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Leptin and Leptin Resistance: Everything You Need to Know

Obesity is usually not caused by greed, laziness or a lack of willpower.

Leptin resistance may be one of the main reasons people gain weight and have such a hard time losing it.

If you’re concerned you may be resistant to leptin, there are several steps you can take to live a healthier lifestyle — and possibly improve or reverse your resistance.

Many people are told that "eat less - exercise more" is the answer to losing weight. 

Scientists discovered already over 25 years ago that a hormone called leptin is involved in obesity - and even breast cancer.  

When our body does not respond to Leptin - called leptin resistance - we have a leading driver of fat gain in humans

What is Leptin?

Leptin is a hormone that is produced by your body's fat cells. It is often referred to as the "satiety hormone" or the "starvation hormone." It works directly on the brain — particularly an area called the hypothalamus. The more body fat we carry, the more leptin we produce

Its main role is regulation of energy, like the number of calories we eat and expend, as well as how much fat we store in your body. Leptins job is to tell your brain that — when you have enough fat stored — we don't need to eat and can burn calories at a normal rate when our fat storage is full.

Apart from this Leptin also has many other functions related to fertility, immunity and brain function.

Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in our body. Its main role is to regulate fat storage and how many calories we eat and burn.

Impact on Our Brain

High levels of leptin tell our brain that we have plenty of fat stored, while low levels tell our brain that fat stores are low and that we need to eat  When we eat, our body fat goes up and leptin levels go up, so we eat less and burn more.

Conversely, when we don’t eat, our body fat goes down, our leptin levels drop, telling us toeat more and burn less.

What Is Leptin Resistance?

People who are obese have a lot of body fat in their fat cells - and very high levels of leptin. Logically, obese people should now naturally limit their food intake as leptin tells them via their brain to do so. 

However, their leptin signaling may not work - the brain doesn't seem to see it and erroneously thinks that our body is starving — even though it has more than enough energy stored. This is known as leptin resistance and now believed to be one of the main biological contributors to obesity. 

If you have leptin resistance your Resting Metabolic Rate [RMR] is likely to be below normal, making you burn 500 to 600 calories less each day than someone of equal body mass.

Our brain then encourages us to:

  • Eating more: We must eat in order to prevent starvation.
  • Reduced energy expenditure: In an effort to conserve energy, our brain decreases our energy levels and makes us burn fewer calories at rest.
Thus, eating more and exercising less is not the underlying cause of weight gain but rather a possible consequence of leptin resistance, a hormonal defect. Willing ourselves to overcome the leptin-driven starvation signal is next to impossible. 

Impact on Dieting

Leptin resistance may be one reason that many diets fail to promote long-term weight loss. 

If you’re leptin-resistant, losing weight still reduces fat mass, which leads to a significant reduction in leptin levels — but your brain doesn't necessarily reverse its leptin resistance.

When leptin goes down, this leads to hunger, increased appetite, reduced motivation to exercise and a decreased number of calories burned at rest Our brain then thinks that we are starving and initiates various powerful mechanisms to regain that lost body fat.

This could be a main reason why so many people yo-yo diet — losing a significant amount of weight only to gain it back shortly thereafter.

What Causes Leptin Resistance?

Several potential mechanisms behind leptin resistance have been identified. These include 

  • Inflammation: Inflammatory signaling in our hypothalamus 
  • Free fatty acids: Having elevated free fatty acids in our bloodstream 
  • Having high leptin: Having elevated levels of leptin in the first place seems to cause leptin resistance.

Most of these factors are amplified by obesity, meaning that we might be "trapped" in a vicious cycle of gaining weight and becoming increasingly leptin resistant over time.

Can Leptin Resistance Be Reversed?

The best way to know if you are leptin resistant is to look in the mirror.

If you have a lot of body fat, especially in the belly area, then you are almost certainly leptin resistant.

There are several things you can do:

  • Avoid processed food: Highly processed foods may compromise the integrity of your gut and drive inflammation
  • Eat soluble fiber: They can help improve your gut health as food for the microbiome. 
  • Exercise: Physical activity may help reverse leptin resistance
  • Sleep: Poor sleep is implicated in problems with leptin 
  • Lower your triglycerides: The best way to lower triglycerides is to reduce your carb intake 
  • Eat protein: Eating plenty of protein can cause automatic weight loss, which may result from an improvement in leptin sensitivity

Though there is no simple way to eliminate leptin resistance, you can make long-term lifestyle changes that may improve your quality of life.