Leptin is a messenger molecule that plays a highly significant role in how you lose fat. Rather you’re dieting to lose those last few pounds or just starting down the weight loss road, understanding what Leptin is and how it works is of crucial importance.
Hitting a weight loss plateau while on a diet can be a direct result of low leptin. Let’s discuss what Leptin is and how to fix low leptin levels for accelerated fat burning.
What is Leptin?
Discovered as recently as 1994, Leptin is a protein hormone that is produced by specific fat cells known as adipocytes (cells specialized for the storage of fat and found in connective tissue).
Maintaining proper Leptin levels is one of the most critical factors in maintaining good health and keeping body fat off.
Haven’t heard much about it? Being new to the scene, Leptin has yet to receive the attention it deserves. Nora T. Gedgaudas, CNS CNT states the following in her book, “Primal Body, Primal Mind”:
If you haven’t heard of leptin, even if your doctor hasn’t heard of it, don’t be surprised. Drug companies have yet to create any drug that can positively influence leptin function. Diet is the only thing that can effectively do this. *
It would be easy to dismiss Leptin as not being that important, since it receives such little attention, but investigation into the protein hormone reveals just how critical it is.
Mary J. Shomon, author of “The Thyroid Diet” puts it this way:
Leptin plays a far more important role in your health than, for instance, cholesterol, yet how many doctors measure leptin levels in their patients, know their own level, even know that it can be easily measured, or even what it would mean? **
Online author and neurosurgeon, Dr. Jack Kruse says of Leptin:
Ok so you have heard me talk a lot about leptin. Why is it so important? It is a hormone that controls all of energy metabolism in the body. Not only that it controls all the other hormones in the body as well. So if it is not working well you can bet that the rest of your hormones are going to show clinical problems as well. I can’t tell you how many people think they have thyroid issues when all the time they have been leptin resistant. ***
By now, you should be seeing just how important Leptin is. Let’s take a quick look at how it works.
How Leptin Works
Everyone has a particular threshold of Leptin that is maintained in the body and falling under this threshold is what causes the production of more Leptin.
Fat secretes Leptin (in addition to many hormones). When you’ve had enough to eat, the Leptin protein travels primarily to, and communicates with, the hypothalamus in the brain (there are other Leptin receptors in the body as well, including on our taste buds), alerting it that your level is up to normal again and that stored energy is now sufficient. This signals satiety and when working as designed, you now feel full and are encouraged to put the spoon down.
Low Leptin levels causes intense food cravings and keep us continually hungry. It also encourages fat storage. By not receiving the “I’m full” signal, our bodies believe we need more energy and conditions become more favorable for converting calories to fat.
When working correctly, Leptin actually encourages the body to draw energy from longer-term fat stores, reducing them in size.
Amazingly, Leptin levels actually increase while you sleep so getting a good night’s sleep should result in a reduced appetite, thanks to Leptin.
Simply put, Leptin regulates hunger and metabolism by regulating energy intake and expenditure.
The more fat you have, the more leptin is produced in an attempt to tell the brain that there’s enough fat stored and to start using it for energy. That sounds ideal and it would be except that all obese people have too much Leptin and this condition is known as Leptin Resistance (LR).
With LR, Leptin levels are too high but your brain never gets the message so you’re continually hungry. You keep eating and LR worsens. Having an over-abundance of Leptin and being Leptin resistant means your body just keeps producing more and more Leptin because signalling is broken, so it has no way of knowing when to stop.
Leptin signalling works in conjunction with neuropeptide Y (NPY), which are peptide neurotransmitters secreted by the hypothalamus in response to Leptin proteins. It’s actually neuropeptide Y that is not getting shut off and causes hunger to continue, ultimately resulting in the metabolism slowing down.
LR goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. In fact, Leptin Resistance always shows up before insulin resistance, so getting a handle on LR means you’re effectively fixing insulin resistance problems too. Great news!
