Everything You Need to Know About the Leptin Hormone
Written by Sumayyah Namusabi
Leptin is a protein/hormone primarily produced in the adipose tissue (used for fat storage).
It has multiple functions in the body and its main one is to signal to your brain, specifically the hypothalamus that you have enough energy saved in your fat cells to engage in normal metabolic processes.
Think of it as a hormone AI or the starvation police. Here is how it actually works;
When you eat, your body fat increases hence the levels of leptin go up, telling your brain that there is sufficient energy stored. So, you can burn calories at a normal rate, eat at a normal rate or stop eating when full. Your body also undertakes other processes like puberty or pregnancy when the leptin signal is up and running.
When you eat less, your body fat decreases hence the levels of leptin go down, telling your brain that you are in starvation mode. Here, your body will start up processes to get the leptin levels up like stimulating the vagus nerve which gets you hungrier causing you to eat in order to up the leptin levels. Pretty cool, right?
In simple terms, Leptin keeps us from us from starving, so one would wonder why it can't do the same when it comes to overeating?
Well, according to experts, when leptin levels are high but the brain doesn’t receive the signal in order to run some functions like, stop you from overeating, there is an impairment in the system and the phenomenon is called leptin resistance.
In Leptin resistance, your leptin levels are high which means, your body fat is up too but your brain can't get the signal.
Leptin resistance is a real condition and it is now believed to be one of the major biological contributors to obesity.
People who are over-weight or obese have high levels of leptin but the leptin signal to the brain doesn’t work due to this condition.
It is probably one of the main reasons why it is hard for some people to lose weight despite the efforts put in.
What Causes Leptin Resistance?
There are many factors that cause or contribute to leptin resistance. Some of the major causes include;
- Brain inflammation: Increased inflammation in the hypothalamus contributes to leptin resistance.
- Free fatty acids: High levels of free fatty acids in your bloodstream may be disrupting leptin signaling to the brain.
- Elevated levels of leptin: As we have seen above, this is obviously a main cause in leptin resistance.
How to reverse Leptin Resistance
To reverse Leptin resistance, you have to know that you are leptin resistant first.
Usually, people with this condition have a lot of body fat especially around the belly area but you probably want to check in with your doctor to get properly diagnosed.
Though there is no easy way to get rid of leptin resistance, research has shown a few long-term lifestyle changes can improve this condition. Some of them include;
- Regular exercise: Exercising helps burn more calories and reduces body fat mass thus lowering high levels of leptin.
- Get enough sleep: Studies show that sleep deprivation has various effects on endocrine and metabolic processes. So, make sure you get enough sleep.
- Lower triglycerides: Your body converts the calories it does not need to use right away into a type of fat called, triglycerides. These can disrupt leptin signaling. You can lower triglycerides by reducing intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates. Go easy on the alcohol too. 
- Eat right: Dietary changes are vital when improving leptin resistance. Soluble fibers are a great addition to your diet, they improve gut health and promote weight loss. Avoid processed foods and eat plenty of proteins.
You could hop on the leptin diet buss if you are up for the rules involved.
Leptin diet is just like most weight loss diets out there that promote healthy eating and restrict certain foods. So, before you get into it, it’s best to consult your doctor to avoid deficiency of certain minerals.
The leptin diet has a few rules you going to want to follow if you want it to work. They include;
- You eat three meals a day with a 5 – 6 hour gap, no snacking in between.
- Your breakfast should be protein packed (20 - 30 grams).
- Your last meal, dinner in this case, should be at least three hours before bed time.
- Avoid eating food in large portions.
- Hop on the low carb buss but make sure you do not eliminate them completely.
With Leptin diet, you want to eat foods that elevate leptin sensitivity and not encourage leptin resistance.
How to increase leptin
How to boost or increase leptin? It’s easy, all you have to do is eat, but before you start on your bag of chips, you should know that your choice of foods is very important! If you read on the 5 rules, you know better.
Also, you should note that more leptin does not mean weight loss. If your body has an impaired response to leptin, increasing it only gets you obese. Read on leptin resistance.
For people with certain conditions like Congenital Leptin Deficiency [Uncontrolled hunger. Symptoms include severe obesity and delayed puberty in children] & Generalized Lipodystrophy [Patients have almost no body fat], Injections of a synthetic form of leptin are given as treatment.
To boost or increase your leptin diet-wise, eat foods that will lessen your body triglycerides (lipids) so that leptin can work more effectively.
Some of the foods include;
- Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, corn, whole grain breads and pastas.
- Legumes. For example, beans, lentils and peas.
- Fish. E.g., Salmon.
- Poultry. E.g., chicken.
- Use healthy oils like olive oil for cooking or in salads.
- Non starchy veggies like kale, cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli and more
- Leafy green salads.
- Fruits. E.g., berries.
- No sugar beverages like green or black tea
Do Leptin Supplements Work?
Though there are numerous brands online that sell leptin supplements, you should note that they actually do not contain the leptin hormone even if some of the brand names suggest so.
They surely might have multiple nutrients that are alleged to help with leptin functioning but unfortunately further research needs to be done.
Experts recommend one to eat healthier, exercise and get enough sleep-in order to improve leptin resistance or lose weight.
Apart from playing the hunger hormone, scientists have unearthed various functions of leptin since its discovery in 1994, some of them include;
- Pregnancy: contributes to fertility in women.
- Scientists also believe it contributes to bone health but more research needs to be done.
More research is needed on how to use leptin as a weight loss agent and fight against leptin resistance and obesity. Meanwhile, you can get on a leptin diet but don’t stress yourself if you can’t keep up with the rules. You can consult your doctor for other weight loss options you can try to fight leptin resistance.
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