If you spend a lot of time on health and fitness sites, reading blogs, watching videos and interviews, downloading recipes or just screaming a lot at those annoying little adds on YouTube trying to sell you the latest in “get ripped, stay lean,” pills and potions then you are bound to have come across the hormone Leptin. You may even remember that it has something to do with with weight gain or weight loss or that it is sometimes refereed to as the master hormone. But do you know exactly what it does, how it does it or just how incredibly important it is for controlling your weight ?
Well perhaps you should.
Here is a quick test for you. Strip off… yes everything. I promise we are not looking. Now go stand is front of a mirror. If you are lean and mean then you now have permission to stop reading and move on to another blog… however…If you have more wiggle… or jiggle… than you should or perhaps a lot more, then chances are you need to know more about Leptin.
Back in the 1950’s scientists noted that one particular breed of mice tended to get fatter than other mice, a lot fatter, in fact 3 times fatter than regular mice. So being the fun sort of people that scientists are they called these mice, Ob mice, with Ob being short for Obese and then they set about trying to figure why they were so much fatter than the regular lab mice.
One thing was clear right from the start, these little furry butterballs weren’t just gaining weight by magic, their appetites were just insatiable. In fact they were only happy when eating their scientist masters out of house and home at every chance they could.
This uncontrollable hunger and weight gain were know to be a genetic mutation of some sort but at the time what this mutation was interfering with was not know.
It takes till the mid 1990’s before it is discovered that the mutation in the Ob mice genes was stopping them from producing a particular hormone which was then named, Leptin. Initially it was believed that this newly discovered hormone was in charge of regulating hunger and that was it, but as time passed and more and more tests where done it soon became clear that the scientist’s had stumbled onto something much bigger than just a hunger controller, they had in fact discovered a hormone that not only controlled pretty much every thing there was to control with regard to weight loss and weight gain it did in fact control the release of every other hormone in the body…They had discovered The Master Hormone.
With so many biological functions reliant on Leptin we could keep this blog going for a very, very long time but we are not going to do that. Instead we are going to limit our focus on the weight management aspect of Leptin, with particular emphasis on its role in both the storage and burning of adipose fat.
Leptin is produced by every fat cell in you body. Its job is to travel through your blood until it gets to your brain where based on its concentration levels your hypothalamus can then either send signals to your stomach and endorphins centres to go seek out food, (if Leptin is too low), or just to keep burning off stored fat , (if Leptin is high).
Brilliant isn’t it. A built in self regulating system designed to keep you naturally lean and mean all year round.
So why is it that for so many people this self regulating system isn’t working? Why are so many of us getting fat and finding it so hard to lose it? I mean, the fatter we get the more leptin we produce so why are overweight people still getting hungry and still eating so much? Why, if people are producing so much Leptin are their bodies not telling them to stop eating?
The Answer? Leptin resistance.
The biggest causes of Leptin resistance are, Inflammation, high fatty triglyceride in the blood, and (Oddly enough) prolonged high Leptin levels.
Now there are many things that can instigate any of these individual causes… but…. and this is a big roundy butt of a but..; if you look to any of the countries where obesity and all it’s associated diseases are on the up; where inflammation is rampant and high blood triglyceride’s are becoming the norm then i don’t think you will be to surprised to learn that the one thing they all have in common is their diets, the SAD (standard American Diet), diet. High in simple sugar, high in complex sugars like Carbohydrate and high in trans fats. A perfect Leptin resistance dietary storm…
To much sugar, either in simple forms or as complex carbohydrates in your diet causes damage to your pancreas, liver, digestive system, nervous system, heart, kidneys, adrenal glands and just about every other part of your body, which leads to inflammation.
Inflammation leads to the release of inflammation markers like hyper sensitive C-RP (C-reactive protein) which binds to Leptin stopping it getting past the blood brain barrier, therefore limiting leptins ability to tell the brain to stop eating and start burning.
Result: People just get fatter.
To much sugar, either in simple forms or as complex carbohydrates in your diet as well as trans fats causes your blood to be flowing with fatty triglyceride’s. To many Triglyceride ‘s in the brain blocks leptin receptors around the hypothalamus and so reduces leptin sensitivity even further.
Result: People just get fatter.
To much sugar, either in simple forms or as complex carbohydrates in your diet as well as trans fats, good fats and everything else a person can force feed themselves will cause a constant increase in fat which over stimulates leptin production. This problem is compounded even further by the fact that sugar in the blood stream stimulates your fat cells to release even more Leptin. The Leptin receptors in your hypothalamus, (the ones still functioning that is), then get bombarded with Leptin which eventually deadens their ability to respond to the chemical message they are being sent and so they just shut down.
The result: people just get fatter.
So why is it that leptin Resistance makes people fatter?
Your hypothalamus, no longer able to get a clear messages from leptin about how much fuel you have in reserve assumes that you are in fact starving and starts to stimulate the release of huger hormones like Ghrelin to get you eating more. It also up regulates fat storage and shuts down all the possible fat burning process it can. This chain of events leads to only one pretty obvious result… run away fat gains. What’s worse it that the further you get down this particular rabbit hole the easier and easier the weight gains come and harder and harder they get to lose it.
There is a reason you never see really over weight old people in nursing homes….
We have briefly looked at how a bad diet can lead to Leptin resistance and a cascade of events causing easy weight gain and you may by now be thinking, wow… surely it can’t get any worse than that… Well i am afraid it most certainly can.
Let me paint a picture for you. So find you have somehow become very over weight and you decide to lose it… you start cutting calories and getting some exercise, but there is a problem, you don’t seem to be dropping weight as fast as you think you should. Or even if you are dropping weight, you are hungry and tired all the time and it all seems such a struggle. You are on your way home from a hard day at work but you still have the gym to get to… You hate going to the gym because it all just feels so hard and never ending and your comfortable sofa and TV are just waiting for you at home… and there is still that tub of Ben and Jerry’s in fridge that you had meant to throw out but somehow lost your nerve at the last minuet…
You can feel you will power wavering. Home with Ben and Jerry or the gym…?
