fat stores, your body loses its signaling abilities as to whether you are full or not. Unfortunately this isn’t the only thing that causes leptin resistance. High sugar intake may be a culprit as well.
Dr. Richard Johnson, the Head of Nephrology at the University of Colorado, has done numerous studies and found that refined sugar, particularly fructose, is extremely effective at causing leptin resistance in animals. To take it even further, fructose can also stop stop the fat burning process.
Dr. Johnson states, “When you give fructose to animals, they lose their ability to control their appetite, they eat more, and they exercise less. Fructose looks like it’s playing a direct role in weight gain.” Eek, I don’t like the sound of any of this!
This blew my mind when I first read about it. I had to wonder about all my friends who had continuously struggled with weight loss. Was it just that their brains had been leading them astray? Were their diets too high in sugar (including fruits)?
My curiosity aside, I was glad I had some good news to tell them and that is that leptin resistance can be reversed with a proper leptin resistance diet and appropriate exercise.
What is a Leptin Resistance Diet?
I explain this solution in much more detail over on this page but as a quick intro I’ll tell you the following. If you are leptin resistant, you will likely experience frequent cravings and feelings of hunger. Controlling those cravings is the key to your success.
Dr. Oz explains that people with leptin resistance can control weight gain by avoiding simple carbohydrates or foods with sugar and more importantly high-fructose corn syrup. Also, getting adequate amounts of sleep and having tactics for managing your stress levels, can be extremely helpful when it comes to leptin resistance.
One way to really beat your cravings is to eat foods that will keep you fuller, longer. This means eating foods high in protein and fiber. Dr. Oz mentions peanut butter as a “rich source of protein, which has also been shown to help reduce the brain signals that cause cravings.”
Fasting for 12 hours overnight might also help when it comes to managing leptin resistance and cravings. But more on that later.
Sneak Peek into Health Ambition’s Leptin Library
Because I feel like leptin is such an important hormone to understand when it comes to ending the trend of obesity in the world, I’m devoting a whole section of my blog to this specifically.
In this new section of Health Ambition you’ll be able to find my fact-based thoughts about everything you should know about leptin, leptin resistance, starting a leptin diet, and more.
After reading all the basics I shared this post, I’m sure you have many remaining questions. That’s why I’ll go into further detail about low leptin levels and how to raise them.
I’ll also go into further detail about leptin resistance and how to increase leptin sensitivity. And finally, I’ll tell you more about leptin foods and recipes so you can really round out your new found knowledge on this very important topic.
With all this information you’ll be armed with the knowledge and know-how to help yourself, your loved ones or your clients help fight and end obesity in their lifetime. Or if you are a health and fitness guru facing a rut, there’s information for you here too. But first, a sneak peek of the full sections is below.
Section 1: Leptin Resistance and How To Increase Leptin Sensitivity
This Mercola article explains that “The only known way to reestablish proper leptin (and insulin) signaling is to prevent those surges, and the only known way to do that is via diet.” This means no pill or supplement can really save you here, but a nutritious and plant-based diet, low in simple carbohydrates can.
You’ll increase your leptin sensitivity by overhauling your diet. Eliminating sugars, processed foods and high-fructose corn syrup will help get your hormones and your body back in check. A clean diet will help eliminate the fluff and have your brain hearing the correct signals again.
Check out this section of the blog to learn more.
Section 2: Low Leptin Levels
If you aren’t obese or overweight, first I’d like to thank you for reading this far into the article! For one, leptin levels are important for all of us, not just those who are already overweight. Do you feel like you’ve recently been doing everything right?
Maybe you cleaned up your diet, maybe you lost weight, and you started an amazing fitness program that has gotten you well on your way to the results you always dreamed of. Then nothing. Weeks of stagnant weight or even weight gain.
If you have found yourself in this situation, your leptin levels might be too low. According to MaxWorkouts, if you have gone through a long period of exercising regularly, eating healthy eating and restricting your carbohydrate intake, but are now at a standstill, you might be experiencing a leptin deficiency.
