- Leptin and Diabetes 101: Must-Knows About the Hormone for Blood Sugar Control
- How the Hormone Leptin Works in the Body
- Understanding Leptin’s Role and Why It Matters for Diabetes
- How to Increase Leptin Sensitivity if You Have Diabetes
- You and Your Hormones
- Alternative names for leptin
- What is leptin?
- How is leptin controlled?
- What happens if I have too much leptin?
- What happens if I have too little leptin?
- New Revelations Support Diet and Exercise to Reverse Leptin Resistance
- What Exactly is Leptin?
- How Do You Become Leptin Resistant?
- Overcoming Leptin Resistance In The Battle Against Obesity
- Main Causes of Leptin Resistance
- How Do Diet-conscious Women End up with Leptin Resistance?
- How Many Women Are Leptin Resistant?
- How Does Leptin Affect Thyroid Function?
- How Quickly Do Women Lose weight?
- Leptin, Bone, and Joint Problems
- Do HIIT Help to Reverse Problems with Leptin?
- Leptin Levels Linked To Anxiety And Depressive Symptoms
- Leptin in the 21st Century Leptin treatment: Facts and expectations
- 5 Signs You’re Leptin Resistant (And Why it Matters)
- What Is Leptin?
- How Can You Tell If You’re Leptin Resistant?
- 5 Steps to Restoring Leptin Sensitivity
- The Bottom Line
- What is Leptin Resistance?
- What Are The Mechanisms of Leptin Resistance?
- Factors that May Increase Leptin Sensitivity
- When to See a Doctor
- 1) Sleep & Circadian Cues
- 2) Avoiding Nighttime Snacks
- 3) Avoiding Overeating
- 4) Reducing Refined Sugars
- 5) Increasing Healthy Proteins
- 6) Exercise
- 7) Reducing Stress
- 8) Resolving Inflammation
- Hypothetical Pathways of Leptin Resistance:
- What is Leptin?
- How Leptin Works In The Body
- Leptin Explanation Video Tutorial
- How To Reverse Leptin Resistance
- Leptin Resistance Eating Rules
- How Does Leptin Affect You?
- 5 Sneaky Signs You Are Leptin Resistant
- Want More Help?
Leptin and Diabetes 101: Must-Knows About the Hormone for Blood Sugar Control
When most people think of diabetes and hormones, insulin — which controls blood sugar levels by ferrying glucose to cells for energy — is usually the first that springs to mind. But there are many hormones at play when it comes to blood sugar levels and weight, and anyone living with diabetes or prediabetes should consider them all when striving to better manage their symptoms. Key among these is leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that helps the body regulate energy by telling the brain it’s had enough to eat, according to a review published in December 2012 in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.
How the Hormone Leptin Works in the Body
“Leptin’s action is to inhibit appetite, to stimulate the burning up of fatty acids, to decrease glucose, and to reduce overall body fat and weight,” says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The problem, Sheth explains, is, just like insulin resistance — whereby cells are resistant to insulin, leading glucose to accumulate in the blood — people can develop leptin resistance, an effect that can further complicate their diabetes management.
When this occurs, Sheth says, “People can gain weight, have increased body fat, and, even though there are adequate fat stores, their brains are getting the signal that they are hungry, so they eat more. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Unfortunately, just adding more leptin, as people with diabetes often do with insulin injections, can’t fix this problem because the issue isn’t always how much leptin is in the body, but whether the body is able to process it efficiently.
In fact, for people without diabetes, or for those who have been diagnosed with prediabetes, leptin resistance can impact the development of the condition later on. “A person may have high leptin levels, but if their body is resistant to that leptin, those people are more at risk for diabetes,” says Joanne Rinker, RD, CDE, director of practice and content development at the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
Understanding Leptin’s Role and Why It Matters for Diabetes
While everyone should know about leptin’s impact in the body, people with diabetes and prediabetes should be especially aware of how it interacts with other hormones, especially insulin. “Leptin resistance almost always goes hand-in-hand with insulin resistance, so when people with diabetes have higher insulin resistance they might also have higher leptin resistance,” Sheth says.
When insulin resistance causes spikes of insulin in the blood, the brain has trouble estimating leptin levels. In turn, this lower sensitivity to leptin leads to many problems, such as food cravings, hunger after meals, poor energy levels, weight gain (or trouble losing weight), and — perhaps most troubling of all for people with diabetes — higher levels of insulin, which can lead to too-high blood sugar levels, and symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, high blood pressure, and other potentially serious health outcomes.
When leptin sensitivity is improved, people report higher energy, better control over cravings and appetite, faster metabolism, and lower insulin levels. These results have led some scientists to believe leptin could be used to treat symptoms of diabetes, and possibly even reverse the condition, according to a review published in April 2013 in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
How to Increase Leptin Sensitivity if You Have Diabetes
People with diabetes can benefit from taking action to manage their leptin levels, and for people with prediabetes, it can even help reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes. Here are some tips anyone with diabetes or prediabetes can use to increase their leptin sensitivity:
Enjoy a balanced diet. Because each person’s experience of diabetes is unique, talk to your doctor, dietitian, or certified diabetes educator about a meal plan that will naturally increase leptin sensitivity. “Eat a more Mediterranean-style diet whole grains, lean protein, and some heart-healthy fats,” suggests Sheth, adding that it’s also important to cut back on refined grains and added sugars.
Stay active, but on your own terms. “If a person with diabetes wants to be active every day, it has to be whatever it means to that person. They don’t have to go run a marathon, they just have to be more active than the day before,” Rinker says. “ will help decrease insulin resistance, which is also going to decrease leptin resistance.”
Eat at regular times. Fasting regimens — such as the 5:2 Diet, a weight-loss plan consisting of two fasting days and five nonfasting days per week — that claim to increase leptin sensitivity have become trendy, but for people with diabetes, Sheth says it’s important to time meals to keep hormone levels steady. “Eat on a schedule and be consistent so you don’t have huge swings in your appetite hormones,” she explains.
Get the right nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3 fats are known to be helpful because they increase the number of dopamine receptors in the body, so you feel good. And omega-3 fats are also anti-inflammatory, and that could be good for improving your insulin and leptin sensitivity,” Sheth says. Omega-3s are naturally found in walnuts, flaxseed, and salmon, among other foods.
Take time to reduce stress levels. “Stress plays a great role in hunger and satiety issues,” Sheth says. Whether you like to unwind by reading a book, enjoying nature, or spending time with a friend, anything you do to relax will help have a positive impact on leptin sensitivity.
Get enough sleep. People with diabetes should be aware that skimping on shut-eye can dramatically impact hormone levels, including leptin. “If you get two hours less sleep than your body needs, you can increase your ghrelin levels — the other appetite hormone — and that can negatively impact your leptin and insulin levels.” Sheth says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends seven hours per night for most adults.
While both Sheth and Rinker believe it’s important for people with diabetes to be aware of leptin’s role in the body, they both emphasize that leptin is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing diabetes symptoms. “The thing that is going to help the most is getting the body in balance, and really focusing on healthy eating habits and healthy living,” Rinker says.
You and Your Hormones
Alternative names for leptin
There are no other names used for the hormone but the gene, which encodes leptin, is known as the ‘ob’ gene.
What is leptin?
Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells in adipose tissue. Leptin signals to the brain, in particular to an area called the hypothalamus. Leptin does not affect food intake from meal to meal but, instead, acts to alter food intake and control energy expenditure over the long term. Leptin has a more profound effect when we lose weight and levels of the hormone fall. This stimulates a huge appetite and increased food intake. The hormone helps us to maintain our normal weight and unfortunately for dieters, makes it hard to lose those extra pounds!
How is leptin controlled?
Because leptin is produced by fat cells, the amount of leptin released is directly related to the amount of body fat; so the more fat an individual has, the more leptin they will have circulating in their blood. Leptin levels increase if an individual increases their fat mass over a period of time and, similarly, leptin levels decrease if an individual decreases their fat mass over a period of time.
