Do You Have Leptin Resistance?

Leptin resistance appears to be a major problem for people who are overweight and have a lot of trouble losing weight. In this article we will cover what leptin is as well as what leptin resistance is, how you can improve your leptin sensitivity if it is a problem for you and therefore assist your weight-loss efforts.

What is leptin?

Leptin is a hormone produced by our fat cells. The more fat that is stored in our body, the more leptin gets produced. Its function is to travel through the bloodstream to our brain (ventromedial nuclei in the hypothalamus) and tell us that we have sufficient fuel (fat) stored in our body so we can stop eating; it suppresses our appetite. It also supports normal metabolic functioning.

Do You have Leptin Resistance?

When we diet we lose fat and as a result, the level of leptin circulating in our bloodstream also decreases. This means that our appetite increases and our metabolic rate slows down. This results in our body preserving our fat stores as well as a greater likelihood that we will over-eat at some stage in the future to increase our fat stores and leptin levels again.

Since one of leptin's functions is to prevent us from starving, it is often referred to as the 'Starvation Hormone'.

Not only is leptin designed to prevent starvation as well as to affect the metabolism but it is also involved in immune function, bone growth and fertility.

Why Leptin is NOT a Treatment For Obesity...
Leptin Resistance!

Back in the mid-nineties when leptin was first discovered researchers became excited because they thought they had found the 'missing link' to weight loss. They assumed that obese individuals must be 'leptin-deficient' and therefore, by providing their bodies with leptin they will be able to lose weight. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Furthermore, additional research found that obese people actually have higher levels of leptin! Therefore, there must be something else going on.

Of course there is another mechanism involved, leptin resistance! Leptin resistance is similar to insulin resistance, except in this case the receptors in the hypothalamus become resistant to the action of leptin or leptin is somehow blocked from entering the brain. This means that even though the fat cells are producing plenty of leptin, the leptin is unable to bind to the receptors in the hypothalamus and 'turn off' the appetite. It is therefore also unable to normalise the metabolism.

As a result, the overweight/ obese person continues to eat (because they are hungry) and since their metabolism is still depressed they continue to put on weight and increase their fat stores. This of course leads to even more leptin being produced, which magnifies the leptin resistance even more!

What Causes Leptin Resistance?

There are several causes of leptin resistance and for each cause we will examine why it causes the condition.

High fat diet

A high fat diet results in a high level of triglycerides in your bloodstream. High triglycerides are associated with a range of health problems, including leptin resistance. Triglycerides have been found to block the leptin receptors in the hypothalamus. This means that the message can't get through to tell the brain that the body has sufficient levels of fuel.

High blood sugar level

A high level of sugar in the bloodstream leads to an increase in insulin secretion from the pancreas. Insulin then promotes the uptake of sugar into the liver and once the liver glycogen stores are full the remaining sugar gets converted into triglycerides, which are sent into the bloodstream. Triglycerides, as mentioned previously, block leptin receptors in the hypothalamus.

High blood sugar levels tend result from consumption of refined grain foods (bread, pasta, baked goods, etc.), processed foods, and concentrated sources of sugar, particularly soft drinks.


Inflammation in the body results in high levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in the bloodstream.

CRP binds to leptin preventing it from crossing the blood-brain barrier to reach the hypothalamus and have its effects on the receptors there.

CRP is also strongly correlated with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Stress (cortisol)

High stress levels result in the production of cortisol. Cortisol promotes 'gluconeogenesis', which is the production of new glucose from the breakdown of proteins in the body. It also liberates glucose from the liver in order to increase the blood glucose level. Since both of these mechanisms result in increased blood glucose/ sugar levels, high triglyceride levels may also result. This of course, may lead to even more leptin resistance.

How Leptin Resistance Can Be Reversed...

Reduce inflammation

Reverse Leptin Resistance There are many ways you can reduce inflammation in your body and therefore reduce the circulating levels of CRP.

Here are the best ways to reduce inflammation:

  • Supplement your diet with fish oils, curcumin/ turmeric, green tea (curcumin and green tea are found together in BCN's InflammaCALM), antioxidants and ginger. These are all well-known anti-inflammatory supplements.
  • Lose weight
  • Since high body fat is associated with CRP, losing weight will help to lower it.
  • Perform moderate exercise regularly
  • Regular exercise has been shown to lower CRP and moderate exercise may reduce levels of leptin in the body, which may be beneficial in helping to reverse leptin resistance. Intense exercise should be avoided since it may result in increased inflammation in the body.

    Reduce insulin secretion

    There are several ways to reduce insulin secretion in your body:
  • Reduce your intake of carbohydrates. Ideally follow a low carbohydrate diet until the leptin resistance is reversed
  • Use glucose disposal agents (GDAs). GDAs assist the body in disposing of glucose from the bloodstream.
  • Increase your fibre intake. High fibre foods slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and therefore reduce insulin secretion
  • Reduce stress

    There are several ways to help your body deal with stress more effectively. They are:
  • Use relaxation, breathing and/ or meditation techniques
  • Take stress-relieving herbs like Rhodiola rosea, regularly. (Rhodiola rosea is contained in BCN's Rhodiola Advanced)
  • Seek counselling if necessary
  • Follow a strict diet (short term)

    Following a strict diet for a short period of time will reduce leptin production in your body. This will then limit the amount of leptin stimulating leptin receptors in the hypothalamus and will therefore assist in reversing leptin resistance.

    How Can You Manipulate Leptin
    to Maximise Fat / Weight Loss?

    Since high leptin levels in the body (in the absence of leptin resistance) is strongly correlated with reduced appetite and maintenance of metabolic rate, it makes sense to try and maintain levels of it as much as possible. The problem is though, since leptin is produced by the fat cells in your body, when you lose weight the level of circulating leptin decreases, resulting in increased appetite and a depressed metabolism.

    Therefore, the question remains: How can you maintain leptin levels and still lose weight? Well, it may be possible by incorporating one of the most popular nutritional principles; the 'Treat Day'.

    A 'Treat Day' means you can eat more food than normal as well as eating all of the 'forbidden foods'. By having a significant increase in your calorie intake, leptin levels will increase back to normal within 12 hours. Then, after the 'Treat day', you go back to 'dieting' to promote weight loss. After a week of dieting leptin levels reduce by about 50% because you have reduced your calorie intake and lost body fat.

    The following Treat Day (after a week of 'dieting') will get your leptin levels back up to normal again but without the corresponding re-gain of the lost weight.

    Leptin is certainly an important hormone to control when it comes to helping you lose weight. Therefore, avoiding leptin resistance as well as incorporating 'treat days' into your lifestyle can go a long way in helping you finally shed all the weight you want and best of all, keep it off long term.

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