Restricting your diet in that way can lower your leptin to a point where it can not effectively burn fat.
Breaking Muscle says that leptin is the “secret key to getting shredded.” While there are probably few of us trying to truly get “shredded,” there’s still reason to take note here. They describe leptin as “quite possibly the most important hormone you have never heard about.
If your leptin levels are not in check, then you will never acquire the leanness of which you are capable.”
More research needs to be done but the possible secret to increasing low leptin levels if you have been on a strict diet is by instating a “cheat day.” Max Workouts explains that allowing your body a day where you increase your healthy carb intake significantly can help boost your leptin levels and fat-burning power.
You can check out more detailed info on this here.
Section 3: Leptin and Weight Loss
When you understand the basics of leptin and leptin resistance, it’s easy to see how this hormone can be a huge help or hindrance in weight control. While the old adage of “calories in, calories out” still stands, our failure to stick to a calorie deficit isn’t a sign of character weakness, but rather the odds are most stacked against us due to hormonal issues.
Dr Rosedale describes it beautifully when he says “hunger is a very powerful, ancient, and deep-seated drive that, if stimulated long enough, will make you eat and store more energy. Asking somebody to not eat, to voluntarily restrict calories even though they are hungry, is asking the near impossible.
The only way to eat less in the long-term is to not be hungry, and the only way to do this is to control the hormones that regulate hunger, the primary one being leptin.”
So, how do we control these hormones when we’re trying to lose weight? It’s actually pretty easy. I’ve written a complete guide on how to optimise your leptin levels for weight loss. You can find it here.
Section 4: Leptin Foods and Recipes
As mentioned above, the good news is that there are certain foods that can help you maintain healthy leptin levels. Of course, the foods you eat will strictly depend on if you are leptin resistant or leptin deficient. Being leptin resistant means you’ve probably gone far too long on a sugary, processed, and fructose-filled diet, where you’ve acquired a lot of excess fat.
Being leptin deficient means you’ve likely gone far too long on a very strict diet and exercise program, where you’ve also successfully limited carbohydrates.
If you expect you are leptin resistant, you want to cut all ties with sugar right away. Most detrimental is high-fructose corn syrup which is found in high amounts in things like soda and candy. Replacing processed and sugary foods with plant-based, whole foods is going to be your best bet at reversing leptin resistance.
If you expect you are leptin deficient, instating a cheat day as mentioned in the previous section might be the best way for you to kickstart your metabolism and raise your leptin levels.
Of course don’t start binging daily, but a once-a-week controlled “binge” on high quality carbs such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, russet potatoes, or rice can feed you sugar in a healthy way, increasing the amount of leptin in your body.
I explain so much more about the perfect leptin foods and recipes for your situation over on this page.
Section 5: Leptin Supplements
Now that you know lots about leptin, you’re probably wondering if leptin supplements and similar hormone supplements are any good. Diet and exercise are all very well, but most of us are looking for a quick and easy fix.
Leptin supplements aren’t as straightforward as many other diet pills or vitamins. In fact, they don’t even contain leptin! Instead they work with your body to increase leptin sensitivity indirectly. Don’t worry if this sounds confusing, I’ve done all the research for you.
In this article I cover everything you need to know about leptin supplements - key ingredients, side effects, where to buy and most importantly, an in-depth review of the top leptin supplements on the market.
The Importance of Leptin
As you can see, leptin levels are important for those in a long battle with weight gain and obesity as well as those who are fully fit. What’s most shocking to me is that the majority of people I speak with have never even heard of this important hormone.
So which category are you in? Are you leptin resistant or leptin deficient? Either way, leptin may just be the secret ingredient to a healthy level of hormones and fat. Taking steps to get your body’s signaling system back on the right track might help you begin your journey of getting the body you always wanted.
Any questions? Share them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get back to you as soon as possible!
By the way I have found this cool inforgraphic at draxe.com