What happens if I have too much leptin?
Obese people have unusually high levels of leptin. This is because in some obese people, the brain does not respond to leptin, so they keep eating despite adequate (or excessive) fat stores, a concept known as ‘leptin resistance’. This causes the fat cells to produce even more leptin. This is similar to the way people with type 2 diabetes have unusually high levels of insulin, as their body is resistant to the effects of insulin. The cause of leptin resistance is still unclear.
What happens if I have too little leptin?
There is an extremely rare condition called congenital leptin deficiency, which is a genetic condition in which the body cannot produce leptin. In the UK, there are only about four families affected by this genetic condition.
Absence of leptin makes the body think it does not have any fat whatsoever and this results in uncontrolled food intake and severe childhood obesity. In addition, leptin deficiency may cause delayed puberty and poor function of the immune system. This condition can be well treated by leptin injections, which cause dramatic weight loss.
Last reviewed: Mar 2018
New Revelations Support Diet and Exercise to Reverse Leptin Resistance
Leptin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure, may be one of the most important hormones in your body that will determine your health and lifespan. Insulin is another, and the two work in tandem.
Both insulin and leptin resistance are associated with obesity, and impairment of their ability to transfer the information to receptors is the true foundational core of most all chronic degenerative diseases.
Metabolism can roughly be defined as the chemistry that turns food into life, and therefore insulin and leptin are both critical to health and disease. Insulin and leptin work together to control the quality of your metabolism, and, to a significant extent, your rate of metabolism.
By acquiring a better understanding of how leptin and its receptor interact, researchers now believe they will be able to find new treatments for obesity and other metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, as well as inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
According to recent research published in the journal Molecular Cell,1 the leptin receptor has two hinged legs that swivel until they come in contact with leptin.
Once leptin attaches to the receptor, these legs stop swiveling and become rigid, thereby sending a signal to an enzyme called Janus kinase,2 which has the ability to bind inflammatory cytokines. It is believed that inhibiting the Janus kinases might help improve inflammatory and metabolic disorders.
The fact that the primary focus is on developing drug therapies to “fix” leptin resistance is understandable. That’s the only way the medical industry can make money. However, the way to correct leptin resistance has nothing to do with drugs, and everything to do with diet. But first…
What Exactly is Leptin?
Leptin is a very powerful and influential hormone produced by your fat cells. Your fat, by way of leptin, tells your brain whether you should be hungry, eat and make more fat, whether you should reproduce, or (partly by controlling insulin) whether to engage in maintenance and repair. In short, leptin is the way that your fat stores speak to your brain to let your brain know how much energy is available and, very importantly, what to do with it.
Therefore, leptin may be on top of the food chain in metabolic importance and relevance to disease.
If your leptin signaling is working properly, when your fat stores are “full,” this extra fat will cause a surge in your leptin level, which signals your brain to stop feeling hungry, to stop eating, to stop storing fat and to start burning some extra fat off.
Controlling hunger is a major (though not the only) way that leptin controls energy storage. Hunger is a very powerful, ancient, and deep-seated drive that, if stimulated long enough, will make you eat and store more energy. 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.
How Do You Become Leptin Resistant?
You become leptin-resistant by the same general mechanism that you become insulin-resistant – by continuous overexposure to high levels of the hormone. If you eat a diet that is high in sugar (particularly fructose), grains, and processed foods – the same type of diet that will also increase inflammation in your body – as the sugar gets metabolized in your fat cells, the fat releases surges in leptin.
Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant, just as your body can become resistant to insulin.
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. As such, diet can have a more profound effect on your health than any other known modality of medical treatment.
A strategic whole food diet, as detailed in my free nutrition plan, that emphasizes good fats and avoids blood sugar spikes coupled with targeted supplements will enhance insulin and leptin sensitivity so that your brain can once again hear the feedback signals from these hormones.
So to summarize: Insulin and leptin resistance are core factors in obesity, which in turn is a risk factor for cancer and may boost tumor growth. But the answer lies not in a pill. To reverse insulin and leptin resistance:
- Avoid, sugar, fructose, grains, and processed foods
- Eat a healthful diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
- No-to-low sugar and grain carbs
- Low-to-moderate amount of protein
- As much highly quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monosaturated). Most people need upwards of 50-70 percent fats in their diet for optimal health. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, butter, nuts, and animal fats. Also take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil
Similarly, while researchers investigate the pharmaceutical avenues to convert white fat cells to brown in an effort to reduce the potential for cancer growth, other research has already shown that this can likely be achieved through exercise.
As I’ve said before, about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle comes from your diet, and the remaining 20 percent from exercise – but it’s a very important 20 percent, as it acts in tandem with and boosts the benefits derived from a proper diet. For maximum benefits, you’ll want to make sure to include high-intensity interval training, which is at the heart of my Peak Fitness program.
by Dr. Will Cole
You don’t have to look very far to find some “guaranteed” way to lose weight, get fit, or sport six-pack abs, yet despite all the information, not to mention the ubiquitous fitness centers and personal coaches, somehow we are the heaviest, sickest generation in human history. When it comes to weight loss, it seems we’ve got it all wrong. In functional medicine we know the truth: weight gain is a symptom, not the cause of health problems. We have to get healthy to lose weight, not lose weight to get healthy.
If you can’t seem to lose weight despite exercising and eating a diverse diet of good food, you probably have weight loss resistance, which is a sign that something more is going on than a simple lack of willpower or the occasional indulgence. Bodies are designed to maintain a steady, healthful weight, so if yours isn’t, chances are the problem won’t be solved by the next fad diet. Instead, I suggest making health a priority. Only then will you be able to lose weight and look and feel great, without all the effort and deprivation. I’ve seen it thousands of times in my practice: weight loss is a natural by-product of radiant health.
Allow me to introduce you to leptin resistance.
One of the most common reasons my patients have a difficult time losing weight is because of something called leptin resistance. Leptin resistance is a type of hormonal imbalance, and it makes losing weight a serious struggle. Here’s how it works. Leptin is a hormone produced in the fat cells, which are not just inactive tissue but an active part of your hormonal system.
One of leptin’s jobs is to tell your brain to use the body’s fat stores for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when the hypothalamic cells in the brain stop recognizing leptin’s signals. The brain doesn’t perceive that enough food has come in, and reads that as starvation. If this happens to you, your brain will turn on all the hunger signals it can, to make up for the falsely perceived food deficit. Everything you eat goes straight into fat storage, without being used for energy, making the problem even worse. Your brain is saving up for the coming famine, even though there isn’t any famine. This, my friends, is weight-loss resistance. You could look at food and gain weight, if you are experiencing leptin resistance.
This hormone imbalance is one of the most common hidden drivers of weight gain that I find in patients. It’s near impossible to turn this condition around, yourself. You could live in the gym and eat like a rabbit and still have trouble losing weight.
Here’s how you become leptin resistant.
The short answer: inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes all kinds of problems in the human body, and leptin resistance is one of them. Inflammation dulls the brain’s leptin receptor sites and it is this impaired signaling that triggers the problem. The body doesn’t perceive the leptin that is already there, so it produces more and more in an attempt to get the message through to the brain. As if trouble losing and keeping weight off wasn’t enough, high leptin levels are also associated with fatigue and histamine intolerance.
Do you have leptin resistance?
If you answer “yes” to more than one of these, I suggest asking your functional medicine doctor to test you for leptin resistance:
- Is it difficult for you to lose weight?
- When you go on a diet, can you drop some pounds but still look flabby?
- Do you hold onto weight in your midsection, no matter how much you try to lose it?
- Do you have trouble keeping weight off?
- Are you constantly hungry?
- Do you crave sugary foods and get “hangry” if you don’t get your fix?
- Are you stressed out a lot?
