By Joel Wasmann
I gotta tell ya, it’s such an exciting time to be involved with human health and nutrition. We have so much new information these days and it is so empowering for everyone involved. Okay, that being said let me get started here with Leptin. Leptin is a hormone that was discovered fairly recently and although it is not completely understood we do have a fairly good idea of what it does. Leptin is known as the satiety hormone, as it helps our body realize when it is full. Leptin is made by our adipose cells and its function is to inhibit hunger. Leptin works in opposition to our hunger hormone, ghrelin.
It’s interesting that our fat cells produce this hormone (along with some others) which make our body fat actually act like an endocrine gland. You probably thought your body fat was just useless and lazy. Leptin communicates with the brain regarding fat stores and metabolism. When the system is working properly our fat stores and metabolism will have an inverse relationship, which is if we have more fat stores than necessary the brain will crank up our metabolism and if we have insufficient fat stores our metabolism will be slowed down.
So, here is the catch: As you lose fat your body may produce less leptin and therefore the brain will begin to slow down the metabolism and an increase of the leptin opposing appetite hormone (ghrelin) once again. This is a very primal mechanism in our body. In the days before the supermarket a human body losing fat at a rapid rate and exerting itself (exercise) would be the portrait of a starving person, and thus in danger. So this mechanism is present in our body to protect us. Unfortunately, sometimes when we appear to be doing everything right regarding weight loss our body looks at this as a possible famine. Think about this, losing fat at a rapid rate, burning calories and calorie restriction. You can easily see why our body might be concerned and therefore slow down the metabolism to abate the rapid weight loss.
What else can go wrong is: Insulin resistance is well known and discussed in health circles however the leptin hormone pathway can end up in a similar state. Like insulin resistance the hormone is making and sending the message but the receiving organ is not getting this message. In the case of leptin resistance, the message is being sent but the brain is cut off from receiving the message sent by this hormone. As with insulin, leptin and other hormones may be disrupted somewhere along their pathway which is common with individuals that are overweight and possibly have not properly functioning endocrine systems. Of course logically if you have more fat, you would have more leptin and therefore a strong message should be sent. The foods and lifestyles we lead can also be factors with leptin resistance. If you have hit a plateau with your workout and diet or the pounds come right back after a diet, crave refined carbs, this situation might be the culprit.
Leptin resistance is probably very common. Like many other things there is no real one ‘smoking gun’ that leads to leptin resistance but rather a collection of possible contributing factors. Many of these factors however are the same culprits we see with insulin resistance such as stress, sleep deprivation, caloric restriction, sugar, refined carbs and triglycerides, alcohol, overeating, and possibly even wheat. Wheat, a high-glycemic food, raises blood sugar as much as simple sugar itself because the body is very capable of breaking wheat into simple carbohydrates. Wheat gets a higher glycemic index score of 77 while sucrose is actually lower at 68. The non-scientific term is for what happens when excess wheat is consumed is of course the good ole fashioned “beer belly.” As bad as that sounds wheat may have an even worse property. It is now thought that the protein in wheat may obstruct leptin from binding to its receptor and this could be the key culprit in the leptin resistance process breakdown.
What can you do to fix this? Like I mentioned before, there is no simple solution but rather several factors that must be addressed. It is important to note that leptin resistance is not permanent and is reversible and may be the stick in the mud for your weight loss goals. The most important choice to make is to remove sugar from the diet as well as simple and processed carbohydrates. Replace these with quality whole foods such as protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates. It is important to reduce snacking and having three basic meals a day, a good guide for an eating plan. To help with satiation have more protein which is much more filling than simple carbs. Ex: eggs and avocados for breakfast instead of pastries. Proteins and fats must be of high quality. By now you probably know that grass-fed meats, free-range eggs and organic produce are the best choices. Unrefined fats are just as important as they reduce inflammation. Sleep and rest are crucial. You need to get a good nights sleep, this cannot be overstated. It has taken me forever to finally really believe this and hopefully I can convince you not to be as stubborn as I have been understanding the importance of sleep. Rest also needs to be considered with regards to working out. Remember, overexertion along with calorie restriction can tease the body into thinking it needs to slow the metabolism. If you have leptin resistance going on the last thing you want to do is overwork the body. It might be best to do minimal working out at first and then make sure you get plenty of rest in between workouts. If you are interested in this groundbreaking topic there are now a few books available that discuss leptin in more detail. There are also a few cookbooks with recipes specific to leptin as well. This topic is so new that most of these titles are only a year or two old and only a few date back a decade however I believe this is/will be a major health break though moving forward so check it out.