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Leptin is a hormone that helps manage appetite. The word leptin comes from the Greek word leptos, which means “thin.” It is produced by the fat cells in your body and enterocytes in the small intestine, and works by telling your brain how much you have in your fat reserves. Leptin controls your metabolism, hunger, and energy expenditure.
Because leptin is produced primarily by fat cells, its levels are directly connected to the amount of body fat you have. When your body is functioning properly, fat cells will produce leptin, which will trigger the hypothalamus in the brain to decrease your appetite. However, when you gain weight, your body becomes less sensitive to leptin levels and you develop a resistance to leptin.
Overweight people have large amounts of leptin, but their brains are not getting the signal to stop eating. This can result in weight gain that is difficult to lose. It is important to maintain healthy leptin levels to stay lean, think clearly, and maintain a good mood.
Leptin levels can be maintained through proper diet. If you are constantly putting yourself into a calorie deficit, for example when eating a strict low-calorie diet, you will lower your leptin levels and slow your metabolic rate. This slowing down of your metabolism is what makes it difficult to lose body fat.
To add to the confusion, too much leptin can also be detrimental. If you are always eating above your maintenance levels, your body can become leptin resistant. This means your body cannot recognize when your body fat levels are too high and leptin receptors become desensitized. Leptin resistance will drive your body toward holding onto body fat and prevent you from losing weight.
Increase your daily dietary fibre consumption by eating fibrous foods such as whole grains, legumes, and oatmeal. Fibre gives you a feeling of fullness, causing your intestinal tract to send a signal to your brain to release more leptin.
Fructose inhibits your leptin receptors, especially high-fructose corn syrup. The main culprits are processed goods because fructose is inexpensive and often used in sodas, cookies, and other sweet snacks. The easiest way to cut fructose from your diet is to eat whole foods – foods that most closely resemble their natural state.
Say no to simple carbs (refined, sugary, processed, and generally white) because they spike your insulin levels, which leads to insulin resistance and disrupts your leptin production.
Increase your daily consumption of complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. They are great sources of fibre and water, and eating more will tell your brain that you are full – without a high calorie intake. You can also include whole oats and pastas, quinoa, and brown rice in moderation.
Protein will not only fuel your body for the day by making you feel fuller, it will also kick-start your leptin levels. Try not to rely too heavily on cereals because they contain lectin and bind to your leptin receptors, thereby hampering leptin’s ability to do its job.
Increase your omega-3 essential fatty acid consumption either through supplements or by eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines. Omega-3 can help increase leptin levels by supporting a healthy inflammatory response. It also increases your body’s sensitivity to leptin, making it more receptive.
If you’re not getting enough nutrients, your body will start shutting down and disrupt your hormone production. Your metabolism will slow, as will your production of leptin. For most people, losing weight is good for leptin production because being at a healthy weight regulates your hormones.
Perform high-intensity exercise for short stints. This will stimulate large secretions of human growth hormone, which boosts fat-burning mechanisms and helps regulate leptin levels.
Sleep the recommended 8 hours a day. If you do not get enough rest, your body will make less leptin and more ghrelin (the hormone that tells your body you’re hungry). Without enough rest your body starts producing ghrelin and not producing leptin.
A recent study showed those who didn’t get a good night’s rest had a 15% lower leptin level than those who got enough sleep, since leptin levels typically rise during the sleep cycle. If you’ve ever felt hungrier the day after a poor night’s sleep, this is because your leptin levels have dropped and are telling your brain that you need to eat.
Although we don’t hear much about leptin, it is a very important hormone that plays a vital role in your overall well-being, primarily with your metabolism, energy expenditure and hunger cues. Keeping your leptin levels in the healthy range will help to keep your body in tip-top shape over the long term by helping to manage appetite.
Joyce Johnson ND (Inactive)
Dr. Joyce Johnson is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and natural health and lifestyle expert with 18 years of experience in the natural medicine field.