- Do you have high triglycerides?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
Your leptin resistance reversal guide:
1. Find out for sure.
I run a simple blood test to measure leptin levels. Optimal fasting leptin levels should be 4 to 6 ng/dL. The reason why this lab is not commonly run in mainstream medicine? There’s no medication for it. If there was – believe me – everyone would be tested for high leptin.
2. Clean up your sleep habits.
DVR Jimmy Fallon, turn off your smartphone, and get yourself to bed! People with poor sleep habits and altered circadian rhythms are more likely to be leptin resistant.
3. Don’t eat too late.
For better leptin balance, avoid the late-night snacks. Eating after 8 p.m. has been associated with higher leptin levels and more weight gain in various research studies.
4. Calm down your life.
Stress is no bueno for your health in so many ways, and a high stress level with its associated high cortisol can definitely increase inflammation and subsequently, trigger leptin receptor failure and increased production of leptin – just one more reason to bring some mindfulness and self-care into your life.
5. Get your omega-3s.
A healthy intake of omega-3 fatty acids from wild-caught fish is one of the best ways to bring down inflammation and balance leptin levels. Plant-based omega-3 precursor fats such as flax oil can also be useful, but fish-based omega-3 has a much higher bioavailability, especially for people already struggling with leptin resistance.
6. Eat to subdue inflammation.
Since inflammation is one of the main causative factors in leptin resistance, eat more anti-inflammatory foods whenever you can. Try out my one-day diet to kickstart your leptin-correcting efforts.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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Overcoming Leptin Resistance In The Battle Against Obesity
How leptin, a hormone that regulates metabolism and body weight interacts with an important brain receptor, has given researchers from the University of Michigan insight into possible ways of combating obesity, metabolic disorders, and some inflammatory diseases, says a report published in Molecular Cell in October 2012.
Leptin was discovered in 1995, and has since been of great interest to scientists seeking new treatments for Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Leptin, like insulin is a hormone. It is part of a network of regulatory hormones which control how energy is consumed and used up in the body. Resistance to leptin, or a lack of it have been associated with obesity.
Leptin resistance may occur for a number of different reasons; the authors describe them as “complex reasons”. Sometimes, leptin resistance is caused by a malfunction of the brain’s leptin receptor.
By acquiring a better understand of how leptin and its receptor interact, researchers believe they will be able to find new treatments for metabolic disorders and obesity. The structure of the signaling complex between leptin and its receptors has not been researched properly, the authors explained.
Georgios Skiniotis used electron microscopy to get the first picture of leptin and its receptor interacting. He found that the leptin receptor is similar to other receptors of the same family. He explained that this could help researchers find new targets for treating hormone-related conditions.
“It is exciting not only because it might help with developing new drugs. We now better understand the design and mechanisms of signaling through this class of receptors, which brings us to a whole new set of intriguing questions.”
In the journal, Skiniotis and team explain how the receptor is formed by two swiveling hinged legs, which carry on swiveling until they come into contact with leptin. When leptin binds to the receptor, the legs become rigid.
As soon as the leptin binds to the receptor and the two legs become rigid, they send a signal to the Janus kinase, an enzyme. Inhibiting the Janus kinases could help improve several conditions linked to inflammation or metabolic disorders, such as diabetes type 2, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Psoriasis patients have higher levels of leptin. Several drugs have been investigated for treatments related to the Junus kinases.
The Director of the Life Sciences Institute, Alan Saltiel, explains that Skiniotis’ work may pave the way for research into a range of illnesses and conditions.
“This study may help solve an important issue we’ve been struggling with for some time,” he said. “Since leptin is a master regulator of appetite, understanding why resistance to its effects develops in obesity has been a major obstacle to discovering new drugs for obesity and diabetes. Developing a clear picture of how leptin can bind to its receptor may be the first step in overcoming leptin resistance.”
Leptin has been extensively researched. Below are examples of some findings:
- A signaling pathway in the brain was identified which may induce cellular leptin resistance, a problem that undermines the body’s ability to acknowledge that it is full and should stop eating.
- Females with elevated levels of leptin have fewer depressive symptoms. This inverse relationship is not associated with BMI (body mass index), researchers found.
- A lack of leptin contributes to hypothalamic amenorrhea. Treating women with a synthetic form of leptin may restore fertility and reduce the risk of bone fractures in very thin women.
- A rise in leptin levels may promote colorectal neoplasms by activating colorectal cancer stem cells. In other words, leptin may promote colorectal cancer.
- Eating too much fructose can result in leptin resistance.
Written by Christian Nordqvist
Leptin resistance is when your cells become numb to leptin, the hormone of hunger and satiety—that is, nature’s appetite suppressant. Under normal conditions, when you’ve had enough to eat, leptin signals your brain to stop eating, i.e., it’s time to put down the fork. When your brain gets bombarded with high leptin levels signals, it shuts down from overwhelm and you feel hungry most of the time. Leptin levels keep rising, receptors stop functioning, your body doesn’t get the leptin signal, and you don’t feel full. Most commonly, you keep eating the wrong foods in an addictive pattern, and you keep gaining weight because high leptin causes weight gain and excessive hunger.
This is the Self-Assessment that I use for Leptin! (See The Hormone Reset Diet, page 100-102, for further details.)
Do you have or have you experienced in the past six months . . .
- A powerful, sometimes insatiable, appetite?
- Binge eating, especially after five p.m.? Eating after seven p.m. or within three hours of going to bed?
- A tendency to skip breakfast or wait an hour or longer after rising in the morning to eat?
- A penchant for drinking fruit juices or sodas, more than one serving per day?
- Excess weight or obesity (a body mass index over 25)? Count this item twice if you’re 30 or more pounds overweight.
- Menopausal weight gain, especially at your waist?
- Increased fat in the skin covering your triceps muscles, sometimes affectionately known as “kimono arms”?
- A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance (See The Hormone Reset Diet, chapter 4, page 77)?
- Weird or profuse sweating patterns compared with ten or twenty years ago?
- Fatigue after exercise and di culty recovering completely?
- Joint problems—painful joints, joint destruction, bursitis, arthritis—or your doctor has suggested knee, hip, or shoulder surgery?
- High reverse T3 (RT3)? ( is is a thyroid hormone, increased in leptin resistance, which blocks thyroid function.)
- High triglycerides, or you know them to be greater than 100 mg/dL?
Main Causes of Leptin Resistance
- Too much fructose. Eating excess fructose (over 20 grams per day) puts you at greater risk of leptin resistance because fructose is metabolized by the liver, an important regulator of your appetite and weight.
- Bad circadian rhythm. Leptin may get out of balance when you disrupt your delicate but incredibly important circadian rhythm by becoming addicted to caffeine, alcohol, or sugar. Eliminating these substances allows your body to get back to its natural rhythm.
- Sleep debt. Your leptin is also affected when you build up a sleep debt, the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep. Studies show a link between weight gain, lack of sleep, and insulin resistance. Furthermore, sleep debt leads to dietary indiscretion and weight gain in women because you’re too tired to make wise food choices. In other words, get that solid seven to nine hours that your body really needs. Regardless of your ability to seemingly function on less sleep, odds are that you need it: only 3 percent of the population has a gene allowing them to function well on less sleep. Get over being a type A woman, says Arianna Hufﬁngton, cofounder of The Hufﬁngton Post, in a 2011 TED talk. After fainting from exhaustion and breaking her cheekbone, she has become an evangelist for getting a good night’s sleep. Turn off the television, take a warm bath, read a relaxing book, and make a commitment to going to bed earlier.
