Leptin: Weight Loss Holy Grail? Not So Fast. . .

Leptin and GhrelinToday we’re going to talk about Leptin, one of the two most powerful hormones when it comes to body weight. The other is Ghrelin, which we’ll tackle in another article.

Leptin is a powerful hormone that influences both appetite and the desire for exercise. Early research into it showed considerable promise as a weight loss aid, particularly thanks to a study at Columbia University in New York.

Dr. Steven Heymsfield studied three cousins from Turkey who have a genetic mutation preventing their bodies from manufacturing the hormone. This deficiency meant they could eat vast quantities of food without ever feeling full. But after daily injections over the course of ten months, the cousins lost a dramatic amount of weight – while they each needed two seats on the aircraft that flew them to the United States, they booked only one for the return flight.

But leptin’s effects aren’t as simple as Dr. Heymsfield’s research may imply. Leptin is produced by fat cells, so you would naturally assume overweight or obese people are swimming in it. Why don’t they shed pounds with ease?

Leptin Resistance

Your body has a genetically preset response to leptin. When you exceed that amount, your brain responds by reducing appetite. However, if your leptin levels remain high for an extended period of time, the brain develops a resistance to it. Essentially, the brain of an overweight individual believes the body is starving.

Reducing food intake to cut calories and reduce weight only makes this worse by cutting your leptin levels even further; the brain responds with a boost in appetite, one reason why it is so easy to “fall off the wagon” while dieting.

Breaking Out of the Resistance Trap

How can you get out of the leptin-resistance trap? Here are some tips:

  1. Research shows that fructose, a sugar found in many processed foods, exacerbates leptin resistance. Look closely at the ingredients of the foods you buy; it’s a good idea to avoid anything with high levels of fructose. White sugar is half fructose, so cutting it back is recommended.
  2. Your body requires healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats — fats found in dairy products and in oils such as olive oil and coconut oil, and in foods such as avocados.
  3. Sleep. Research shows lack of sleep promotes leptin resistance. So get those eight hours a night; your body will thank you.
  4. Over-eat – but only occasionally. Believe it or not, research shows this may help with reducing weight. It’s called re-feeding, and it’s a way of letting your body know it isn’t starving. Indulge in fatty foods once in a while — but keep to a rigid schedule. For example, make re-feeding a once-a-week thing. This is why cheat meals can work so well for some people. Of course, that’s the ones who keep them sane, and only once weekly.

Out of the Hole

Once you have reduced your weight, your brain can begin to respond properly to changes in leptin levels. As you accumulate fat, your body will reduce appetite and give you a desire to burn calories. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and to pursue exercise, as these together will prevent resistance to leptin and help you maintain a healthy weight. And don’t forget to indulge once in a while – you’ll feel much better.

Leptin isn’t a panacea for weight gain. In fact when we become overweight our brains simply don’t respond to it properly. But with a healthy diet and exercise, we can use its effects to our advantage.

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