Fat cells produce many hormones that have an effect on the body; some of these hormones have a positive effect and some have negative effects. Leptin is a hormone that is released from fall cells. Researchers are still understanding the complete relationship between leptin and the rest of the body.
Much research is involved with leptin and its effect on obesity. Leptin is also considered a “starvation hormone”. Here is a closer look at the hormone leptin, why you may want to increase it and how it effects the body.
Leptin’s effect on the body
Leptin produced from fat cells circulates through the blood and reaches the brain. It sends a signal to the brain to lower food intake. Therefore, the more the fat cells the more leptin signal will be sent to the brain to lower food intake. So, in theory, when leptin levels increase due to weight gain, there should be a message sent to the brain to lower food intake because there is plenty of reserve energy.
However, what researchers have found is that there can be a resistance to leptin in the brain in obesity. Therefore, leptin is sending the signal but the brain is not responding to it which would not help with weight loss. Researchers are still working through the exact mechanism for leptin resistance and how to treat it in humans.
Another role that leptin has is enhancing the body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source. This can lead to an increase of free fatty acids circulating in the blood which can also increase risk for insulin resistance. This can cause a viscous cycle of increased insulin resistance, increased blood sugar which increases free fatty acid formation in the lover which increases fat storage which increases leptin production.
How to increase it…..may not be the right question
Increasing leptin levels can be done by increasing fat mass, which is not beneficial. What a better question may be is how can you sensitize your body to your leptin levels? Sometimes increasing the amount is not the issue. People who are obese can become resistant to leptin and they have high levels of this hormone.
Researchers once thought increasing levels of leptin in obese subjects could help with weight loss, but that hasn’t always been shown in research studies. Injecting leptin directly into the brain may be a better approach for increasing sensitivity, but this is not practical. Researchers are still working on how humans can increase sensitivity to leptin.
What is interesting is as weight loss happens, leptin levels will naturally go down. Over time, this can stimulate an increased appetite. With leptin resistance, it is thought that when this happens your body goes into a somewhat leptin deficiency which can promote gaining the weight back and possibly more.
How to increase sensitivity
Leptin has been called the “starvation hormone” because it lowers food intake over a long period of time by decreasing appetite. Although researchers are still trying to figure out more details with how leptin works, there are some general guidelines for increasing leptin sensitivity.
The first way you can potentially increase leptin sensitivity is by eating a primarily anti-inflammatory diet. This means eating a diet rich in omega 3’s (fatty fish, nuts, flaxseed, chia seed) and high in phytochemicals and antioxidants vitamin A, C, E and the mineral selenium. In general, this means a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Avoiding pro-inflammatory foods, like foods high in sugar, is also important.
Increasing your exercise can also help with increasing leptin sensitivity. Exercise has many positive health benefits, and it is also important for increasing insulin sensitivity if someone also has insulin resistance with leptin resistance.
Another important contributor to leptin sensitivity is sleep. Sleep deprivation can lower leptin levels which may be one reason why sleep deprivation can increase appetite. In one study with sleep deprivation and leptin levels, researchers found after 8 days of sleep deprivation leptin levels lowered about 20-25%. Some research also suggest people with a higher BMI have a higher association with not getting enough sleep.
Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells that act on the brain to help regulate appetite and food intake. There are many hormones involved with weight regulation and appetite control, but leptin appears to be a major player in energy balance.
A higher level of leptin will send a stronger signal to the brain to lower food intake and decrease appetite. However, the higher the leptin levels, leptin resistance can occur where there is high circulating leptin but for some reason the brain is not responding to it.
Researchers are still trying to understand the relationship of leptin on the body and how to increase sensitivity to the “starvation hormone”. Some things that may help sensitizing the body to leptin include following an anti-inflammatory diet, limiting high sugar foods, exercise and getting adequate levels of sleep at night.
References used in this article