In order to make your leptin work properly, your body needs to traffic it around freely. However, when your triglycerides are high, they block the leptin message in the brain. It’s like loud music. Triglycerides keep your brain from being wise about food; the music is blaring. The only way to let the leptin move freely around your body is to lower your triglycerides, ideally to less than 50 mg/dL. However, a good start is ﬁrst lowering them to less than 100 mg/dL. Additionally, leptin resistance affects your immune and reproductive systems. When your immunity suffers, chronic inﬂammation develops. Leptin is a major player in the low- grade inﬂammation that won’t turn off in people who are overweight or obese. Leptin resistance also impairs fertility and weakens your bones. A leptin imbalance can cause joint pain and damage because too much leptin accelerates the breakdown of cartilage in your joints. The level of leptin in your blood corresponds to the level in your joints: the more leptin, the more potential joint damage.
How Do Diet-conscious Women End up with Leptin Resistance?
Often leptin resistance is initiated by insulin resistance, although the mechanism hasn’t been conclusively shown. If insulin goes unchecked for too long, it’ll flip the switch on leptin too. High insulin levels make your ovaries secrete more testosterone. Your cells also produce more bad estrogens, and you become leptin resistant. Both insulin and leptin resistance can be caused by stress, excess carbs, genetic predisposition, and insufficient physical activity.
Even normal-weight women can have a problem with leptin, a problem known as being “skinny fat. In medicine, it’s called normal weight obesity, a term used to describe the one in four normal- weight individuals with increased fat mass. Skinny fat is a problem of body composition: you have too much fat mass relative to muscle mass, and the fat could be making you sick. Let me give you a visual. Skinny fat women look thin but have very little muscle deﬁnition. They may look good in a T- shirt, but when naked, the belly appears doughy. When you touch their skin, you sink into fat rather than feel the ﬁrmness of muscles in the space between their skin and bones. They are thin people who are actually high in fat mass, especially around the belly, and low in muscle mass. They are at risk of the same kinds of diseases as obese people: prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.
How Many Women Are Leptin Resistant?
In my practice, I found that between 60 and 70 percent of overweight women were leptin resistant. They had a “hunger hormone” problem, not a problem of willpower. Leptin resistance is at the heart of carbohydrate cravings, increased hunger, and overeating— and paradoxically it results in your brain thinking that you’re starving. It’s like a broken thermostat. Your system keeps sensing the room is cold, even when it’s hot. When it’s functioning optimally, leptin can be a dieter’s best friend because it normalizes appetite and reverses fat storage. But when it’s not, it can become your worst enemy.
How Does Leptin Affect Thyroid Function?
Leptin resistance is associated with greater inflammation in the body, as measured by higher levels of hs-CRP (high sensitivity C-reactive protein). Leptin also correlates higher TSH and with metabolic syndrome. Sometimes, the TSH in leptin resistance is in the upper range of what conventional physicians consider euthyroid. I recommend a TSH < 2 and reverse T3 in the lower half of the normal range for your lab.
How Quickly Do Women Lose weight?
Within the first week, I usually see 2-5 pounds lost if leptin resistance is the root cause. I’m not a fan of fad diets or rapid weight loss. My goal is slow, steady, and sustained weight loss in women who are overweight. Thyroid takes 6-8 weeks to reach a new level of homeostasis.
Leptin, Bone, and Joint Problems
High levels of leptin harm your joints, independent of obesity. That’s because leptin is a mediator in the progression of osteoarthritis. Leptin literally breaks down cartilage by increasing the production of metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes, and contributes to apoptosis (programmed cell death) in chondrocytes. (Chondrocytes are the cells that produce cartilage and then becomes embedded in the cartilage matrix.)
Some people think that high leptin is simply a consequence of obesity, but one study shows that leptin elevation leads to bone and joint problems independent of obesity.
Studies found high levels of leptin in the spinal tissue and joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Research indicates that high or level leptin levels cause inflammation linked to autoimmune diseases. This is because leptin plays a role in the activities of the immune system, so when it’s off base, the immune system gets knocked out. Overall, bloat and inflammation are signs of imbalanced hormones, especially leptin. Getting off of fructose, as I suggest in my book The Hormone Reset Diet, will cut out the bloat and help you feel more energized, less heavy and hungry, and more in control of your food cravings.
Do HIIT Help to Reverse Problems with Leptin?
Studies show that some women drop their leptin with exercise. When you are resetting your leptin pathway, I recommend that you burn calories after dinner. Exercising after dinner allows you to burn extra calories and, ideally, enter a lower energy balance (calories eaten at dinner minus calories burned after dinner) for the all-important, ﬁx-my-leptin overnight fast (i.e., an intermittent fast of 14 to 18 hours). Women are extremely efﬁcient at hanging on to fat at all costs, especially after age 40. One study showed that overweight men and women respond differently to exercise on a treadmill. Men show no change in their metabolic hormones, and women increase their ghrelin, the hormone that raises appetite.
Just remember that vigorous exercise very close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. At least two hours before bed, go for a brisk walk, practice twenty minutes of yoga, take a quick swim, do ﬁve sun salutations, or attend a barre ﬁtness class.
For more information on leptin and how to reset it, pick up your copy of The Hormone Reset Diet.
Manole C, et al. “Role of Leptin in Autoimmune Diseases.” Maedica (Buchar). 2013 Mar; 8(1): 68–74.
Pop, D, et al. “ The Response of Circulating Leptin Levels to Exercise Stress Testing in Subjects Diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome.” SRN Endocrinol. 2014; 2014: 689260. Published online 2014 Jan 28. doi: 10.1155/2014/689260.
For patients struggling with obesity and weight, hormones often affect their overall health. Excess body fat can cause problems with weight and hormonal issues. Leptin is one of the hormones directly connected to body fat and obesity.
Leptin, a hormone released from the fat cells located in adipose tissues, sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain. This particular hormone helps regulate and alter long-term food intake and energy expenditure, not just from one meal to the next. The primary design of leptin is to help the body maintain its weight.
Because it comes from fat cells, leptin amounts are directly connected to an individual’s amount of body fat. If the individual adds body fat, leptin levels will increase. If an individual lowers body fat percentages, the leptin will decrease as well.
What does leptin do?
Leptin is sometimes called the satiety hormone. It helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance, so the body does not trigger hunger responses when it does not need energy. However, when levels of the hormone fall, which happens when an individual loses weight, the lower levels can trigger huge increases in appetite and food cravings. This, in turn, can make weight loss more difficult.
Potential Problems with Leptin
When the body is functioning properly, excess fat cells will produce leptin, which will trigger the hypothalamus to lower the appetite, allowing the body to dip into the fat stores to feed itself. Unfortunately, when someone is obese, that individual will have too much leptin in the blood. This can cause a lack of sensitivity to the hormone, a condition known as leptin resistance. Because the individual keeps eating, the fat cells produce more leptin to signal the feeling of satiety, leading to increased leptin levels.
Low levels of leptin are rare, but can occasionally occur. For a few patients, a condition known as congenital leptin deficiency keeps the body from producing leptin. Without leptin, the body thinks it has no body fat, and this signals intense, uncontrolled hunger and food intake. This often manifests in severe childhood obesity and delayed puberty. The treatment for leptin deficiency is leptin injections.
Questions to ask your doctor
If you suspect you or your child has problems with leptin levels, consider asking the following questions:
- What are my leptin levels, and how do they rate?
- How can I handle the cravings that come when my leptin levels decrease during weight loss?
- Does my child need treatment for leptin deficiency?
Leptin Levels Linked To Anxiety And Depressive Symptoms
For the first time an investigation has been able to link human levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, with symptoms of anxiety and depression independent of weight . The study, led by Dr Elizabeth Lawson from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, USA, indicates that, regardless of body fat or weight, leptin levels might be associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms in women. The investigation is published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.
Together with her team, Lawson examined 64 women in four groups:
- 20 women who were of normal weight and healthy.
- 15 women with anorexia nervosa.
- 17 women who were overweight or obese.
- and 12 women who were normal weight but had hypothalamic amenorrhoea (a condition which stops menstruation for several months. Women with this condition have low leptin levels, but unlike those who are anorexic their fat levels do not differ from healthy women.)
