What Is Leptin Sensitivity and Does It Make You Fat? + 6 Tips
Many interacting hormones contribute to our appetite and hunger. Several factors influence these hormones and our reaction to them.
In recent years, leptin supplements have become popular.
Leptin is a peptide hormone that is produced by our fat cells and that plays a role in the regulation of our body weight.
It is also called the ‘satiety hormone’. Leptin is said to reduce appetite and help with weight loss.
What is the role of leptin in overweight? And how can you increase the leptin sensitivity? You learn that in this article.
In addition, you will learn the following points:
- What exactly is leptin and where the hormone is made
- Whether leptin makes you fat
- The difference between leptin and ghrelin (and what they have in common)
- Whether leptin supplements are meaningful
- 5 tips to naturally increase your leptin content
- And much, much more ..
What is Leptin?
The name leptin is derived from the Greek word ‘leptos’ which means slim.
Leptin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the fat cells in the human body and is excreted in the circulatory system, where it travels to the hypothalamus (the brain area that determines when and how much you eat) (source).
Leptin tells the hypothalamus that we have stored enough fat so that we can eat less or stop eating.
High leptin levels tell your brain that you have stored enough fat, while low levels tell your brain that fat stores are low and that you have to eat (source).
Leptin is also called the satiety hormone. The main function of leptin is to signal your brain that you no longer have to eat and can burn calories at a normal pace (source). The more body fat they contain, the more leptin they produce (source).
In general, the more body fat you have, the more leptin your body produces. This means you eat less food.
Conversely, it also applies that the less fat you have, the less leptin in your body and the more hungry you will be. In short, for weight loss, the more leptin the better.
The discovery came from a mouse study. The scientists noted that one genetically modified species of mice was a lot of ate and obese. When researchers donated the hormone leptin to this mouse group, the mice lost weight.
When that became known, science was in turmoil. Everyone who researched fat burning wanted to know if leptin was actually the holy grail against obesity.
But the effect of leptin proved to be more complicated than expected ….
It turned out that the injections of leptin only worked for mice (and people) that genetically had a shortage of leptin. That turned out to be the case only in about 5 to 10% of overweight people. For the other 90-95%, leptin did relatively little (source).
What is the Role of Leptin in Overweight?
After all, people with a lot of overweight have a lot of body fat. Because fat cells produce leptin in relation to their size, people who are too fat also have high levels of leptin. So their brains should actually indicate that they have stored enough energy.
Why doesn’t this happen?
- Unfortunately, you can become resistant to leptin (source). Leptin resistance can cause hunger and reduce the number of calories you burn.
Leptin resistance is now thought to be one of the most important biological contributions to overweight (source).
In that case, you can have a lot of body fat so that you produce a lot of leptin. The problem is only that it does not work anymore. The brain is no longer listening.
You then have no lack of appetite and no increased metabolism. Your brain may even think that you are still hungry because the high leptin level is not being signaled.
In that case, you end up in a vicious circle:
- You eat more food, which increases your fat percentage.
- More body fat means that more leptin is produced in the fat cells.
- Too much body fat can cause the signaling of leptin to be disrupted.
- Your brain still thinks that you are hungry, so you want to eat more.
- You become even fatter and hungry.
- And so on…
More eating and less exercise is therefore not the underlying cause of weight gain, but rather a possible consequence of leptin resistance (source).
Leptin resistance can be compared with insulin resistance. In the case of insulin resistance, a lot of insulin is produced (as a result of a diet rich in added sugars and bad carbohydrates), but the body has stopped signaling a high insulin level.
What makes this interesting is that both leptin resistance and insulin resistance occur together in people with (heavy) obesity, although obese men with high visceral fat (abdominal fat) have higher insulin levels and women with a lot of fat under their skin have higher leptin levels (source ).
Does Leptin Make You Fat?
Lowering leptin levels may make it more difficult to lose weight, even if you are still eating less.
That’s because it causes your metabolism to work slower, so you need fewer calories to maintain the same weight.
When your leptin levels drop, it leads to increased appetite and reduced motivation to exercise. Your brain thinks that you are starving and do everything to recover your lost body fat.
This can be a reason why so many people regain their original weight after a strict diet.
Tips for Increasing Your Leptin Sensitivity
How can you increase your leptin content? This can be done with the following tips that help regulate the production of leptin!
Several studies show that the tips below can help to regulate the level of leptin. This allows you to easily achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
This means that you switch to a healthy diet plan, sleep well and ensure that the daily amount of stress decreases.
