.Many people believe that losing weight is all about calories and willpower.
However, modern obesity research disagrees. Scientists increasingly say that a hormone called leptin is involved in whether you gain or lose weight.
Leptin resistance, in which your body does not respond to this hormone, is now believed to be the leading driver of fat gain in humans.
Here’s the Low-Down on Leptin
Leptin is a hormone produced by your body’s fat cells. It is also called the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone.”
Leptin’s primary target is in the brain. It is supposed to tell your brain that — when you have enough fat stored — you don’t need to eat and can burn calories at a normal rate.
Leptin also has many other functions related to fertility, immunity and brain function. However, leptin’s main role is long-term regulation of energy, including the number of calories you eat and expend, as well as how much fat you store in your body.
A fully functional leptin system is very effective at keeping us from starving. When anyone overeats and gains weight uncontrollably, it means leptin signals are not sent to our brains.
Many People, particularly Women are Leptin Resistant
People who are obese have a lot of body fat in their fat cells. Women are more prone to leptin resistance than their male counterparts.
Because fat cells produce leptin in proportion to their size, people who are obese also have very high levels of leptin.
Many obese people should then naturally limit their food intake. Their brains should know that they have plenty of energy stored.
However, their leptin signaling may not work. While copious leptin may be present, the brain doesn’t see it.
This condition — known as leptin resistance — is now believed to be one of the main biological contributors to obesity and uncontrollable weight gain.
When your brain doesn’t receive the leptin signal, it erroneously thinks that your body is starving — even though it has more than enough energy stored.
This makes your brain change its behavior in order to regain body fat. Your brain then encourages you to:
- Eat more: Your brain thinks that you must eat in order to prevent starvation.
- Reduce energy expenditure: In an effort to conserve energy, your brain decreases you energy levels and makes you burn fewer calories at rest.
Thus, eating more and exercising less is not the underlying cause of weight gain but rather a possible consequence of leptin resistance, a hormonal defect.
Starving Yourself, Exercising Excessively Will Not Help You Lose Weight
Leptin resistance may be THE reason that many diets fail to promote long-term weight loss.
If you’re leptin-resistant, losing weight still reduces fat mass, which leads to a significant reduction in leptin levels — but your brain doesn’t necessarily reverse its leptin resistance.
When leptin goes down, this leads to hunger, increased appetite, reduced motivation to exercise and a decreased number of calories burned at rest.
Your brain then thinks that you are starving and initiates various powerful mechanisms to regain that lost body fat.
This could be a main reason why so many people yo-yo diet — losing a significant amount of weight only to gain it back shortly thereafter.
What Causes Leptin Resistance?
Leptin resistance are a result of the following conditions:
- Inflammation: Inflammatory signaling in your hypothalamus is likely an important cause of leptin resistance in both animals and humans.
- Free fatty acids: Having elevated free fatty acids in your bloodstream may increase fat metabolites in your brain and interfere with leptin signaling.
- Having high leptin: Having elevated levels of leptin in the first place seems to cause leptin resistance.
Most of these factors are amplified by obesity. Leptin resistance continues to increase in people who are obese as they continue to gain weight.
How To Reverse Leptin Resistance?
If you have a lot of body fat, especially in the belly area, then you are almost certainly leptin resistant.
Some researchers believe that reducing diet-induced inflammation may help reverse leptin resistance.
Here are several things you can do at the very least:
- Avoid processed food: Highly processed foods may compromise the integrity of your gut and drive inflammation.
- Eat soluble fiber: Eating soluble fiber can help improve your gut health and may protect against obesity.
- Exercise: Physical activity may help reverse leptin resistance.
- Sleep: A good night’s sleep helps in reversing leptin resistance.
- Lower your triglycerides: Having high triglycerides can prevent the transport of leptin from your blood to your brain. The best way to lower triglycerides is to reduce your carb intake.
- Eat protein: Eating plenty of protein can cause automatic weight loss, which may result from an improvement in leptin sensitivity.
Final Thoughts on Leptin Resistance
Leptin resistance may be one of the main reasons people gain weight and have a really hard time losing it. Women, especially are prone to leptin resistance.
If anyone has told you this before, you tell them back sternly — obesity is not caused by greed, laziness or a lack of willpower.
Rather, there are strong biochemical and social forces that make us all fat. The Western diet in particular may be a leading driver of obesity – causing leptin resistance in many bodies.
If you’re concerned you may be resistant to leptin, start following the steps outlined above.
Start living a healthier lifestyle — and very likely, your resistance to leptin will improve and in due time, you’ll be able to reverse leptin resistance entirely.