Smorgasbord Health Column – #Obesity #Hunger – The role #Leptin plays in weight loss

Obesity is not just about how much food and the type of food we eat. In the recent Size Matters series I explored the physical, mental and emotional issues that contribute to weight gain and our ability to lose those extra pounds.  Another series also explored the Obesity Epidemic, and at what point in the life cycle can we intervene to prevent future generations suffering the burden of all the weight related health issues threatening to swamp our individual health services.

Sometimes our body can work with us and others against us. In this post a closer look at Leptin which plays an important role in our management of weight.

Leptin – The Obesity Hormone.

When I was working on my own book based on my weight loss 26 years ago, I researched why we tend to put extra weight on after following a crash diet. I called it Nutritional Deficiency Syndrome and many call it starvation syndrome. In recent years it would appear that one of the causes for this yo-yo weight loss and gain might have been identified.

How many times has someone who is overweight told you that they barely eat a thing and you scoffed at the idea?

However, it is entirely possible that someone who is already obese is actually telling you the truth and is not eating any more than you are.

First however, a little bit about Leptin.

It’s been called the “obesity hormone” or “fat hormone” — but also the “starvation hormone.” When scientists discovered leptin in 1994, excitement arose about its potential as a blockbuster weight loss treatment. Even today, the Internet is loaded with sites that sell leptin supplements. Are they really a miracle cure for obesity and what is Leptin in the first place?

Leptin is actually a “starvation hormone” if it is anything. It is a protein that is manufactured in the fat cells and then circulates in the bloodstream carrying a very important message to its destination, the brain. The message from the fat cells tells the brain that your energy thermostat is functioning correctly and that there is sufficient energy stored for normal activity which requires a relatively high level of metabolism.

Most of us have a level of leptin which might be genetically set, if the leptin levels are above that level your brain gets the message that you are physically able to eat normal amounts of food, exercise at a moderate level and can engage in the occasional more intense level such as at puberty or pregnancy.

However, when people dramatically reduce their nutritional and calorific intake and the fat cells lose some fat, this also decreases the amount of leptin produced.

If you substantially reduce your calorie intake and you lose weight too quickly your leptin levels dip below your preset threshold and your brain detects this and senses starvation.

The brain has two master controllers, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland and because of our extremely strong survival instinct they react quickly to what they perceive as a dangerous threat to the body’s wellbeing.

The brain will activate several processes in an effort to drive levels of leptin back up above the preset threshold. One includes the stimulation of the Vagus nerve, which runs between the brain and the abdomen.

The Vagus nerve is your energy storage nerve, and because your body needs more nutrients and energy it will switch this nerve on to make you hungrier forcing you to take in more energy to store in your fat cells and therefore generate more leptin to back above the threshold it is comfortable with.

So after losing weight quickly on a very restricted diet your body effectively moves into storage mode so that it can get the fat cells back up to normal levels as fast as possible hence rapid regain of weight.

There is another by product of repeated yo yo dieting and that is the multiplication of your fat cells. The average woman has 35billion fat cells and the average man 25 billion (not fair is it). However, someone for example like myself who moved between 9 ½ stone to 25 stone by repeated dieting over a period of 20 years could have as many as 100billion fat cells.

This means following a crash and a return to a higher calorific diet the brain is determined to fill all those 100billion fat cells again back up to what is considers to be normal levels and you gain weight, usually even more than you lost in the first place.

If you are very overweight you have all the additional fat cells pumping out leptin and the brain is getting much more than it is capable of processing and becomes resistant to the messages, ignoring the need to stop eating.

Leptin levels can keep going higher as people get fatter. It would appear that the brain recognises when leptin levels drop below the threshold, but there is no upper threshold to indicate when there is too much.

You keep eating and even though you may not be taking in huge amounts of food, your body, which is in starvation mode keeps storing in the fat cells in an effort to increase the already over inflated leptin levels.

Originally it was hoped that leptin would be an effective obesity treatment but of course giving it to obese patients simply added even more into the system and because the brain was resistant now to leptin levels, it made no difference.

Giving leptin only helps in a few extremely rare cases in the world in which people make no leptin at all, which causes them to overeat and become obese. When those people received leptin by injection, they stopped overeating and lost weight.

But for the vast majority of people, the treatment won’t work, nor is leptin approved as a medical treatment for weight loss.

What about leptin supplements, such as those sold on the Internet?

