You have tried everything to lose weight. You’ve tried the latest and greatest diet or fat-burning workout. You may have tried weight loss supplements or prescription medications but you are now heavier than ever. Sound familiar?
The hormone leptin has been found to be a major regulator of body weight and metabolism and dysfunctional leptin signaling results in one of many viscous-cycles that prevent individuals from losing weight. With increased weight, leptin is secreted as a signal to the body to stop storing fat. Leptin stimulates metabolism, reduces appetite, and signals the body to burn fat. Studies are finding, however, that the majority of overweight individuals that are having difficulty losing weight have varying degrees of leptin resistance. The leptin is unable to produce its normal effects of weight loss, with the severity correlating with the degree of obesity and difficulty losing weight.
Baseline leptin levels and the degree of leptin resistance are shown to be a good predictor of a person’s likelihood of achieving successful weight loss with dieting. Leptin levels above 12ng/dl indicate there is leptin resistance and, as with insulin, the higher the leptin the more resistance is present. Reduced leptin receptivity makes the hypothalamus think that fat stores are depleted and should be restocked. This triggers the release of various hormones that inhibit fat utilization and promote sensations of hunger. As fat continues to accumulate, leptin levels increase resulting in greater hormonal resistance and perpetuation of weight gain.
The thyroid and metabolism are closely related and have a great deal of influence on weight regulation. Leptin resistance and increased leptin levels can disrupt thyroid function resulting in greater difficulty losing weight. As leptin resistance develops, signaling from the hypothalamus to the thyroid diminishes. This results in reduced secretion of TSH, slowed T4 to T3 conversion, and elevated levels of reverse T3. An imbalance of these hormones significantly disrupts metabolic function resulting in greater acquisition and retention of fat. It is common for those with leptin resistance to develop thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism, which further impedes weight loss.
Leptin resistance is most frequently caused by a sustained increase in leptin production. This is why those who are obese and already producing a high volume of leptin often develop leptin resistance. However, other factors can contribute to the development of leptin resistance.
Leptin resistance is often caused by consuming a high volume of grains, processed foods, sugars, and other inflammatory foods metabolized by fat cells increases leptin release. If such a diet is sustained, leptin levels can remain elevated ultimately inducing leptin resistance. Lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep, elevated stress level, overeating, and excessive exercise can also promote the occurrence of leptin resistance. To resolve leptin resistance, it is important to implement strategies and practices to eliminate or alleviate these contributing factors.
Because leptin resistance creates a cycle of weight gain and reduced responsiveness to leptin it can be difficult to resolve. However, there are a variety of methods that can be used to improve both leptin receptivity and weight loss such as improving your diet and monitoring your stress levels.
When trying to lose weight, it can be tempting to aggressively cut calories or follow a “crash diet” to get results as fast as possible. Unfortunately, this strategy often causes a significant decrease in metabolic function that isn’t fully restored even after healthy caloric consumption is reinstated. It is far better to follow a well-balanced diet that limits consumption of processed foods, sugars, grains, and other inflammatory substances. Alternatively, try to replace sugars and simple carbs with healthy veggies. Also, be sure to incorporate proteins and healthy fats, which promote satiation. These substances are also essential for hormone building, which is an important part of restoring thyroid, hypothalamic, and metabolic balance. Improving these areas can help balance leptin levels and alleviate leptin resistance.
Stress is another major contributor to hormonal imbalances including leptin. Elevated stress levels also contribute to hunger, poor energy regulation, and often greater storage of fat. Similarly, lack of sleep can also disrupt hormone levels and activity. Make sleep a priority by scheduling a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night. This helps reduce both physical and mental stress while supporting hormonal balance.
Additionally, there is promising research that suggests leptin resistance can also be treated with medications. A study presented at the annual Obesity Society meeting demonstrated that new therapies treating leptin resistance are very effective for weight loss in overweight individuals with or without diabetes. In a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled, cross-over trial, it was found that short-term use (less than 4 months) of the leptin sensitizing medication, resulted in significant weight loss in 65% of individuals. In the responders, 48% lost significant weight in two to four weeks with no change in diet. Individuals also experienced increased satiety vs. placebo. There were no reported side-effects with treatment. Studies also show significant improvements in cardiovascular risk factors.
Leptin resistance is one of the most common contributors to obesity. In every case, leptin resistance must be assessed and optimized depending on individual patient factors. Employing general tips and hormone-supporting practices such as rebalancing diet, alleviating stress, improving sleep, and seeking appropriate medical assistance can be hugely beneficial in resolving leptin resistance thereby allowing healthy weight loss.