I’m frustrated and happy at the same time because last week you taught me about a blood test called “leptin” and how it relates obesity. I’ve been the same weight for 5 years and can’t lose anything, yet I eat very little. Please share more.”–A.S., Gainesville, Florida
Answer: Leptin and ‘leptin resistance’ may explain why you eat nothing and hold on to weight. I want to make this a household term and educate you so you can get tested correctly.
Leptin is your stop sign at the dinner table. This hormone is released while you’re eating. Special fat cells in your body secrete the leptin which sends a powerful message to your brain saying, “Stop eating, you’re full now!”
Erratic fluctuations of leptin (and the hormone ghrelin which makes you feel hungry) complicate your ability to lose weight and triggers intense hunger. The imbalanced leptin hormone, can impede weight loss even in the presence of proper levels of estrogen, progesterone and thyroid. Some of you have adequate leptin, but your body doesn’t care, it is desensitized to the hormone and resistant to leptin. This is called leptin resistance and unfortunately for your waist line, there’s no stop sign at the dinner table anymore! You’ll eat more than you should, and more frequently than others. You’re hovering over the fridge at all hours of the day. Yo yo dieting creates the problem, and makes it much worse.
This begs the question, “Why have I become leptin resistant? There are many causes. A common one is because, long ago, you followed your taste buds too long because the food was so yummy. Perhaps your portions were too big and ate until your stomach hurt. There’s no blame here. The typical diet of processed, fast foods contains ingredients that are delicious, if not addictive so there’s a strong crave for these meals.
Some of you wolf down your food down. It takes 10 to 15 minutes for your brain to get the leptin ‘stop‘ sign so if you eat too fast, then you’ll eat too much! Slow down when you eat to allow the leptin signal to be heard.
How can you tell if you’re leptin resistant? The hallmark sign is that you can virtually starve yourself and still not lose weight! That’s a sign that leptin resistance has been going on a long time. Diet pills won’t help you, but exercise will. You can have a blood test done to determine leptin levels. If you can normalize it, your body will start burning fat. It helps if your thyroid hormone is optimized.
Leptin resistance occurs years before insulin resistance and full blown diabetes. I wrote the book on that entitled “Diabetes Without Drugs” and offer solutions there. Now, here’s the part that I couldn’t put in the newspaper because I ran out of space. Serum leptin levels are actually low in people with anorexia nervosa.
As for leptin resistance, here are 9 ways to help you overcome it:
1. First thing is to slow down when you eat because this allows time for you to secrete leptin, the “feel full” signal, the stop sign for eating.
2. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach. Allow at least 9 hours between dinner and breakfast, generally speaking, more if you can. Ideally, you’d finish dinner 3 to 4 hours before hitting the sack.
3. Eat a diet that is rich in protein, you can have protein in every meal if you crave it, but healthy protein okay, some (or all) of it can be plant-based. The key is to reduce grains, sugars, even fructose as well as starchy carbohydrates.
4. This one is obvious, but no more junk food. The additives and chemicals confuse your body, some of them are ‘addictive’ in the sense that they make you crave food a lot.
5. Exercising can be amazingly helpful, it is probably the very best way to help you overcome leptin resistance. It helps you make brown fat (good) and less white adipose fat.
6. Normalize your thyroid hormone, by that I mean optimize your T3 levels. Don’t be too concerned about your TSH, it’s okay, but it’s not as telling as your free T3 levels.
7. Bring down stress with anything you can, meditation, yoga, exercise, green tea, anything! Your high cortisol levels are making you hold on to weight, and contributing to this problem. Cortisol may be helped by taking adaptogenic herbs, which you should ask your practitioner about. These herbs are sold at health food stores.
8. Zinc deficiency is associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. Zinc will raise leptin levels to some degree, but you really have to work at the “resistance” part. Raising leptin doesn’t help you if your body doesn’t respond. So is zinc right for you? I’m not sure, I don’t know the stage you are at in this situation, but I want you to know that zinc raises leptin.
9. Serotonin, it’s a neurotransmitter. Low levels lead to hunger and cravings, particularly sweets. When serotonin is normalized, you might feel more satisfied.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.