LEPTIN: Everything You Need to Know
Leptin is commonly known as the “satiety” hormone, leptin is a protein that is secreted by the adipose or fat cells that functions to regulate the energy balance within the body by preventing hunger and inhibiting us from overeating. Thus, this way the body doesn’t activate hunger responses when it has sufficient energy in reserve and sets us up to eat more when the energy reverses in the body get depleted.
How LEPTIN works
Since the leptin hormone is produced by the fat tissues, the amount of leptin in the body is directly proportional to amount of body fat in an individual. A lot of leptin informs the brain that there is a lot of fat stored in the body and low levels of leptin signal to the brain that the fat reserves are depleted and the body is at risk of starvation.
Leptin sends signals to the hypothalamus region within the brain informing it of the energy levels within the body. The brain responds to this signal in two ways. If leptin signals to the brain that you have enough energy stored in the body to engage in normal bodily and metabolic functions, the brain then suppresses the hunger hormones and this way you eat less. Meanwhile, when it signals to the brain that your body’s energy levels are low, it activates hunger responses and more often than not, you feel hungrier and develop cravings for food. This is necessary so as to replenish the energy reserves depleted as a result of starvation.You also feel lazier and this is a tact the brain employs to prevent you spending too much energy through physical activities that the brain feels should be conserved.
Each one of us has a leptin threshold. This is the standard level where by the body has sufficient fat and energy reserves for normal metabolic processes. This level is genetically set for each one of us and it varies from one person to the next. When your level of leptin is above this threshold, the brain imagines that you have sufficient energy reserves in your body. This means that you burn energy normally, you consume food at a normal rate and you can engage in complex metabolic processes like pregnancy and puberty with ease.
But when your leptin levels drop below the threshold standard, so your brain senses starvation and initiates hunger responses into overdrive. This normally happens when people try to lose weight. In doing so they normally eat less and the fats reserves get depleted. The brain senses this and goes into overdrive trying to restore the leptin levels back to normal. Hence, you get hungrier and as a result you eat more. This is designed to increase your fat intake which the body then stores as fat reserves. This increases the amount of leptin in the body and as a result your leptin threshold is restored to its required level.
This relationship is meant to maintain the amount of fat in our body at a healthy level. But it is a common occurrence to see people getting overweight and obese. Is it that the hormone leptin is not functioning properly or what? In an ideal setting, when the level of leptin in one’s body is above the threshold limit, the brain should inhibit the hunger responses and the individual in question should eat less. But obese people eat more than is required of them. They also find it difficult to stop this habit of eating a lot of food and they seem to crave junk food most of the time. As a result, they become “slaves” of food.
The problem in this case is not that the body is not producing enough leptin to hormones to warrant the proper response from the brain. In fact, obese people produce a lot of leptin (a lot of fat in the body = plenty of leptin hormones produced), the only problem is the brain does not “see” all these hormones.
When the brain fails to receive the leptin signal, it automatically thinks that you are starving despite the fact that you have more than enough fat reserves. It therefore changes your behavior so as to restore the fat that your brain thinks you are missing.
This way you:
- Eat more – so as to avoid “starvation”.
- Exercise less – so as not to spend a lot of energy that the brain feels you need to conserve.
This condition is known as Leptin Resistance and people that suffer from it eat a lot and exercise less. They tend to feel lazy most of the time and constantly, you can find them indoors snacking.
It should therefore be understood that people become obese not because they cannot keep their hands off of food but simply because the leptin mechanism in their bodies is not working properly.
Leptin Weight Loss
For most people, trying to fight the hold that leptin-driven starvation has on them is close to impossible and this makes it difficult to fight overweight or obesity.
Once a person sets on a journey of weight loss, it is usually very easy at the beginning when the motivation is high but after some time things start heading downhill. The cravings creep back in, hunger sets in and the urge to exercise and work out dies down. There are a lot of possible scenarios that can cause this but leptin resistance is one of the major contributors.
As you lose weight, the body fat mass index reduces and the levels of leptin in the blood stream reduce as well. On receiving this signal the brain feels that the body is starving and sets in motion techniques to regain the lost fats. So, you tend to feel hungrier and your cravings for junk set in.In order to conserve energy in the body, the brain makes you feel lazier and your psyche to exercise dies down.
Those who were trying to lose the weight find themselves dumping their diets and training regimes for junk and all of a sudden they don’t feel like exercising any more. This negates the weight loss gains they had made earlier. They put on back the weight they had lost while some are even worst that they add even more weight.
This has made weight loss and fighting obesity very difficult with cases of successful long term weight loss being the exception rather than the rule.
Factors contributing to leptin resistance
The easiest way to tell if you suffer from leptin resistance is to look at yourself in the mirror. If there is a lot of fat in your belly region then you most certainly suffer from leptin resistance.
Just like other hormonal issues, leptin resistance is a complex case of hormonal imbalance caused by a variety of factors such as:
- High fructose consumption such as fructose corn syrup.
- Lack of proper sleep.
- High stress levels.
- Consuming plenty of simple carbs.
- An increased amount of fatty acids within the bloodstream. This increases the number of fat metabolites within the brain and this usually interferes with leptin signaling.
Fixing leptin resistance
There is no predefined treatment for leptin resistance but the following techniques can help deal with the condition.
- Minimize your intake of carbohydrates, sugars, refined foods and fructose.
- Start your day with a heavy meal of proteins and fats. Such an early heavy meal in the morning leaves you satisfied and supplies the body with the vital building blocks needed to make hormones. A good example of such a meal is a 3 scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil eaten with left over beef and vegetables.
- Have enough sleep. As much as possible, you should be in bed by 10 o’clock.
- STOP SNACKING. If you have developed a habit of snacking in between meals then you should stop this with immediate effect. Snacking puts your liver on overdrive as a result the hormones are forever working. Try to have meals at least 4 hours apart and avoid eating 4 hours before you go to bed. This also includes drinks with calories such as milk and tea with sugar. Drinks such as water and herbal tea are fine.
- Try to fight your cravings. In this regard fibers and proteins are the best when the cravings are in full swing. The soluble fibers help in improving gut health and this goes a long way in fighting obesity.
- Avoid processed foods at all costs.
- Exercise a lot. Physical activity helps reverse leptin resistance.
- Avoid stressing situations at all cost. Some people are known to eat a lot when they are stressed.
Adhering to these techniques is easier said than done. It takes sacrifice and personal commitment to fight the monster that is leptin resistance. All the issues mentioned above are the things that we normally associated with healthy living. All it takes is a change in lifestyle, discipline and the support of friends and family members and fighting obesity and leptin resistance becomes easy and manageable.
It is now clear that obesity does not result due to greed, laziness or even a lack of willpower. A lot of biochemical forces come into play that change the individuals perception on food, hunger, starvation and the need to engage in exercise or any other physical activity. The next time you come across an obese person rather than laugh at his or her predicament, you should take you time to understand challenges that he or she is going through.
Obesity brings with it health challenges such complications of the heart and respiratory problems. Obese people struggle with all these challenges and I am pretty sure that all of them would want to shade the extra weight and lead healthy lifestyles. But as I have mentioned earlier this is easier said than done and most obese people find it difficult to quit their unhealthy habits. In as much as obesity may be caused by many different things, leptin resistance is one of the main reasons people put on a lot of weight and find it difficult to lose it.
Scientist are still trying to find the ultimate cure of this condition but so far nothing concrete has been developed.