Keep in mind that leptin is not the only hormone that controls your body weight. Other factors also play an important role, such as: health, genes, age, gender, activity level and intestinal health.
So let’s start with the most important tips that help raise your leptin content:
Tip # 1: Follow a Leptin Diet
Foods that are very satiating and that give you a full feeling can be considered as a good source to improve your leptin sensitivity.
Which foods should you not eat if you want to keep your leptin hormone in balance?
Foods rich in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, artificial flavorings and added sugars! Studies show that processed foods such as sweets, cookies, pizza, sweetened drinks, crisps, etc. can confuse hunger and satiety hormones (source).
Fast sugars also cause large peaks and deep valleys in blood sugar levels. We also call this the blood sugar roller coaster. These fluctuations can result in your appetite being greatly increased and eating again (source).
This is why I constantly hammer on eating natural and unprocessed foods. They are incredibly important for regulating your appetite!
Let’s see which foods you can help to get a fuller and satisfied feeling after eating (and between meals).
Food with a High-Fiber content
Foods with a low energy density, such as fresh and cooked vegetables, contain a lot of volumes of water and dietary fiber.
This is important to know because they contain a lot of nutrients and the lowest amount of calories.
Nutritional sources such as:
- Fresh fruit
- Full grains (quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat)
All fiber and help to keep feelings of hunger under control and prevent overeating.
Eating high-protein food is one of the best ways to improve your leptin sensitivity. Food with a high protein content helps you control hunger and maintain muscle mass. Increasing your daily protein intake also reduces appetite and helps keep your metabolism going.
With protein-rich foods you can think of:
- Fatty fish
- Yogurt/cottage cheese
- Grass-fed beef
- Chicken breast
While fats contain more calories than proteins and carbohydrates, they are necessary for the absorption of nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins. Healthy fats give a good taste to the cooked meal and help control the hunger hormones.
A low-fat meal will probably taste less good. What you often see is that a lot of sugars are then added to compensate for the lack of fats. Not really healthy!
Tip # 2: Start with Intermittent Fasting
Different forms of intermittent fasting are good for improving your leptin sensitivity and burning body fat. In intermittent fasting or periodic fasting, you do not eat for part of the day (and night).
Researchers think that periodic fasting can help to control local inflammations in the hypothalamus (the brain area that regulates our body’s energy requirements), contributing to a healthy energy balance and protection against weight gain (source).
One study found that intermittent fasting combined with strength training improved biological (health-related) markers in the mainly healthy male participants, reduced fat percentage and maintained muscle mass.
After 8 weeks on the 8-hour diet (8 hours of food and 16 hours of fasting) the participants experienced a reduction in their fat percentage, while the lean body mass was unchanged.
The leptin level decreased significantly in the men who fasted, but there was no adverse effect on the basal metabolism (metabolism at rest). Given that a decrease in the leptin level is usually supposed to lower a person’s metabolism, this is an interesting finding (source).
- Do you want to try your own periodic fast? Read all about intermittent fasting in this article.
Tip # 3: Limit the Amount of Stress in a Day
Even if you follow a healthy diet, there is still a chance of overeating and weight gain if you are very stressed every day.
Whatever the cause, if this stress persists, your adrenal glands can become exhausted. Your adrenal glands quickly excrete epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.
If you have too much stress in your life and constantly push yourself too hard, you can get health problems, even if you do everything to keep your hormones in balance through a healthy diet.
Cortisol contributes to the accumulation of dangerous belly fat and worsens the craving for unhealthy food.
Because digestion is also broken down during the stress response, chronic stress can contribute to a variety of digestive disorders. Cramps, bloated stomach, constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of chronic stress.
Depression is a common response to chronic stress. All these things can lower your quality of life and influence your (social) relationships with other people in a negative way.
Did you know that strength training, fitness, or any other sport in which you build lean muscle mass …
… is one of the best ways to improve your metabolism and increase leptin sensitivity?
As you do more in physical activity, your metabolism and the ability to regulate leptin also increase. By lifting weights and building muscle mass, every form of physical training helps to burn calories.
It also promotes the release of growth hormones, adrenaline and testosterone, allowing body fat to be used as an energy source instead of stored. At a time when obesity and diabetes are rising, physical exercise and resistance training can offer enormous health benefits.
Research shows that people who train regularly have less risk of developing visceral fat (organ fat) and are generally healthier compared to people who do not or almost not exercise.