The researchers measured fasting blood leptin levels, total body fat, and weight. They then conducted tests for anxiety and depression symptoms as well as levels of experienced stress (HAM-D, HAM-A and Perceived Stress Scale respectively; higher scores indicate increased symptoms.)
They discovered that women who experienced lower symptoms of anxiety and depression showed higher leptin levels and vice-versa. Across the four groups, HAM-D and HAM-A scores were connected with leptin levels (HAM-D: r = -0.43, P = 0.0004; HAM-A: r = -0.34, P = 0.006). Remaining considerable after controlling for both body weight and fat mass. In addition Perceived Stress Scale score were also linked with leptin levels (r = -0.35, P = 0.007), however, this didn’t remain considerable after controlling for body weight or fat mass. Across all groups, women who scored eight or above (a standard cutoff indicating depression) on the HAM-D score showed lower leptin levels compare to those who scored below 8, which after controlling for body weight and fat loss also remained considerable.
These discoveries reveal for the first time the levels of the hormone leptin (one of the hormones that controls appetite regulation) in humans, are linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression, regardless of body weight of fat. This independence makes the connection stronger as it controls for confounding relationships between leptin and fat mass. Additional investigators with more participants are needed in order to find out precisely how anxiety and depressive symptoms and leptin interact.
Lead researcher Dr Elizabeth Lawson from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, USA explained:
“To find that leptin levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety are linked in humans, independent of body fat, is very interesting, as animal studies suggest that leptin has anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties.
Our findings place leptin on a growing list of hormones that are correlated with psychiatric symptoms. Whether leptin influences depression or vice versa, and whether the relationship is direct or mediated by a third as yet unknown factor needs to be investigated.
Further studies administering leptin to patients will be important in determining whether this hormone has a potential role in the treatment of depression and/or anxiety.”
Written by Grace Rattue
Leptin in the 21st Century
Leptin treatment: Facts and expectations
Leptin has key roles in the regulation of energy balance, body weight, metabolism, and endocrine function. Leptin levels are undetectable or very low in patients with lipodystrophy, hypothalamic amenorrhea, and congenital leptin deficiency (CLD) due to mutations in the leptin gene. For these patients, leptin replacement therapy with metreleptin (a recombinant leptin analog) has improved or normalized most of their phenotypes, including normalization of endocrine axes, decrease in insulin resistance, and improvement of lipid profile and hepatic steatosis. Remarkable weight loss has been observed in patients with CLD. Due to its effects, leptin therapy has also been evaluated in conditions where leptin levels are normal or high, such as common obesity, diabetes (types 1 and 2), and Rabson–Mendenhall syndrome. A better understanding of the physiological roles of leptin may lead to the development of leptin-based therapies for other prevalent disorders such as obesity-associated nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, depression and dementia.
The past decades were marked by an upsurge of talk linking obesity to caloric intake, working out and willpower. The most recent researches are finding another factor. Obesity can be caused by a hormone called leptin and being resistant to it can lead to the accumulation of fat. So, what is leptin and where is it produced?
Often referred to as the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone”, leptin is produced by the body’s fat cells. The higher the amount of body fat you have, the more would be the amount of leptin that your body produces. The primary target of this hormone is the brain’s hypothalamus. It is responsible to tell the brain if a person has stored in a fat. As a result, the person will not need to eat more and can burn calories within a normal rate. The main role of leptin is the long term regulation of energy: controlling the number of calories you eat and the amount of fat you store in your body. So, in other words, this hormone can help prevent you from over eating or starving, both are important survival techniques.
Our blood carries leptin into the brain where signals get sent to the hypothalamus. This is how the hormone controls appetite. So, since leptin is produced by our fat cells, these latter are the ones sending messages to the brain instructing it about how much fat is still or not needed. When you eat, body fat increases, and more leptin is produced. You will eat less food and burn more. On the other hand, when you do not eat, your body fat decreases, which will lead to low levels of leptin. As a result, you will eat more and burn less. This is called the negative feedback loop.
When you are obese, you have a lot of body fat that will lead to high levels of leptin. If you want to take into consideration the negative feedback loop, an obese person would lower his or her food intake since they have enough body fat stored for energy. But, if their signaling path is not working properly, they will end up eating despite the high levels of leptin. Their brain can’t identify the right signal, and the result would turn out to be “eat so you do not starve”. This is called leptin resistance; and, is marked by two behaviors: 1) eating more food to prevent starvation, and 2) reducing energy expenditure to burn less calories. In that case, the cause for obesity would be leptin resistance: a hormonal defect. This defect would lead to false signals that can disrupt your diet and promote long-term weight gain. Those who have this resistance are the ones that keep gaining weight. This is called the yo-yo weight loss. Even if they succeed in lowering their body fat, somehow; their resistance becomes more accentuated and the brain will use all its power to help fight off the “false starvation” and regain the lost body fat.
Scientists developed a classification method to understand if the patient has a normal weight or not. This measure is calculated by dividing the weight in pound by the height in inches squared x 703. If the BMI is less than 18.5; then the person is underweight. If the BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9; then, the person has a normal weight. If the BMI is between 25 and 29.9; then, the person is overweight. And finally, if the BMI is more than 30; then, the person is obese. This BMI classification does not apply to individuals who are bodybuilders.
Why take the Leptin test?
The leptin test is a forgotten test that is not part of any yearly routine testing; however, it is an important diagnostic tool for identifying leptin deficiency that could be the root cause of obesity. This test can also help identify high levels of this hormone and identify any resistance. Obese kids, who may carry inherited leptin resistance, need to be tested. Also, this test is a great tool to evaluate obesity. Some health care professionals order the leptin test along the lipid profile and thyroid panel to better understand the health status of the patient. From another angle, obese people who are constantly hungry may benefit from leptin testing.
What causes the levels of Leptin to change?
There is no solid data linking drugs and medications to changes in leptin levels. A study, published in 2009 by the department of psychiatry in VA San Diego Healthcare system wanted to understand the link of antipsychotic drugs to leptin levels. The results indicated that the witnessed increase in leptin levels, when following antipsychotic treatments, was the result of weight gain and not the direct impact of the drugs. More research is needed to have a better link between medications and this hormone.
Alcohol, on the other hand, can inhibit the secretion of leptin, according to a study published by the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism.
What your Leptin test results mean?
Your blood test results for leptin need to be within normal ranges. For men with a BMI of 22, values need to be between 0.7 and 5.3 ng/mL while for women, values need to be between 3.3 and 18.3 ng/mL.
Numerous factors can lead to leptin resistance, such as inflammation, free fatty acids, and high leptin levels. So, these factors, being caused by obesity, can put the person in a vicious cycle dominated by leptin resistance. One of the best ways to identify leptin resistance, is to look at the mirror. If you notice that you have accumulated a lot of belly fat; then, you are resistant.
While reversing leptin resistance may not be a very clear process; certain methods can be effective. One of the best methods is to lower inflammation by embracing healthier lifestyle changes. These include:
- Working out and exercising can manage your leptin resistance.
- Adding soluble fibers to your diet can protect against obesity.
- Avoiding processed food: having high intakes of processed food that are high in carbs and fat can overwork your gut and lead to inflammation.
- Adding proteins to your diet can help you lose weight, feel full and lower your leptin resistance.
- Lower your triglycerides levels by limiting your carb intake.
- Sleeping as much as you need can keep your leptin levels within normal ranges.
It is important to know that women tend to have higher leptin levels than men. Also, pregnant women can have increased levels that may be accentuated due to gestational diabetes. Leptin has also been evaluated when understanding the causes of atherosclerosis, gestational diabetes, fertility, depression, stress, anxiety, insulin resistance and diabetes and hunger.
If an obese child turned out to be carrying the rare inherited leptin deficiency gene; then, replacement therapy may be the best tool to address his or her obesity. More research is still needed.
Where can I get a Leptin test near me?
