Leptin’s role in the obesity epidemic has not been clear up until recently. Previously, researchers thought that lowering insulin levels caused the body to burn stored fat for energy instead of using glucose (carbohydrates, sugars). New research reveals that both insulin and leptin levels need to be lowered in order to induce the body to burn stored fat. However, this is easier said than done but we’ll get to that. For now, let’s take a closer look at just what leptin is because most of us have never heard about it before.
Leptin is a metabolic hormone produced by your body’s fat cells and impacts the hypothalamus in your brain. Ideally, leptin tells your brain when it is full or satiated so you stop eating and ingesting calories.
In addition, leptin essentially regulates energy in your body including how many calories you eat and burn plus determines how much fat you store in your body. Leptin is thus the gatekeeper that helps us avoid both starvation and overeating. However, when leptin levels are elevated in your body, it is no longer effective in helping us overeat.
How Leptin Works and Affects Fat Storage and Fat Burning
Because leptin is produced by your fat cells, that means the more fat your body carries the more leptin your fat cells produce. Basically, fat cells use leptin to tell your brain how fat is stored up. Lower levels of leptin tell your body it needs to eat (has less fat stored) while elevated levels tell it the body has plenty of fat (stop eating).
When you eat, body fat increases and leptin levels also increase. This leads your mind to think it’s satiated and stop eating while burning more fat. When you don’t eat, leptin levels drop accordingly, you feel hungry, and eat more while burning less fat.
This negative feedback loop has helped humans survive since our beginning and should keep us thin and healthy. Unfortunately, the problem is something known as Leptin Resistance.
How Leptin Resistance Prevents Fat Burning
High levels of body fat lead to chronically elevated levels of leptin. This is because leptin is produced in fat cells so the more fat cells you have, the more leptin is produced.
In the ideal world and based on how leptin functions, having high levels of fat should cause the brain to know it’s not hungry because it already has plenty of stored energy. But, leptin signaling may break down so that the brain just doesn’t see it. When this happens, it’s called leptin resistance and researchers now believe it is one of the main drivers of obesity.
Essentially, when your brain isn’t detecting leptin, it concludes your body is starving regardless of your stored fat levels. Two things then happen: You start eating more (stimulates cravings, triggers appetite) and your brain lowers the metabolism rate to conserve energy.
Leptin Resistance Impact on Diet and Weight Loss
Leptin resistance is now believed to be one of the biggest reasons why diet and exercise programs fail. You’re literally fighting your own body and the resulting increased cravings and a slower metabolism. Even if you lost weight and lowered fat levels (which would lower leptin levels), it doesn’t mean the leptin resistance has reversed. The brain still can’t detect the leptin and thinks it’s starving.
Specifically, the failure of the brain to detect leptin levels causes the following:
1. Stimulates hunger and cravings
2. Increases appetite (need to eat more to feel satiated)
3. Reduces metabolism rate and lowers energy levels decreasing activity levels and burning fewer calories at rest
Leptin resistance is believed to be one of the main causes of yo-yoing while dieting. People do indeed will themselves to lose weight initially, but the brain activates powerful mechanisms to restore what it perceives as depleted fat stores. So, you’ll lose weight initially but then gain it all right back and potentially more. Natural fat burning cannot occur until the leptin resistance is reversed.
How You Develop Leptin Resistance
There are three primary causes of leptin resistance:
1. Inflammation: Researchers have found that inflammatory signals in your brain’s hypothalamus are a probable cause of leptin resistance.
2. Free Fatty Acids: Free fatty acids increase fat metabolites in the brain which can also interfere with leptin signaling.
3. Leptin Itself: Simply having high levels of leptin can also cause leptin resistance.
Effectively, once you develop leptin resistance you get caught in a loop that increases your resistance over time and makes reversing the condition very problematic.
Not sure if you have leptin resistance? If you have high levels of fat deposits especially in the abdomen, then it’s fairly certain that you have become leptin resistant. If so, you can’t burn fat naturally because the brain is convinced you are starving.
Reversing Leptin Resistance So You Can Burn Fat Naturally Again
Reversing leptin resistance is not easy and there’s no simple solution. Instead, it requires a number of strategies being implemented concurrently to reverse the condition. Here is what you can do:
1. Lower Carb Intake: Carbs elevate levels of triglycerides in your body. Triglycerides prevent the transport of leptin to the hypothalamus in your brain. So, reducing carb intake reduces triglyceride levels and makes it easier for your brain to detect leptin.
2. Eliminate Processed Foods from Diet: Processed foods are highly associated with inflammation, one of the causes of leptin resistance. To as great of an extent as possible, you need to eliminate them from your diet.
3. Get a Good Night’s Rest: Lack of sufficient sleep can increase imbalances in your leptin levels so try to get a good night’s rest.
5. Consume High Protein Meals: Switching to a high protein diet alone can cut caloric intake by up to 20%. That will automatically help lower leptin levels and may reduce your leptin resistance.
Concluding Thoughts on Leptin and Natural Fat Burning
The simple truth is that leptin resistance is likely the biggest reason why no diet ever seems to help you lose weight and keep it off. Processed foods are everywhere and cause the very inflammation that initiates the leptin resistance. So, getting your body to burn fat naturally is nearly impossible without cutting out processed foods and reversing leptin resistance. Only long-term changes to your diet and lifestyle can help reverse leptin resistance so your body burns fat naturally again.
About The Author:
Jon Kreps is a health and wellness blogger specializing in weight loss. He has over 15 years of experience in this niche and writes on a wide range of health-related topics including weight loss, periodontal disease, exercise and more.