Because leptin is a digestible protein that doesn’t enter the bloodstream, it can’t be taken in supplement form.So those “leptin supplements” sold on the Internet don’t actually contain leptin, even though their name can be misleading. Instead, these supplements contain ingredients that are purported to help improve leptin functioning or feelings of fullness. You would benefit more by eating a balanced diet across the food groups.

The nutritional perspective

There is evidence to suggest that one of the triggers for this resistance is connected to a different type of resistance. This is insulin resistance which is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. If you can stabilise your blood sugar levels then you may find over time that your leptin resistance may also stabilise helping you to lose weight.

Additionally it is thought that triglycerides (Very low density lipoproteins in the blood) in other words very high cholesterol levels, may be blocking leptin’s progress to the brain and effectively shutting off the signaling system.

When I was practicing nutritional therapy I would design a low glycemic (stabilises blood sugar levels) (also helps with hunger) and VLD (very low density) cholesterol lowering eating programme for my clients who are very overweight especially if they have yo yo dieted all their lives resulting in large weight swings. You might find this post helpful on reducing blood sugar levels and the Glycemic index to identify high, medium and low glycemic foods you can include. Millions at risk of diabetes worldwide

Other interesting discoveries about Leptin

Scientists are still exploring the role of leptin in relation to heart and bone health. They have identified that leptin is essential for a healthy immune system and that chronic inflammation occurs when there is low leptin signaling to the brain which may mean that diseases such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis and asthma might be linked to low levels or even resistance.

They have also found that leptin has direct effects on bone to increase bone health and bone mineral density so when your leptin levels are correct your bones are healthier and they absorb more calcium.

There is also a link between leptin and certain cancers particularly skin cancer.

Importantly for my work with fertility clients there may well be a link between the brain’s response to leptin levels and their inability to become pregnant.

If the brain detects that leptin levels are low and develops its starvation fall back position it will decide that if you don’t have enough fat to survive a pregnancy then you are better off not getting pregnant in the first place.

It is very common is women for example who have suffered from eating disorders to stop ovulating and having periods sometimes for many years, despite having begun to eat normally. Because it is the hypothalamus that identifies levels of leptin and also issues messages to release reproductive hormones it would make sense that the two are connected.

In this instance the nutritional approach would be to create the appearance of abundance by eating a highly varied diet of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and protein with quite a bit of healthy fats in foods such as avocados and oily fish.

In summary.

It is important when you lose weight to do so steadily. I recommend no less than 1500 calories for women and 1800 for men.

You might lose more weight initially through fluid loss, but when it settles down dropping 2lbs a week steadily does not cause the body to panic and go into starvation mode which impacts the leptin levels.

That is still 104lbs in a year and even if it drops to 1lb a week that is 52lbs and you are far less likely to rebound and regain the weight.

A diet rich in nutrients is essential which is why cutting out any of the food groups is not helpful. Moderate whole grains, plenty of fresh and varied vegetables, oily fish, olive oil, grass fed protein and dairy contain the essential elements the body needs to be healthy and to also maintain its confidence in you as the supplier of the nutrients it needs.

Here is a comprehensive shopping list to provide you with the broad spectrum of nutrients that you need. If you are planning on losing weight, you can still enjoy all of these foods included in your 1500 or 1800 calories per day: Weekly Grocery Shopping list for a nutritional balance

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2022

A little bit about me nutritionally. .

About Sally Cronin

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-four years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain.

Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 21 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

You can buy my books from: Amazon US – and: Amazon UK – Follow me :Goodreads – Twitter: @sgc58 – Facebook: Sally Cronin – LinkedIn: Sally Cronin

35 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – #Obesity #Hunger – The role #Leptin plays in weight loss

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column – #Obesity #Hunger – The role #Leptin plays in weight loss | Retired? No one told me!

  2. I have never heard of leptin’s role in weight management, and it make so much sense. I think understanding a situation makes it much easier to deal with it and I’m genuinely grateful for all of this information. I’ve printed the list off! ♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sal, fascinating article. I’d recently came across about that Vagus nerve, and read long ago about how leptin is the fat nemesis. Thank you for putting it in better layman’s terms. Love your health articles. ❤ xox

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column – #Obesity #Hunger – The role #Leptin plays in weight loss – Patty's Worlds

  5. Thanks for this post and indeed this series.
    I’m finding the information both informative but easy to digest in small chunks. lol
    I’ve never been a crash diet person, but also not a snacker.But I’m working on the weight loss knowing it is a steady slow pace

    Liked by 1 person

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