Please use our Lab Locator to find find a convenient testing location.
Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Oct 24, 2019
5 Signs You’re Leptin Resistant (And Why it Matters)
Leptin, also known as the “satiety hormone”, is responsible for keeping your weight stable. Here’s what you need to know if you’re leptin resistant.
When leptin is working right, you lose your appetite after you eat enough to meet your body’s energy needs.
But what about when leptin isn’t functioning properly? This is the unfortunate reality for millions of people out there, and sorting it out just might be the key to unlocking your weight loss and health struggles.
In need of a sugar detox?
What Is Leptin?
Leptin is a hormone that wasn’t discovered until 1994. (1) Researchers are just now beginning to understand how crucial it is for maintaining an ideal weight and overall health.
This hormone is produced in the fat cells in your body, and serves two major purposes. It sends signals to your brain that you’re hungry or full, and it regulates your body’s energy expenditure. The more fat cells you have, the greater the amount of leptin in your body. (2)
Leptin signals your brain to stop eating once you’ve replenished your energy stores. But that only happens when the signaling mechanism is working right.
Almost everyone has the leptin they need to function. But things break down when their brains stop receiving leptin’s signals and responding to them accordingly. This is a condition called leptin resistance. Your brain struggles to recognize (and respond to) the hormone signaling. So you end up feeling hungry all the time – even when you eat more than enough food to fuel your body.
Your body is full, but your brain tells you that you’re starving. This leads to all kinds of nasty health problems. Leptin resistance has been linked to obesity, bone problems, and even an increased risk of heart disease. (3, 4)
How Can You Tell If You’re Leptin Resistant?
Millions of people are leptin resistant, and many don’t even know it.
The typical modern diet is a huge factor. Eating a lot of sugars, grains, and processed foods causes your fat cells to flood your body with leptin. Do it often enough, and the body adapts by becoming resistant to leptin.
This process works similarly to how people become resistant to insulin. It leaves you feeling sick, tired, and hungry all the time – even when you’re eating way more than your body needs. (5)
The good news is that you can take action to restore leptin sensitivity and turn your health around. Here are the top five signs you might be leptin resistant.
You’re Overweight (or Underweight)
The easiest way to find out if you’re leptin resistant? Hop on a scale. If you’re 15 pounds overweight or more – and a good portion of that fat is accumulated on your belly – you’re almost certainly leptin resistant. (6)
Extra weight is often a byproduct of your brain not being able to respond to leptin properly. If you’re struggling to lose weight, leptin resistance could be to blame. You don’t have to be overweight to be struggling with leptin resistance. If you’re more than 10 or 15 pounds underweight, your body’s response to leptin also might be out of whack.
Bottom line: if your weight falls outside a healthy range – and you’ve been trying to change it unsuccessfully – you’re probably leptin resistant.
You Have Food Cravings Constantly
If you’re always on the lookout for another snack to tide you over until meal time, this could be another indicator. Out of control food cravings (especially cravings for junk food) are common symptoms of leptin resistance.
Try spacing out your meals so there are at least four hours between them, and don’t let yourself snack. If this is difficult for you, there’s a good chance you’re leptin resistant.
You Aren’t Eating Nearly Enough
If you’re trying to clean up your diet and lose weight fast, it’s tempting to drastically cut your caloric intake. However, any time of extreme calorie restriction can backfire, causing your body to adapt by becoming even more resistant to leptin.
This is because after a sudden caloric change, your body does everything in its power to hang on to stored fat. This happens to a lot of people unintentionally when they switch to a Paleo diet. Many are great about cutting out sugars and processed foods, but they struggle to replace enough of those calories with better alternatives.
You might be drastically undershooting the calories it takes to maintain your current weight (or lose weight at a sustainable level).
Bottom line: drastically reducing calories makes it even harder to lose extra weight.
You’re Stressed Out and Sleep Deprived
It seems like everyone’s frazzled and in a rush these days. While people justify a fast-paced lifestyle in the name of productivity, the truth is that stress and sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on your weight and health.
A combination of high stress and not enough sleep spikes your cortisol, or stress hormone, levels. More cortisol leads to more stress and less sleep, resulting in a vicious cycle ends the same way every time: poor health.
If you aren’t taking action to manage your stress or get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night, you’re doing yourself a disservice. High cortisol levels lead to leptin resistance, and when left unchecked, can cause obesity, inflammation, and an increased risk of heart disease. (7)
You Follow a Typical Modern Diet
The typical modern diet is atrocious. It’s packed with sugar, refined carbohydrates, and too many nasty preservatives and chemicals to name. Eating these kinds of foods constantly will ruin your body’s natural leptin response.
Sodas, candy bars, and other sugary foods flood your body with a temporary burst of energy, but it doesn’t take your body long to process these nutritionally empty foods. You can eat them and find yourself hungry again an hour or two later. These foods send your leptin on a rollercoaster ride. Surges of leptin force your body to adapt by becoming resistant to the hormone.
Your brain ends up thinking you’re hungry all the time, even though you’re packing in food!
5 Steps to Restoring Leptin Sensitivity
If one or more of the symptoms above fits your current situation, there’s a good chance you’re leptin resistant.
To get your appetite and energy levels back on track and reverse leptin resistance, it’s crucial to start making smarter choices in your diet and lifestyle. Start with these basics.
1. Cut out Grains, Sugars & Processed Foods
Replace these foods with more “slow burn” energy found in nutrient-dense, whole foods will help you avoid nasty leptin spikes that end in leptin resistance. Instead, focus on organic vegetables, grass-fed meats, and healthy fats like avocados.
2. Eat More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is essential for health. Unfortunately, most of us are consuming way too many omega-6s from vegetable oils, processed foods, and factory-farmed meats. You can increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating more fish, like this pan-seared salmon in a garlicky ghee sauce. Or, you can take a high-quality fish oil supplement every day.
3. Avoid Snacking
It’s okay to grab a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts every now and then to make a rumbling stomach go away. When you’re fighting leptin resistance, though, it’s important to try to limit snacking as much as possible.
Sticking to a few meals a day – instead of constant streams of food – will stabilize your leptin levels and avoid constant spikes. That makes it easier for your body to respond to leptin like it should.
We all know how important it is to get your heart rate up. Walking, jogging, playing tennis and other aerobic exercises are all great, but you may always want to consider adding a bit of resistance training to your routine. Lifting weights can help increase leptin sensitivity, which makes it easier for your body to tell your brain when it’s full and help you lose weight. (8) If the idea of joining a gym gives you anxiety, start with this light dumbbell workout you can do right at home!
5. Manage Stress and Get More Sleep
It’s important to get your stress levels under control if you’re going to beat your leptin resistance. Make it a priority to get plenty of sleep each night, and try getting your cortisol levels in check by practicing yoga, meditation, or other calming exercises you can add to your daily routine.
The Bottom Line
If you’re struggling to control your weight and stay healthy, leptin resistance could be the culprit. Make a few simple diet and lifestyle adjustments to lay the foundation to restore leptin sensitivity, control your weight, and improve your health. No prescription necessary!
Sugar can be hard to quit, but it’s important to do if it’s messing with your leptin signaling. For a little extra help, see these 8 Signs You’re Addicted to Sugar and How to Overcome It.
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We’ve written a comprehensive post about Leptin before. This post is about leptin resistance. Leptin resistance is common in obesity and it doesn’t suppress appetite. Scientists are investigating how leptin sensitivity affects weight loss and inflammation–but can you actually reverse leptin resistance? Read on to learn what the latest research suggests.
What is Leptin Resistance?
Obese humans have high levels of leptin, which suggests a strong link between leptin and obesity . But is it really all that simple?
To rewind, leptin is produced by the body’s fat cells. It has been called the “satiety hormone that causes weight loss,” the “obesity hormone” or “fat hormone,” And lastly, the “starvation hormone.”
