Hunger and Satiety – Lets Talk Leptin

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Table of Contents

What is Leptin?

Leptin is a hormone that is made by adipose (fat) tissue and is secreted by our fat storage cells, also known as adipocytes.  The role of leptin is to communicate with the brain about the amount of fat that you have stored on your body.

When Leptin is functioning correctly, leptin will circulate from our fat cells into our brain where it downregulates hunger signals, and upregulates energy expenditure (ie calories burned), controlling body fat levels and preventing weight gain.

When you begin to put on body fat (after a cycle of dieting, binging or overeating etc) or are already overweight, your fat cells produce excess leptin. When your brain gets bombarded with leptin signals from too many fat cells, it shuts down; leptin levels keep rising, receptors stop functioning, your body doesn’t get the leptin signal, and you don’t feel full nor satiated. In turn, you keep eating and craving the wrong foods in an addictive pattern, and thus, you keep storing more body fat.

This insufficient signaling between the brain and leptin hormone is known as “leptin resistance”. Once we are in a state of resistance, the brain begins to think that leptin levels are too low and the body is starving.

Thus, in response, the brain will send continuous signals to the body, telling it to increase food intake and store body fat. This is will indeed lead to weight gain and in most cases cause higher rebound weight gain whenever weight is lost through dieting (yo-yo dieting).

Does this sound like something you are experiencing?

Here are some of the signs of leptin resistance:

  • Sugar cravings and binge eating
  • Constant hunger and insatiety
  • Constantly thinking about food
  • Weight loss plateaus and weight gain
  • Stubborn body fat, especially around the midsection
  • Low functioning thyroid symptoms such as fatigue, tiredness, coldness
  • High triglyceride levels in the blood
  • High reverse T3 the thyroid hormones.

There are a number of factors which play a role in leptin resistance; the primary ones being lack of sleep, high stress levels, lack of exercise, overeating and dehydration. So how can we go about combating this? The good news is that we can naturally increase our leptin sensitivity.

Increasing Leptin Sensitivity

  1. Cut back on gluten! Gluten is now scientifically proven to leak through the intestinal lining and increase intestinal permeability. Increased intestinal permeability causes inflammation in the hypothalamus, which reduces leptin sensitivity. Removing gluten from your diet will help heal a leaky gut, improve overall gut health and gut barrier function, as well as promoting less inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.
  2. Daily pre and probiotics. Improving gut health and promoting a healthy gut microbiome is absolutely paramount in reversing leptin resistance. A healthy microbiome is critical for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal barrier and keeping inflammation at bay. Prebiotics are fibers that become fermented by healthy gut bacteria, this leads to improved health of intestinal lining, decreased inflammation, and increased leptin sensitivity. Probiotics have been shown to reduce weight and modify leptin levels.
  3. Consume polyphenols. Phytonutrients are found in plantbased foods and promote health and wellbeing. Phytochemicals directly decrease inflammation in both the brain and the body. A group of phytonutrients called polyphenols are especially important for weight regulation through their ability to decrease inflammation and increase leptin sensitivity. Turmeric is a polyphenol that can directly decrease hypothalamic inflammation and/or increase leptin sensitivity. Cool huh?!
  4. Practice mindful eating. How, when, where and with whom you eat can influence how much you eat and how satiated you feel during and after the consumption of your meal.  Some tricks to help you eat more mindfully,  feel more satisfied and help avoid overindulging are to chew your food slowly without any distractions. Don’t multitask whilst you are eating, be present. Don’t drink your calories and….
  5. Remove highly palatable foods. Avoid foods that are easy to over indulge in. Foods that are processed, high in fat and sugar tend to be the worst for overeating. Naturally these foods make us want to consume more as is and as we continue to over eat on these foods the viscous leptin cycle will continue.
  6. Focus on sleep and reducing stress. Recent studies have shown that those who get less than 7-8 hours sleep per night had 15% lower leptin level than those who got enough sleep. Even when someone has required their nutritional and calorie needs, they are still prone to overeating and weight gain if they are highly stressed. To keep stress hormones such as cortisol in check and prevent inflammation related to chronic stress, ensure that you are getting enough and in addition make sure that you are prioritizing time for yourself during the day to rest and reset.

As part of my nutritional coaching packages I offer personalised hormonal resets, so if this sounds like you or if you have any questions about your diet, nutrition, training etc please feel free to contact me, or click one of the links below,  I would love to hear from you.

In love and light,