Leptin Production and Sensitivity
Article by Lita Mar
Leptin is a very powerful protein hormone that is produced by your fat cells. It circulates in your blood stream and eventually travels to your brain, letting it know whether or not there is enough energy stored in your fat cells to eat food in normal amounts, exercise at a normal intensity, and engage in normal expensive metabolic activities.
Each person has his or her own genetically predetermined leptin threshold. When your leptin levels are above this threshold your brain senses that there is energy sufficiency, causing sensations of satiety. But when your leptin levels are below this threshold and your brain senses that your body requires more energy, the short term result is hunger and (over longer periods of time) a slowing of metabolic behaviors and processes.
Most people are concerned with leptin production, thinking that more is better. But the truth is that the more body fat you have, the higher your leptin levels will be. Because women naturally store more body fat than men, women’s bodies produce MORE leptin. Unless you have a very rare condition where your body fails to produce leptin normally, you will typically not have any issue with leptin production.
Rather, for a person with normal or excess amounts of body fat, the greater problem you likely face is one of leptin resistance. The more leptin you have floating around in your system, the less sensitive your brain becomes to its signals. Due to our hormonal makeup and tendency to store more fat, leptin resistance is a problem women face that men typically do not.
You see, when leptin levels are low, food is more rewarding because your brain activates your vagus nerve (the nerve running to your stomach that controls hunger and satiety). Conversely, when leptin levels are HIGH, food becomes LESS rewarding as your brain signals your body it is okay to stop eating.
In leptin resistant people, the brain fails to respond and doesn’t send the appropriate signals to the nervous system and the body, resulting in a tendency to feel hungry and to overeat.
When your brain doesn’t sense that leptin is abundant, it will activate your hunger so that you eat more in an attempt to create even more leptin which in turn continues to create a desensitizing effect in your brain. Therefore, over time high surges of leptin activity and your brain’s ever increasing resistance to leptin create a vicious cycle of eating because your brain isn’t responding to the signaling from your fat cells to stop eating.
Here are the TOP 5 things you can do to IMPROVE Leptin sensitivity:
1.) Keeping insulin levels low and avoiding insulin spikes is your first and best defense against leptin insensitivity. By decreasing consumption of refined sugars as well as increasing consumption of fiber and the general amount of plant based foods in the diet you will limit insulin spikes and thereby IMPROVE leptin sensitivity.
2.) Taking measures to decrease blood triglycerides (fats that circulate in your blood stream) will improve leptin sensitivity because high levels of blood triglycerides interfere with your brain’s ability to receive leptin signaling. Reducing the amounts of saturated fats in your diet, focusing on improving cholesterol levels through the inclusion of poly unsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil, fish, nuts and avocados) and increasing consumption of fiber and plant based foods in your diet will decrease blood triglyceride levels, improving your brain’s ability to receive appropriate leptin signals.
3.) Eating up to maintenance every 7 to 10 days or more helps to restore leptin levels and prevent binge cycles. The most recent studies have shown that leptin levels drop dramatically after about 7 days of hard dieting. This is probably the reason why fitness competitors and bodybuilders have noticed improvements to their contest preparation dieting effectiveness and metabolic behaviors when they include “refeeds” into their contest diet strategies. You can use this strategy to your advantage, too!
4.) While exercise has no impact on leptin production, studies have shown it to have a dramatic impact on improving both leptin and insulin sensitivity. Recent research has shown intense short bursts of exercise interspersed throughout a longer medium intensity exercise session to have the most positive effect on leptin sensitivity. Simply starting off with walking sessions that incorporate bouts of brisk walking or jogging can improve your brain’s leptin and insulin sensitivity. More advanced training modalities that include resistance training exercises, circuit style training, and HIIT (such as the Venus Factor Workouts) will even further promote these enhancing side effects of exercise.
5.) Research testing has disproved the effectiveness of direct leptin supplementation because your body will simply break down the leptin proteins found in dietary supplements and use them for building blocks just like it does with any other dietary protein. However, supplementing with herbs that are clinically proven to improve leptin sensitivity seems to improve hunger signaling and fat burning activity for many.
Some of the specific herbal extracts in the supplement formula I recommend are very good at increasing leptin sensitivity. In particular, Irvingia Gabonensis or “Bush Mango” (a fruit that grows in Cameroon) has been shown to decrease levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) by up to 52%, which in turns causes an increase in Leptin sensitivity (as high CRP levels are known to interfere with Leptin sensitivity). Eating the raw fruit will not have the same effect as consuming the concentrated extract.
Simply losing body fat will significantly increase your brain’s sensitivity to leptin signaling by decreasing leptin levels and blood triglyceride levels, so the most important step you can take is to follow a low sugar low calorie diet plan. If you choose to add a supplement and/or a workout component to your fat loss efforts, you will further increase your brain’s leptin sensitivity which will accelerate your fat loss results beyond what you can do with the diet component alone.