Initial research hyped leptin’s alleged weight loss effects, but further studies revealed that leptin is not the weight loss pill everyone has been searching for .
On the contrary, leptin levels increase exponentially (more drastically), not linearly, with fat mass. This means that increased body weight may cause leptin to go much higher .
Leptin resistance is when leptin doesn’t work as well to decrease appetite or increase energy expenditure. Tissues and cells seem to become resistant to even high amounts of it–a similar mechanism to insulin resistance, but different hormonal pathways are involved .
Leptin resistance is now believed to be the leading driver of fat gain in humans .
Because fat cells produce leptin in proportion to their size, obese people tend have very high levels of leptin that doesn’t perform its job properly .
Although leptin is thought to suppress appetite when it’s slightly raised,it seems to have the opposite effects when it gets too high. That’s why scientists think leptin resistance leads to increased appetite and decreased energy expenditure .
What Are The Mechanisms of Leptin Resistance?
Many mechanisms have been proposed to explain leptin resistance, including impairment in leptin transportation and leptin “signaling” issues .
Limited studies suggest that in obese people with very high leptin, levels in the cerebrospinal fluid only increase slightly .
Thus, scientists believe that leptin might not be getting into the brain and this could be a part of the problem. This theory hasn’t been verified yet, though .
Animal and cell-based experiments suggest that high blood Triglycerides may impair leptin from entering the brain. Human studies are needed to determine if this is true .
Other researchers say that the second issue be fewer leptin receptors .
Lastly, the third issue is thought to arise from a problem in the leptin signaling cascade, which has been linked with leptin resistance (high SOCS3, low JAK2, low STAT3). However, human studies have yet to look into these pathways .
In animals, BDNF seems to be needed for leptin to cause weight loss. Lower BDNF has been associated with leptin resistance and weight gain. Although intriguing, this doesn’t tell us anything about leptin resistance in humans. Plus, we can’t measure BDNF commercially and scientists are still trying to understand its roles in the human body .
All in all, there is no single cause of leptin resistance. Many pathways have been proposed, and it’s likely that each one contributes to a certain extent. Large human studies are needed to better understand what might lead to leptin resistance in humans.
Factors that May Increase Leptin Sensitivity
When to See a Doctor
If you’re struggling with obesity or leptin resistance, it’s important to schedule a visit with your doctor.
He or she should diagnose, treat, and monitor any underlying conditions causing your symptoms.
Your doctor may also order some blood tests. A leptin test is usually ordered for overweight/obese individuals, especially if there is a family history of obesity. It can also be ordered for an obese person who has symptoms of frequent, persistent hunger to detect leptin deficiency or excess.
Sometimes, it is used with other tests, such as a thyroid panel, glucose, cholesterol, and insulin, to determine the health status of an overweight/obese person and identify underlying conditions that may be contributing to or worsening their condition.
It’s uncertain whether leptin resistance can be reversed. The complementary approaches listed below may help support metabolic and overall health.
That said, you may try them if you and your doctor determine that they could be appropriate.
Remember that none of them should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.
1) Sleep & Circadian Cues
Circadian Rhythm Disruptions have been linked with leptin resistance and obesity in animals (14).
Most of the existing human studies deal with associations, so it’s impossible to determine whether circadian issues can cause leptin resistance. However, keeping a healthy circadian rhythm is known to support mental and metabolic health.
For example, one study suggested that night-shift workers, who must be awake, active, and eating during the night seem to be at a higher risk of obesity and metabolic diseases .
In another study, chronic jet lag disrupted the clock in fat cells and induced Leptin resistance in the brains in mice (14).
Many people that don’t travel across time zones much might not get enough light in the day and too much light at night, which could disrupt the natural biological rhythm.
Thus, it would be a good idea to stick to a certain sleep hygiene. If possible, aim to keep a healthy circadian rhythm. Get some sunlight during the day and enough restful sleep and darkness during the night.
2) Avoiding Nighttime Snacks
Some studies propose that we’ve eaten for about 12 hours in the day and fasted for 12 hours at night over the natural course of mammalian history .
In line with the circadian cues theory, it has also been hypothesized that eating during the “wrong” time may contribute to circadian desynchronization and weight gain.
In small human studies, eating after 8 PM was associated with weight gain. Larger studies are needed to understand exactly which foods, in what amounts, and at what time are “wrong” in most humans, though .
In lab animals, eating at the wrong time seems to cause changes in leptin that result in weight gain .
Mice eating a high-fat diet only during the “wrong’”circadian phase appear to gain 2.5x more weight than mice fed the same diet during the mice’s natural feeding period .
One mechanism by which obesity is hypothesized to result from eating at the wrong time–namely, at night–is by preventing the calories from being burned.
Similarly, studies in healthy adults have suggested that meal satiety also varies with time of day and that food intake during the night may be less satiating and leads to greater daily caloric intake compared to food consumed in the morning hours .
Thus, some scientists have proposed that when people eat might be more important than what they eat and maybe even than how much people eat. However, all of these factors are important.
Aside from not overeating and following a nutritious diet, avoiding nighttime meals seems like a good idea.
3) Avoiding Overeating
Chronically high levels of leptin may eventually cause leptin resistance as a means to stay in homeostasis, animal studies suggest .
Researchers consider that the act of overeating may lead to chronically high levels of leptin in the long run, potentially causing leptin resistance. At that point, people usually find it harder to lose weight because several metabolic pathways are out of balance .
Also, eating too many calories–or overeating–eventually leads to obesity and other detrimental health consequences, especially in people who eat unhealthy foods. It can increase inflammation, blood lipids, blood sugar, and increase the risk of many chronic diseases .
If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your healthcare provider. They should help you set an initial plan to limit your daily calories while upping your intake of nutritious foods.
4) Reducing Refined Sugars
The consumption of too much sugar AND saturated fat in the typical Western diet is thought to be a crucial contributor to the alarming incidence of obesity .
Unhealthy, fast-food-type diets have been reported to induce an inflammatory response in the hypothalamus in animals, which seems to promote the development of brain leptin resistance and obesity .
Studies suggest that eating too much fat and carbs can also increase fatty acids in the blood. On the other hand, reducing refined carbs likely decrease triglycerides , which theoretically might support leptin transport to the brain.
These mechanisms haven’t been proven in humans, but we know that diets high in refined sugars and fat are unhealthy. Aim to reduce your intake of sugar, refined carbs like white bread, and saturated fats. Opt in for high-fiber foods and complex (low glycemic index) carbs instead.
5) Increasing Healthy Proteins
In a small study of 19 people, an increase in dietary protein from 15% to 30% of caloric intake (at a constant carbohydrate intake) produced a sustained decrease in caloric intake. The participants also lost weight .
The authors proposed that this may have been mediated by increased leptin sensitivity in the brain. They believe the appetite-reducing effect of protein may contribute to the weight loss produced by low-carbohydrate diets .
In a trial of postmenopausal women, a low-carb diet with exercise lowered leptin levels and increased adiponectin, which resulted in weight loss .
Studies found that reducing carbs may also lower triglycerides. However, people should have in mind that these studies used very specific diets and typically had strict food lists .
Therefore, it’s usually not just about reducing your carb intake by any means. You should make sure to get healthy protein sources and be mindful of the carbs that you take in. For example, even if carbs make up only a minority of your calories, you don’t want to be consuming sugar and pasta for carbs only.
If you’d like to lower your carb intake but aren’t sure how, speak to your healthcare provider and a licensed nutritionist to get some recommendations.
Research suggests that exercise can be beneficial in multiple ways for weight loss .
Besides burning calories, scientists think that exercise improves hypothalamic leptin sensitivity at least in part through suppressing hypothalamic inflammation and inhibiting Endoplasmic Reticulum stress in rodents. These pathways haven’t been explored in humans .
Moderate, regular exercise also likely increases BDNF and supports healthy blood lipid levels and general well-being .
