Leptin Resistance: An Endocrinological Assessment of Weight Gain and Obesity

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America has a weight problem. Nearly two-thirds of our nation is obese or significantly overweight. Unfortunately, there is more to it than diet and exercise and more often than not, individuals in this category struggle to lose weight. Why? The reason being, that endocrinological and metabolic dysfunction may play a significant role in an individual’s ability to lose weight.

Leptin (from the Greek “thin”) is a hormone produced by the body to inhibit hunger. It is referred to as the “satiety hormone.” Leptin and ghrelin, (the hunger hormone) work in harmony to regulate appetite and achieve balanced energy. Studies on overweight individuals have demonstrated varying degrees of leptin resistance or a signaling dysfunction. Essentially leptin is secreted by our fat cells and its levels increase with the accumulation of fat. Leptin then sends a signal back to the hypothalamus, which is our hormone control center, that their fat (energy) is stored and can be used as fuel. In overweight persons leptin is unable to produce the normal effects of weight loss because of resistance, resulting in lower levels of leptin causing the hypothalamus to think that the fat storages are empty and need to be filled.

The metabolic effects of leptin resistance can throw off the entire hormonal balance resulting in diminished TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), and increase in appetite, increase in insulin resistance, an inhibition to break fat down, and slowing down of the metabolic rate that inhibits weight loss and promotes weight gain. Once this has all been put into play individuals are now also faced with a thyroid deficiency.

Individuals who are overweight and unable to lose weight by eating a healthy diet may be experiencing a weight problem that is more complicated than originally thought. It is recommended that they obtain a metabolic panel, which measures leptin levels (levels higher than 10 are indicative of leptin resistance) and thyroid tissue levels.

Leptin resistance coupled with thyroid dysfunction can be treated together with medication. Combining these with a healthy lifestyle can result in significant and sustained weight loss and an end to a lifetime of struggle.