Many people find themselves in this very situation or a version of it and they just don’t get why others find it so easy to be disciplined. They get all down on themselves because they feel lazy and a failure because yet again they have failed… But perhaps they are being to hard on themselves. Perhaps it all really is harder for them… because their body is not yet working like everyone else’s…
You see if you are over weight and your leptin sensitivity is all shot to pieces then your body is not working as it should and it wont start to work the way it should either until you tackle your leptin issues.
As you saw earlier, when your leptin receptors stop getting the signals from you leptin then your hypothalamus thinks you are starving and it does everything it can to slow you down and start conserving calories. One of the key ways it does this is by greatly reducing its release of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Your thyroid is where your metabolic rate is controlled by the release of T3 and T4. T3 is the one we want for a higher metabolism and more fat burning but your thyroid gets the signal as to how much T3 to make from your hypothalamus and its secreted levels of TSH, which we have already see are in the pan… So you want to move, to exercise to start burning calories but you just get tired so easily. Most people put this low energy down to them just being over weight and lazy but that is not the problem at all, in fact they they have enough stored fuel to power a small city. Low energy is not the issue, tapping into it is and to do that you must be leptin sensitive.
Oh dear god.. please stop the misery i hear you cry..
But alas there is more to come.
Not only does your hypothalamus reduce TSH it also starts to release another hormone designed to cause your thyroid to start making Reverse T3. Reverse T3 blocks the use of T3, so now you have less T3 being made and the T3 you are making is being blocked also…
Is it any wonder overweight people complain they are tired all of the time, their body is quite literally being hammered into the ground. This is one reason you just cannot expect very overweight people to just get up and start moving. They just can’t and that is a fact. Patience is what is needed and a little understanding and of course time. A period on a corrective diet can begin to open up those messaging pathways and give access to all that stored fuel but it does not happen over night.
This leads us into another reason why overweight people should not start exercising to hard or to quickly while they are still very leptin resistant.
One of Leptin’s many tasks is getting fuel into muscles (assuming your T3 is optimal) for use in exercise. It works with a protein called UCP3 (uncoupling protein 3). Their combined job is to fuel the muscle and to convert any excess fuel created in the muscle to heat which then gets radiated away as free energy (calories burnt without you having to do anything). But when a person is still Leptin resistant this process cannot happen and fuel cannot get in to the muscle properly to fuel exercise and even if it can get in, it cannot then be utilised properly… this is turn results in the fuel being refused entry and being sent off to the fat cells for storage.
This not only creates more fat in the body but it results in the muscle becoming starved which stimulates even more, EAT MORE FOOD signals being sent into the system only reinforcing even further the hypothalamus’s already firm belief that the person is in fact starving.
And so the cycle continues….
As you can see the situation can get pretty dire.
The good news is that just about anyone can fix their leptin sensitivity with just their diet alone and in so doing can finally stop the constant weight gain and life ending damage and disease that are plaguing their lives. The result of going through a leptin reset can be a much better relationship with carbs in the future, but it takes a bit of time and really does take dropping your carb intake as low as you possible can for a while at least, as well as eliminating as many processed foods as you can.
My Leptin 6 week reset Protocol.
Eat only 25-50 grams of carbs per day.
Eat only 3 meals a day (no snacks).
Do not limit calories at first.
Eat about 90 grams of protein a day for women and 130 grams per day for men.
Eat lots and lots of fat.
Eat your first meal within 30 mins of waking and make sure it has lots of protein (50 grams).
No exercise for 6 weeks (for those over 30% body fat).
The higher fat diet is very important at this stage. High fat diets trigger the body’s fat burning mechanisms in the absence of sugars. It is also important not to go over the recommended protein markers either, as excess protein triggers insulin production and keeps the body in a sugar burning mode rather than a fat burning one. Baby steps are required here and patients. A quick fix of very low calories followed by a return to bad eating habits only makes the situation even worse. Becoming very overweight rarely happens quickly and people should not expect the reverse to happen quickly either.
After about the 6 week mark, exercise can begin and maybe even a small increase in carb intake if it is tolerated well but don’t push it, (100 gram max). Weight training is your best option here as it helps to re-establish leptin working in the muscle and it also starts beta oxidation, (the breaking down of fat in the body for fuel).
A low carb, high fat eating plan is the key to the success of re-establishing healthy leptin sensitivity, and no, there is no high carb version of a fix. Some people can handle lots of cabs and be absolutely fine, if you are someone who is overweight or gets overweight easily you are not one of those people. High Carb diets destroy leptin sensitivity in many people and only low carb, high fat diets can fix it.
Some gentle calorie manipulation can also be added into the mix as soon as the person adapts to the change in food styles, but don’t be a hurry to drop the calories. Fix the body first then deal with the weight, besides most people start dropping weight with the diet change anyway.
As the body starts to drop weight and the training starts to take effect good things will happen…. and the progress can start to be stepped up with any of the more usual eating strategies. One cautionary note; if you have been very overweight or put on weight easily you not likely to be ever able to eat large amounts of carbs on a day to day basis and maintain a lower body fat percentage so whatever eating plans you use going forward they should tend towards the lower end of the cab range for the most part.
Remember anyone can lose a few pounds for a short while but for real life changes to occur a mind set of health and balance must be sought. Mindfulness exercises and a self education about food are even more helpful in the long term than any amount of exercise. A return to old habits will quickly lead to old results.
New bodies require a new way of thinking and keeping them requires a new way of living.