Could the hormone leptin be making you gain weight?
You may have ‘leptin resistance’
Symptoms of leptin resistance include:
- Easy weight gain or difficulty maintaining your weight
- Not feeling full after eating
- Overeating or binge eating
- Wanting to snack after dinner or at night
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings
- Gaining weight when trying to eat small, regular meals
- High levels of glucose or insulin
Chances are you probably haven’t heard of the hormone leptin- most people haven’t. But did you know that high levels of leptin can lead to difficulty losing weight and very easy weight gain? Worse still, leptin resistance is made worse if you are snacking between meals. Most of us are aware that eating smaller, more regular meals throughout the day is better for weight loss and this is true for most, except if you have leptin resistance as snacking will make the leptin issues worse.
Leptin is a hormone made and regulated in your fat cells which then travels up to the brain to regulate appetite and metabolism. Leptin should be a signal for the brain of how much fuel you have on hand (fat = stored energy). Your brain will then determine how fast to run your metabolism based on how much leptin is produced.
Here’s an analogy to make it easier to understand- imagine leptin is like the petrol gauge in your car. You can’t see how much petrol you have, so we rely our petrol gauge to tell us how much we have. Likewise, your brain has no way to see how much stored fat you have on hand, it relies on the leptin level as a measure of fat stores. If the leptin gauge is reading low, it means eat more. When you’ve eaten enough, leptin levels rise, and the leptin gauge in your subconscious brain now says your tank is full – resulting in a full signal and you stop eating. When leptin levels are too low your brain thinks there is a famine and your metabolic rate is set to hibernation mode so that that you can start to store more fat from your meals.
So this sounds like high leptin levels should help you lose weight right? This is what researcheres originally thought back in the 90’s when they assumed that high leptin levels would help weight loss. But they were wrong- their experiments actually led to an increase in weight. This is because if leptin is too high, a ‘flood’ of leptin heading up to the brain clogs the pathway and the leptin doesn’t get through. This leads to even higher levels of leptin, and overtime you can develop leptin resistance. Leptin resistance means the leptin receptors in the brain have become desensitised and are no longer listening to the leptin message that you have enough fat. This leads to very easy and frustrating weight gain as the brain does not allow fat burning to take place.
So what can you do about leptin resistance? The first step is to get a fasting leptin hormone blood test done to measure your levels and determine if you do have leptin resistance. This can be done either with one of our Naturopaths or with your GP.
Strategies for reducing leptin and therefore enabling weight loss revolve around meal timing. The act of having ‘smaller, more regular meals’ throughout the day has been advocated for many years as a way of maintaining a healthy weight. However in people with high leptin this can actually make things worse. The main strategy for reducing leptin levels revolves around sticking to 3 main meals a day, with no snacks in between. Aim for breakfast, lunch and dinner only with no snacks between meals. This includes avoiding things like coffee, tea or juice! Avoid eating anything after dinner and allow at least 3 hours between dinner and bed.
For more information, or to get your leptin levels measured and a detailed leptin plan, please make an appointment- email [email protected]