Whilst it is generally believed that counting calories and getting regular exercise is paramount to weight loss, modern science suggests that a hormone called leptin could be responsible for the excess body fat that we try so desperately to get rid of.
1. What is Leptin?
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Leptin also goes by the name of the “starvation hormone”, literally the hormone that tells your brain to keep yourself from starving or overeating, depending on whether it has a low or high level of presence in the blood.
Leptin’s main role in the hypothalamus of the brain is keeping our balance of energy in check.
Leptin is responsible for regulating between the amount of energy we take in from food and the energy we expend from being.
Leptin is produced by the fat cells in the body and controls and maintains how much fat that we store. Leptin interacts with many “elements of metabolism”, studies suggest, such as insulin and inflammation, which can make you more susceptible to holding on to body fat.
It is possible, however, for the body to become “leptin resistant”, which we will go on to discuss further.
2. The Link Between Insulin and Leptin
Any diet which contains extremely high levels of sugar causes the body to secrete insulin, often to an excessive degree. If these insulin levels are unhealthily high, they negatively affect leptin by blocking it in some, as yet still unknown, way.
Both leptin and insulin travel in the blood to the brain, so it may be here that the two are linked. Over-consumption is a key factor in becoming resistant to leptin.
Consuming lots of processed and simple, sugary foods makes our blood sugar levels spike, increasing our insulin levels as the body works hard to keep itself in equilibrium.
3. What Can Contribute to Leptin Resistance?
Leptin resistance occurs when the body is no longer in cooperation with the leptin from the fat cells and its effects. The body can no longer recognize the leptin that is there, even though in obese individuals the level of leptin in their body is quite high.
It is not known definitively why the body becomes resistant to leptin. One theory is that the receptors that the hormone would usually bind to don’t work properly.
The factor that can contribute to this leptin resistance the most is a lethal mix of eating poorly, not getting enough exercise and putting stresses on the body.
As an individual puts on more body fat, the receptors work less and the brain ceases to identify the correct levels of leptin which makes it harder for the individual to control their appetite.
It is often a factor that snowballs and becomes even harder to rectify the longer we leave it.
‘Increased circulating leptin,’ a study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia suggests is ‘a marker of leptin resistance, [and] is common in obesity and independently associated with insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in humans.’
4. How Obesity Can Encourage the Growth of Cancer
Leptin resistance is believed to be the main biological difference between an individual with obesity and an individual of a healthy weight. That obesity, it is now suggested, can increase your chances of getting cancer.
The organization, Cancer Research, in the United Kingdom claims that “1 in 20 UK cancers are linked to weight”.
They explain that excess fat affects the way that our cells work and this can greatly increase the risk of developing cancer, among other diseases.
Cancer Research UK also touches on how, though it is not known why just yet, “high insulin levels are a common feature of many cancers”. Given that insulin and leptin are linked, it is easy to see why things such as leptin resistance can raise alarm bells.
Obesity is something that can be prevented, and with so many risks to your health it is important that it is caught fast and changed.
5. How Leptin Resistance Can Be Reversed
The good news is that leptin resistance can be fixed, or at least to some extent.Even if it may seem that no matter how much motivation you have your body is finding ways of battling against you and not listening to your fat cells, there are ways to reverse the effects of this resistance.
It is thought that a diet which reduces inflammation in the body can prevent or reverse your body’s defiance when it comes to using this hormone in the way that it is naturally supposed to do.
This in turn can help you shift that body fat. There are five key steps that you can take towards a leaner, healthier you:
Eat less processed food
C reactive protein, found in the blood and produced by the liver is a byproduct of food which can inflame the body.
The levels of this protein act in tandem with the level of inflammation in the body. This protein, as researchers state, can set up the body for leptin resistance as the two are often found together.
If leptin resistance causes insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, it makes sense to treat the symptoms if we do not yet have a direct treatment.
This means reducing the amount of sugar we eat and eating inflammation-reducing foods.
Swapping omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oil and processed food) for omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish such as mackerel, or salmon), consuming wholegrain foods (unrefined rice, pasta and bread) and even making your own “super green” smoothie containing ginger and spinach in the morning can help greatly towards kick starting your battle with inflammation.
Include more fiber and zinc in your diet
Fiber is a type of “complex” carbohydrate which is important to satiate appetite and stimulate bowel movements.
This reduces body fat and removes toxins from the body, making them less likely to enter the bloodstream and mess with your leptin levels.
Zinc can also be one of the most important minerals that you can include in your diet to help regulate leptin levels.
Although zinc supplements are widely available in health stores and supermarkets, it is important that, where possible, you gain your daily intake of zinc from food sources.
Remember, this is about eating more naturally, wholesomely and in a way that is unprocessed. You can find zinc in seafood, lean beef and lamb, cashew nuts, spinach and pumpkin seeds.
Consider a salad with lots of green leafy vegetables in (amaranth and radicchio are also high in zinc) and snacking on nuts and seeds throughout the day as a healthy swap from biscuits, chocolate bars and sweets.
It is common knowledge that breakfast is one of, if not the most important meal of the day and a filling, high fiber breakfast may be just the ticket to help satisfy an appetite later on in the day.
Exercise helps alleviate the effects that cortisol, the “stress hormone”, has on the body. The levels of cortisol and leptin in the body are intrinsically linked.
Every time that your body perceives it is under attack through the stresses it experiences, cortisol is excreted and stores fat.
Exercise can help work out these kinks, clear the mind and burn calories. Appetite has also been shown to decrease with physical activity, however little or much it is, so long that it is regular.
If you are able to, high-intensity interval training (or HIIT) can jumpstart your body’s mechanisms it has to burn fat. Studies show that high-intensity exercises can be beneficial to leptin sensitivity.
HIIT can even sometimes produce an afterburn effect for many hours afterwards. If this isn’t for you it doesn’t matter, the important thing is to start becoming more active in whichever way suits your personal needs – it makes you more likely to turn it into a habit!
Meditation can be a useful way to lower your stress levels and yoga is a fun way to incorporate exercise into it if you struggle to find time for both.
A study produced for PLoS Medicine has found that participants that had only a short sleep had very low leptin levels and increased ghrelin (another hormone controlling the intake of food) levels which created an increase in appetite.
It recommended that sleep be increased to seven or eight hours a night, Not only this but lit may be beneficial to earn to relax and manage your day-to-day stresses more effectively.
Stress increases your cortisol levels which significantly increases your appetite, leading to overeating.
Cortisol also directly interferes with how leptin functions, making the body less sensitive to the leptin. This is one of the leading reasons why conventional diets may not have their desired effect – when you restrict your calorie intake your body thinks that it is starving and holds on to fat more.
When your leptin drops like this it may be a solution to eat more strategically, or even through intermittently fasting, to let your body know that all is well.
Consume less “simple” carbohydrates – carbohydrates lower high blood triglycerides and cause spikes in insulin levels. Avoid sugary, simple and refined carbohydrates and foods high in fructose.
It may even be as simple as reducing the percentage of your plate that carbs take up – opting for a bigger portion of vegetables and lean meats.
Here we have learnt a new way of approaching weight loss, by bearing in mind how we affect our hormones – specifically leptin – when we are running our day-to-day lives.
We have learnt that it is imperative to help the brain in whichever ways we can to listen to our fat cells and recognise the presence of leptin in the blood.
In thinking more about the body’s biological processes when we put food into it and exercise it, we can come to understand more the most efficient way of getting rid of body fat.