7) Reducing Stress
Chronic stress is often associated with weight gain. Chronically high levels of Cortisol have been proposed as another contributing factor to leptin resistance .
There are many other mechanisms by which too much stress might cause weight gain. Finding ways to de-stress and relax on a regular basis is also key to a healthy lifestyle .
8) Resolving Inflammation
Low-grade, chronic hypothalamic inflammation has been associated with various metabolic disorders including obesity .
Work with your doctor to treat any underlying conditions causing your low-grade inflammation.
The following factors are theoretical or anecdotal. They aren’t backed up by solid science. We bring them up for informational purposes.
Scientists are investigating whether Leptin Receptor activity increases with colder temperatures. Animal studies suggest it is associated with defense against cold temperatures .
Cold showers are popular among people who want to burn fat, lose weight, or get rid of cellulite. Some people think that cold can make them more leptin sensitive, but this hasn’t been proven .
Be cautious with any form of sudden temperature change in your environment, especially if you have heart disease or other chronic conditions.
Scientists are investigating whether the following pathways reduce leptin resistance in animals and cells:
Autophagy is a process by which cells remove and recycle junk proteins.Some researchers think it is important for leptin sensitivity .
Estrogen deficiency is hypothesized to cause leptin insensitivity in the brain based on animal data .
Leptin is thought to work, in part, through BDNF .
Our post on BDNF delves into factors that may increase BDNF, but suffice it to say that a generally healthy lifestyle will be beneficial.
PEA supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Researchers are investigating whether lectins can cause leptin resistance, especially wheat lectins .
Some theories suggest that lectins may bind to sugar structures on the receptors of cells–including leptin receptors–and mimic or block the effects of that receptor. This theory still remains unproven and it hasn’t been tested in proper clinical trials (R, R).
The lectin avoidance diet with certain modifications may support weight loss, but this is anecdotal .
Hypothetical Pathways of Leptin Resistance:
Animal and cellular studies are exploring whether the following pathways can trigger leptin resistance:
- Inflammation in the hypothalamus
- Triglycerides and Free Fatty Acids in the blood . Triglycerides are hypothesized to block leptin from entering the brain, which may have been an evolutionary advantage in the past (increased hunger during starvation to seek food) .
- Emotional Stress and cortisol
- Insulin resistance
- Inadequate autophagy
- Lower SIRT1
- Lower STAT3 and JAK2: Ketogenic diets inhibit STAT3 and cause leptin resistance .
- Low BDNF
- Higher SOCS3, caused by inflammation .
- Higher PTP1B – Deletion of this protein increased leptin and insulin sensitivity, preventing body weight gain in a diet-induced obesity animal model
- Endoplasmic reticulum stress
- Estrogen deficiency causes leptin insensitivity in the brain and increased hypothalamic neuropeptide Y .
Human data are lacking.
We all battle with our weight and yo-yo dieting is no fun. The truth is, no matter what you do, including eating right and exercising, it’s all in vain if your Leptin is out of whack!
It’s easy to lose your mojo and think that nothing will have an effect. Fad diets have no long term gains and should be avoided. They are perfect for a kick start but not sustainable in the long run.
Real weight maintenance comes from a life of moderation. You need to make lifestyle changes to be truly successful at obtaining your goal weight and achieving your desired shape.
Your body, when working correctly is a natural fat-burning machine. In order to shed pounds, you need to ensure that you aren’t unknowingly sabotaging your own efforts.
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Given our Community is highly engaged when it comes to health and weight loss, we thought we’d investigate Leptin Resistance and give you basic information and links.
The more you know, the better chance you will achieve your goals. This infographic from Body Sculptors Australia gives a great overview of the cycle of Leptin and how it causes you to feel continually hungry and how it leads to ongoing weight gain.
What is Leptin?
Leptin plays a major role in complete hormonal balance. We actually require a substantial amount to burn fat. When we diet, our Leptin levels plummet. Leptin also tells our brain we are full.
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How Leptin Works In The Body
Low Leptin levels are directly linked to comfort eating and overeating. Dr. Oz says the following about Leptin.“Leptin is a hormone that plays a crucial role in appetite and weight control. It is thought to have at least two major functions.
First, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to receptors in the appetite center in the brain, regulating brain cells that tell you how much to eat. Second, it increases nervous system activity which stimulates fatty tissue to burn energy”
The infographic above from Body Building shows you how Ghrelin and Leptin function in your body.
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One of the first things you can do to increase your weight loss efforts is to get a decent sleep. It’s the time your body repairs and burns calories. There’s a reason it’s called beauty sleep.
This infographic from Look Great Lose Weight shows you the results of a study that indicate that those that sleep 8 hours a night overall have a lower Body Mass Index.
Leptin Explanation Video Tutorial
We have included a video that explains exactly why you can’t lose weight and the changes you can make to exercise and diet.
Dr. Westin Childs explains it in very simple terms and you will love what you learn. Click Play above to view ^
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How To Reverse Leptin Resistance
Dr. Westin Childs has these suggestions for getting on top of your Leptin Resistance.
Firstly check you are on the right Thyroid Medication. Adding in 15 minutes of high-intensity training will have great results and is more beneficial than lower impact exercise.
He also suggests removing highly processed foods and that you ensure you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Reducing Fructose should also be considered. Whilst medications are on offer, we would much rather you try natural remedies.
Drinking water is a must. When dehydrated, your body thinks it needs food when water will suffice. By drinking lots of water you are flushing your system and maintaining a full feeling which means you won’t need to eat as much.
Portion control is also another game-changer in weight loss. By reducing the size of your meals even slightly the calories saved will add up enormously over a week.
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Leptin Resistance Eating Rules
Here are some other rules that you will find helpful.
- 1: Eat your dinner early and nothing after
- 2: Stick to 3 Meals a day and don’t snack
- 3: Reduce the portion sizes of your meals
- 4: Have a Protein-Packed Breakfast
- 5: Reduce Your Carb Intake
Dr. Axe has a great infographic above that gives some tips about the difference between Ghrelin and Leptin. One interesting fact is that low impact exercise like walking could actually be working against you. He suggests burst training which is 30-second sprints and more high-intensity activity.
How Does Leptin Affect You?
Leptin is your appetite suppressor – the hormone that signals your body that you’ve had enough to eat and is a key player in optimizing weight loss. As mentioned, certain foods can block or increase leptin.
Although leptin reduces appetite, obese individuals generally exhibit an unusually high circulating concentration of leptin. These people are said to be resistant to the effects of leptin, in much the same way that people with type 2 diabetes are resistant to the effects of insulin.
This is called leptin resistance. The pathway of leptin control in obese people is flawed in some way so that the body does not adequately receive a signal of satiety after eating.
You need to lose weight in order for your body to get the message that you’re full after eating! As you lose weight, your body will become more sensitive to Leptin.
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5 Sneaky Signs You Are Leptin Resistant
According to Paleo Hacks, there are 5 Sneaky Signs You Are Leptin Resistant. See if you recognize any other symptoms below.
- 1. You Follow a Typical Modern Diet
- 2. You’re Stressed Out and Sleep Deprived
- 3. You Aren’t Eating Nearly Enough
- 4. You Have Food Cravings Constantly
- 5. You’re Overweight (or Underweight)
Leptin Diet Book
A great place to start is by reading up on Leptin. Byron Richards is a Nutritionist and for the record, this is not a new phenomenon. This book was written in 2006. Here’s what he says.
The Leptin Diet explains how to unleash the power of hormones to resolve fatigue, food cravings, thyroid problems, and bodyweight issues. Mastering the fat hormone leptin is the single most important factor in preventing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Leptin problems are the primary reason for food cravings, overeating, faulty metabolism, the obsession with food, and heart disease. Read The Leptin Diet and notice the difference.
- Get Your Copy of the book here
Want More Help?
Eating for your shape is another way to drop the pounds and keep them off. Read our article here.
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