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Leptin: More Than Just a Satiety Hormone

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
October 21, 2015
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What’s all the buzz about leptin? With over half the American population trying desperately to lose weight,1 it’s no wonder we’ve become fascinated with a hormone that prompts us to think obesity or starvation.

Robert H. Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at UCSF and a member of the Endocrine Society's Obesity Task Force explains “Leptin is a protein that's made in the fat cells, circulates in the bloodstream, and goes to the brain; it’s the way your fat cells tell your brain that your energy thermostat is set right…and you have enough energy stored in your fat cells to engage in normal, relatively expensive metabolic processes.” Dr. Lustig goes on to discuss that levels are likely genetically set for each person. When an unbalance occurs exceeding your leptin threshold, the brain responds to the energy sufficiency, allowing you to “burn energy at a normal rate, eat food at a normal amount, engage in exercise at a normal rate, and you can engage in expensive processes, like puberty and pregnancy.”2

When the body doesn't respond to the signal, it cannot stimulate your metabolism or suppress your appetite, inducing leptin resistance. This can make losing weight difficult if not impossible. With insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and ultimately a diagnosis of Type II Diabetes on the rise, so too are the number of individuals diagnosed with leptin resistance.

The Standard American Diet (SAD), leading a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, too much stress, and not enough sleep all contribute to leptin resistance.3 Assessing whether leptin resistance is contributing to shedding stubborn pounds once and for all, shouldn’t start with the notion of a magic bullet, but an overhaul of lifestyle.

Sure, it’s easy to find leptin supplements online that promise the oomph you need to kickstart your new weight loss regime. But are they effective? Not according to research.

Because leptin is a digestible protein that doesn’t enter the bloodstream, the body just breaks it up. Further, leptin supplements sold online don’t actually contain leptin, but rather ingredients that are purported to help improve leptin functioning or feelings of fullness.4

So what’s the answer? As always, we need to go back to basics and look at the problem, rather than the symptom.

Leptin and insulin communicate and work in conjunction with other hormones to control our energy balance and as insulin levels rise, so do leptin levels. If we start by following a balanced, Paleo eating plan, which prevents blood sugar spike to begin with, we regulate our blood sugar and leptin release, reducing our chances of developing leptin and insulin resistance.

The takeaway: stop doing your body a disservice. Ask yourself:

  1. Am I eating right?
  2. Are my macronutrients balanced?
  3. Is my food timing in check?
  4. Am I exercising regularly?

If you answered ‘No’ to any of these questions, you may be hindering your weight loss and setting yourself up for additional adverse effects, like increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other metabolic diseases.

“With obesity, leptin cannot tell our brain to stop eating, but it can still tell our brain to increase the activity of the cardiovascular system," said Dr. Eric Belin de Chantemele, physiologist in the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. 5

Researchers have also shown that fat-derived leptin directly activates aldosterone synthase expression in the adrenal glands, resulting in production of more of the steroid hormone aldosterone. Increased aldosterone directly effects blood pressure by regulating salt-water balance in the body, contributes to widespread inflammation, blood vessel stiffness and scarring, enlargement and stiffness of the heart, and impaired insulin sensitivity. High levels of aldosterone are an obesity hallmark and a leading cause of metabolic and cardiovascular problems6

Avoid widespread inflammation. Stop insulin resistance in its tracks. Keep blood sugar low. These three key health tenants fit the bill and are easily achieved by following a Paleo diet. Add a little patience into the mix and avoid the urge for ‘get results fast!’ and Viola! We give our bodies the time to calm inflammation, shed the extra weight, and reset its hormonal cascade.

Take action now, before you need medical intervention!

References

1. "Americans' Desire to Shed Pounds Outweighs Effort." Gallup.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015

2. "Leptin Hormone & Supplements: Do They Work for Obesity & Weight Loss?" WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015

3. Galland, M.D. Leo. "Leptin: How to Make This Fat-Burning Hormone Work for You." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015

4. "The Facts on Leptin: FAQ." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015

5. "Satiety Hormone Leptin Plays a Direct Role in Cardiovascular Disease in Obesity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015

6. Anne-Cécile Huby, Galina Antonova, Jake Groenendyk, Celso E. Gomez-Sanchez, Wendy B. Bollag, Jessica A. Filosa, Eric J. Belin de Chantemèle. The Adipocyte-Derived Hormone Leptin is a Direct Regulator of Aldosterone Secretion, Which Promotes Endothelial Dysfunction and Cardiac Fibrosis. Circulation, 2015; CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018226 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018226

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