The role of leptin resistance in weight gain
Ask people the key to weight loss, and they’ll probably tell you more willpower and fewer calories. But research is increasingly showing that weight loss isn’t simply a matter of being more disciplined: there are numerous biochemical processes at work, many of which are driven by changes in our environment or by the modern Western diet.
Recent weight-related studies are indicating that people are becoming more resistant to leptin — a hormone that decreases appetite — and that this rise in leptin resistance is a major biological abnormality contributing to weight gain.
How leptin works
Leptin is produced by the body’s fat cells. The more body fat you have, the higher your leptin levels. Leptin has functions related to immunity, brain function, and bone metabolism, but its primary role is energy regulation. Leptin tells the brain when we have enough fat stored, so that the brain knows we don’t need to keep eating. It helps control the amount of calories we eat and expend, and how much fat we store.
Leptin is supposed to keep us both from starving and from overeating: When leptin levels get too low, it sends a signal to a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus — which controls when and how much we eat — that we need to conserve energy and eat more. When leptin levels are too high, it tells the hypothalamus that we have enough energy stored and we can stop eating.
However, research shows that this mechanism is often broken in people who are overweight. Because people who are overweight have more body fat, and therefore produce higher levels of leptin, their brains should be receiving a message that they already have plenty of energy stored on the body. But despite all of the leptin in their bloodstreams, their brains aren’t receiving the signal to stop eating. The brain continues to think that the body is starving, and tells them to continue to eat. The brain also thinks it needs to conserve energy, and slows down the metabolism so that the body burns fewer calories. This condition — known as leptin resistance — leads people to continue eating and gaining more weight, even though their leptin levels are already high. Trying to control your weight through willpower alone, when your hormones are telling you to keep eating, is near impossible.
If you have excess body fat, particularly in the abdominal region, you may be suffering from leptin resistance.
What causes leptin resistance?
Several biological processes have been identified as contributing factors to leptin resistance:
- Inflammation, which can occur throughout the body as a result of eating a poor diet. Foods that contribute to inflammation include wheat, dairy, sugar, fried foods, soda, refined grains, and processed meats. Inflammation has been linked to every major age-related degenerative disease, including heart disease and cancer.
- Elevated levels of free fatty acids, which are by-products of fat metabolism
- Having high leptin levels to begin with also seems to contribute to leptin resistance
All of these factors are higher in overweight individuals, which can create a cycle where you continue to gain weight, produce even more leptin, and suffer from increased inflammation, which further contributes to leptin resistance.
How to combat leptin resistance
Reducing diet-related inflammation is the first step to reducing leptin resistance. Avoid processed foods, and include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, such as olive oil, berries, leafy greens, and green tea. You may also want to take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Regular exercise and adequate sleep can also help combat inflammation.
Periodic, prolonged fasting also gives your body the opportunity to activate repair and rejuvenation processes that help reduce inflammation. The ProLon fasting mimicking diet has been proven to help with fat-driven weight loss and reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker associated with internal inflammation. The ProLon diet comes in a five-day kit that provides you with everything you need to get your body into a fasting state — while still enjoying delicious, filling foods. Learn more about ProLon and find out if it’s right for you.