What is Leptin Resistance?
Leptin is a hormone that was only discovered in the last 20 years. Nicknamed the “fat hormone” it is in truth a “starvation hormone”. Leptin is actually a protein that is made in the fat cells. It circulates around the body in the bloodstream and when it reaches the brain it tells it that you have enough energy stored in your fat cells to engage in a metabolic process. This message triggers normal activities such as burning energy during exercise, and controlling the appetite for when and how much to eat.
Now consider the reverse. When a person is on a diet, they eat less. Their fat cells are forced to part with some of their energy store and so the fat cells make less leptin, no longer sending out the “all’s well” signal to the brain, appetite and metabolic system. Depending upon what your normal leptin level is, which seems to vary from person to person, once it dips below the norm your brain senses starvation. As well as slowing down metabolism, the lack of leptin triggers the vagus nerve which in turn sends out hungry messages. The job of the vagus nerve is the opposite of leptin; it makes the body eat and store energy in the form of fat so that leptin can be produced again.
How Leptin Intolerance is Triggered
According to this process, people who are overweight will be making leptin in large doses, but their brains are not responding to the message that the fat storage levels are well and they can stop eating. This state is called “leptin resistance”. You may have heard of insulin resistance, when the pancreas produces large amounts of insulin, but a body with type 2 diabetes simply does not respond to the message. As people gain more weight, more leptin messages are sent to the brain, but it no longer responds and keeps demanding food and then storing the surplus energy in more fat cells.
The production of leptin is meant to make food less appealing because the body does not need it. When leptin levels are very low, it sends the message that you need to eat. Food looks good and is harder to resist. Unfortunately, when leptin resistance is triggered, food looks good all the time.
There are many leptin supplements on the market and the reason they do not work to control the appetite is exactly the same. Our bodies may have a leptin minimum, which triggers the alert to starvation, but there is no ceiling. Once the body’s response to leptin has been impaired, no amount of leptin will reverse the trend or get the message through.
It is now known that faulty leptin signaling to the brain results in chronic inflammation and this is a key part of cardiovascular disease. As inflammation rises in the body, it aggravates the leptin resistance further by impairing the brain to hear the leptin’s message.
This increasing spiral between leptin resistance causing inflammation, which in turn causes the brain to ignore leptin, needs to be halted and reversed or our health is in jeopardy. Leptin is required to keep the immune system functioning efficiently and to maintain healthy bones.
How to Counter Leptin Resistance
To reverse the trend of leptin intolerance, Dr Robert Lustig MD, a professor and member of the Endocrine Society’s Obesity Task Force explains, the sufferer needs to lower triglyceride levels, which otherwise interfere in the delivery of leptin to the brain. Lower insulin levels are also needed as insulin intolerance generates more leptin resistance. Therefore a diet low in sugars, carbs and fats to lower triglycerides and insulin levels will begin to correct the problem of leptin intolerance.
Only when leptin is being produced in correct amounts and the message to the brain is being understood will you be able to lose weight.