You also need to know that physical training is good to keep your stress under control. It helps regulate hormones and creates a neurotransmitter endorphin, the ‘happiness hormone’ that functions as a natural ‘feel good’ drug.
How often should you exercise?
Try to be physically active at least three times a week for 45-60 minutes. A combination of aerobic exercises and strength training is the best. Therefore, try to include interval training (HIIT) in your weekly schedule.
Physical exercise should never be lacking in your busy weekly schedule. But do not overdo it. You have to take into account that too much physical exercise lowers leptin levels and increases appetite (source).
Sports must be balanced with sufficient rest and recovery, because overtraining can lead to other health problems (source).
Tip # 5: Take one ‘all-you-can-eat’ meal One Day a Week
If you experience a long-term caloric deficit (due to a calorie-restricted diet), your leptin levels decrease.
This lowering of the leptin level can make it more difficult to lose weight, even if you eat less. That is because it causes your metabolism to work more slowly. So you still need fewer calories to stay on weight.
In that case, an ‘anything goes meal’ or a cheat meal can offer a solution. An anything goes meal is a meal where you can eat whatever you want. Think for example of shawarma or a pizza.
Normally this kind of food is out of the question … but in this case, you can eat it. Usually, you consume a lot more calories with such a meal. They are a useful tool when you normally follow a low-calorie diet.
They work by temporarily increasing your daily caloric intake, causing your body to get confused by thinking that you get a lot of fats. This increases your leptin levels.
Several small studies have found positive results with so-called cheat meals. Because such meals help maintain your metabolism, they can also help you lose weight in the long term (source).
Strange But True!
A good night’s rest is the key to a healthy hormone system. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with decreased leptin levels and impaired insulin levels (source).
In order to keep stress hormones like cortisol in check and prevent chronic inflammations related to chronic stress, it is important that you sleep well and sufficiently (about 8 hours a night) and also take daily moments when you can relax.
Reading something simple like reading a book, listening to relaxing music or taking a warm bath can help you relax.
Leptin and ghrelin are two of the many hormones that help regulate your metabolism, appetite and body weight.
Although leptin is considered the most important ‘satiety hormone’ because it helps control your appetite, ghrelin is considered the most important ‘hunger hormone’ because it increases your desire to eat.
Leptin is mainly excreted in fat cells, as well as the stomach, heart, placenta and skeletal muscle. Leptin reduces hunger.
Ghrelin is mainly excreted in the stomach wall. Ghrelin increases hunger.
Ghrelin was discovered 7 years after leptin. But due to the disappointment of leptin against obesity, the scientific interest was less pronounced. Your stomach makes ghrelin when it is empty. Like leptin, ghrelin enters the blood and eventually ends up in the hypothalamus, where it tells the brain that you are hungry (source).
When the ghrelin and leptin levels are disturbed, it can affect your ability to eat when you are hungry. This can lead to changes in your body weight and other consequences. Although these hormones have opposite effects, they work together and it is important that they are regulated.
Can leptin and ghrelin levels explain why people have so much difficulty losing weight?
A 2010 study looked at how ghrelin and leptin levels are related to weight gain after a diet.
The researchers put more than 160 men and women overweight on a calorie-restricted diet that lasted 8 weeks. The diet was 30% less than the total energy consumption of the participants, consisting of 15% protein, 30% fat and 55% carbohydrates. There was no change in physical activity, the participants only ate fewer calories.
After 8 weeks on a diet, participants lost on average 5% of their body weight. The men lost an average of 5.9% and the women 4.5%. Some people lost more than 5% of their body weight, while others lost less. This may not seem so interesting … until you look at the blood samples!
The participants who lost more weight (> 5%) saw a larger decrease in their leptin and insulin levels compared to the participants who had lost less weight.
For both men and women, ghrelin levels were higher (meaning they were more hungry) at the end of the diet, but ghrelin levels decreased among those who lost a lot of weight.
Ghrelin seems to be affected by the release of the growth hormone, which is different in men and women. Women also appear to be much more sensitive than men for leptin levels, unless men are given estrogen.
But do leptin supplements really do what they promise?
In fact, most leptin supplements do not contain leptin at all! Many supplements are promoted as leptin pills, but most pills contain a mix of different ingredients (alpha lipoic acid, fish oil, green tea extract) help to reduce inflammation and thereby increase leptin sensitivity (source).
In rare cases, the use of leptin supplement may be useful for people who produce almost no leptin, but for most people, these supplements do not make much of a difference.
Did you know that research shows that 1 in 3 just gains from a diet instead of losing weight? (source)
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