Just how unknown is Leptin? I decided to take a trip to my local Barnes & Noble to see how many top diet and nutrition books addressed this all important protein. In the last century, the majority of these books never once mention Leptin. This list includes the following popular books:
- Enter The Zone (Barry Sears, Ph.D)
- Sugar Busters (H. Leighton Steward, Morrison Bethea M.D., Sam Andrews M.D., Luis Balart M.D.)
- Why We Get Fat (Gary Taubes)
- The Rotation Diet (Martin Katahn, Ph.D)
- The Blood Sugar Solution (Mark Hyman, MD)
- The South Beach Diet - (Arthur Agatston)
- Eat to Live (Joel Fuhrman, M.D.)
- The Paleo Diet (Loren Cordain, Ph.D)
- The Paleo Solution (Loren Cordain, Ph.D)
- Crack the Fat Loss Code (Wendy Chant, MPT SPN)
- The Thyroid Diet (Mary J. Shomon)
- Primal Body, Primal Mind (Nora T Gedgaudas, CNS, CNT)
Leptin For Losing Weight
There are more and more Leptin studies being conducted. When Leptin was originally discovered, it was hailed as the next obesity savior. The original Ob Mouse (as it was known) was an obese mouse with no explanation as to why it was obese. Scientists were stumped.
Studies soon revealed that this mouse was missing the hormone, Leptin. Injections of Leptin caused the obese mouse to lose all it’s fat and gain a clearly defined six-pack (alright, I made that part up).
Pharmaceutical companies saw huge dollar signs as the news spread of a new obesity cure. Unfortunately, as more studies were conducted, it was soon realized that all obese people had excess Leptin.
Leptin was indeed, the root of the problem. But it wasn’t a lack of the Leptin hormone or low levels. It was Leptin Resistance, caused by years of over-eating.
Science and pharmaceutical companies dismissed Leptin as being important any longer, since it could not be controlled by drugs.
Although science can’t sell you a drug to help with Leptin, ongoing studies are showing very positive results in controlling, and even curing Leptin Resistance through sustained diet and positive lifestyle choices.
What are the best ways to reset Leptin levels and rid your body of Leptin Resistance if you’re trying to lose weight?
- Don’t lose weight too fast. - Rapid weight loss makes for a dramatic decrease in Leptin levels, which slows the metabolism and the burning of fat.
- Stay away from high fructose corn syrup. - Studies have shown that it increases LR.
- Get plenty of sleep. Depleted Leptin levels are restored with sleep.
- Keep sugar intake at a minimum. There’s just not many good effects that sugar has on the body and LR is yet another negative effect of too much sugar.
- Eat a really big meal once in a while. If you’re someone who makes a habit of never eating more than 300-400 calories p/ meal and or keeping daily calories low, having the occasional big meal will restore Leptin levels to the norm and increase metabolism.
I’m really looking forward to future studies on the Leptin hormone. I believe that this all-important hormone will receive far more attention in the diet world as the critical role it plays becomes common knowledge.
Is it possible that in learning to effectively control Leptin, we may truly find the key to eliminating obesity?
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Wang, J., Obici, S., Morgan, K., Barzilai, N., Feng, Z., & Rossetti, L. (2001). Overfeeding Rapidly Induces Leptin and Insulin Resistance Diabetes, 50 (12), 2786-2791 DOI: 10.2337/diabetes.50.12.2786
Enriori, P., Evans, A., Sinnayah, P., Jobst, E., Tonelli-Lemos, L., Billes, S., Glavas, M., Grayson, B., Perello, M., & Nillni, E. (2007). Diet-Induced Obesity Causes Severe but Reversible Leptin Resistance in Arcuate Melanocortin Neurons Cell Metabolism, 5 (3), 181-194 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2007.02.004
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Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Kasza K, Schoeller DA, & Penev PD (2009). Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89 (1), 126-33 PMID: 19056602