By: Kelley Herring
For many decades, “conventional wisdom” has taught us that human body weight is governed by the simple mathematical equation of how many calories you consume versus how many you burn.
And while this simple equation certainly plays a role in the number that shows up on your bathroom scale in the morning… it is not the only (or even the most important) factor in how much you weigh.
What your body does with the calories you consume is far more complex than the simple “fuel-in, fuel out” mechanics of automobiles. It is your hormones that dictate how your body utilizes and stores calories.
And one of the master hormones when it comes to your weight (and appetite) is called leptin…
Leptin: The “Gatekeeper” of Fat Metabolism
Leptin is a powerful hormone that regulates hunger and feelings of satiety. And because leptin is secreted by adipose (fat) tissue, the more overweight you are, the higher your leptin levels.
In a primer on leptini, nutrition researcher Mark Sisson points out that leptin regulates hunger in three important ways:
- Counteracts the effects of neuropeptide Y – a powerful appetite stimulant secreted by the hypothalamus
- Counteracts the effects of anandamide – an appetite stimulant
- Promotes the production of a-MSH – an appetite suppressant
In the long term, leptin tells the body that it has enough fat reserves (adipose tissue), and that eating is not needed. In the short term, leptin tells the body that it has had enough to eat, and it’s time to put the fork down.
In wild animals consuming their native diets, leptin works as it should, maintaining a healthy balance of feasting and fasting. But when animals – including humans – stray from traditional diets and lifestyles, we see a dysregulation in our leptin pathway.
This can lead to weight gain and obesity, not to mention chronic disease.
Leptin Resistance: When Your Cells Become “Deaf” to Leptin’s Message
Unfortunately, as a result of bad diets, sedentary lifestyles, poor sleep and excess stress, many people today have damaged leptin metabolism.
Because leptin is produced by fat cells, it seems logical that those with more body fat would produce more leptin. In turn, this should send the message that the body has enough reserves.
However, when body fat increases, so does inflammation. One inflammatory compound – called C-reactive protein (CRP) – binds to leptin, blocking its ability to send your brain the “I’m full” signal.ii
This is known as leptin resistance – a dis-ease state has been correlated with weight gain and a wide range of health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, infertility and more.iiiivvvivii
Leptin resistance makes losing weight nearly impossible. Not only is your appetite ravenous, your body is also being told to hold on to that fat and not let go!
The good news is that you can heal your leptin pathway, boost your metabolism and start shedding stubborn pounds with a few ancestrally-appropriate diet and lifestyle modifications.
8 Simple Ways to Fix Your Leptin Naturally
- Watch Your Sugar Intake (Especially Fructose): Fructose impairs leptin signaling in two key ways. First, it makes the part of your brain that links the nervous system to the endocrine system (the hypothalamus) resistant to leptin. It also increases triglycerides, which prevent leptin from passing through the blood-brain barrier.viii Sugar in all forms should be reduced – or eliminated – for optimal health and body composition.
- Avoid Wheat and Lectins: Wheat germ agglutinin, or WGA, (a lectin present in gluten grains) attaches to leptin receptors and prevents the hormone from properly binding.ix
- Engage in Intermittent Fasting (IF): Intermittent fasting has a wide variety of health benefits including rebooting your leptin sensitivity.x Researchers have found that fasting may help control inflammation in a specialized area of the brain responsible for managing energy intake and expenditure, helping to reduce risk of obesity.xi If you are new to IF, start with a 12-14 hour fast and work your way up to 16-18 hours.
- Get Enough Zinc: Zinc deficiency can reduce leptin and contribute to leptin resistance, helping to promote weight gain. Zinc is abundant in animal foods including oysters, lamb, beef, bison, elk, pork, as well as pumpkin seeds.
- Eat More Healthy Fat and Protein: Healthy fats and proteins are the nutritional building blocks for your hormones. Make sure you are getting ample high-quality grass-fed proteins and fats like grass-fed butter and ghee, grass-fed meats and wild fish.
- Exercise Intelligently: Exercising too much – or doing the wrong kinds of exercise – can throw your leptin for a loop. Weight training and high intensity interval training have both been found to benefit a healthy leptin system.xii
- Optimize Your Omegas: Long chain omega-3 fatty acids – from wild fish and pastured meats and eggs – have long been known to quell inflammation and benefit the metabolism. By helping to reduce the inflammatory molecule you learned about earlier, C-reactive protein, leptin’s message can be “heard” by the brain.xiii It’s also important to reduce sources of omega-6 in the diet, namely vegetable oils, conventionally produced animal products and grains, as they counteract omega-3s and promote inflammation.
- Get Good Sleep: Inadequate sleep increases cortisol levels, and has also been associated with reduced serum leptin levels.xiv
Eating – and living – in accord with Mother Nature should always be the first step you take when dealing with the diseases of modernization.
This means focusing your diet on healthy fats and protein (instead of carbs and sugars), choosing to adopt the eat-stop-eat feeding cadence of your nomadic ancestors (instead of snacking constantly), entraining your circadian rhythms to rise and rest in alignment with the sunlight, and exercising in a way that mirrors your ancestors (long walks, short sprints and lifting heavy things).
When you are able to successfully align our lifestyles and diets with our genes, most of the underlying causes of chronic disease and obesity will fall away naturally and effortlessly.
Kelley Herring is the author of the brand new book Keto Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Keto Breads…
Sources & References
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ivBaldani DP1, Skrgatic L1, Kasum M1, Zlopasa G1, Kralik Oguic S2, Herman M1.Altered leptin, adiponectin, resistin and ghrelin secretion may represent an intrinsic polycystic ovary syndrome abnormality.Gynecol Endocrinol. 2019 Jan 9:1-5. doi: 10.1080/09513590.2018.1534096. [Epub ahead of print]
v Mancini F1, Cianciosi A, Reggiani GM, Facchinetti F, Battaglia C, de Aloysio D.Endothelial function and its relationship to leptin, homocysteine, and insulin resistance in lean and overweight eumenorrheic women and PCOS patients: a pilot study.Fertil Steril. 2009 Jun;91(6):2537-44. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.03.023. Epub 2008 May 7.
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viii Banks WA1, Coon AB, Robinson SM, Moinuddin A, Shultz JM, Nakaoke R, Morley JE.Triglycerides induce leptin resistance at the blood-brain barrier.Diabetes. 2004 May;53(5):1253-60.
ix Kamikubo Y1, Dellas C, Loskutoff DJ, Quigley JP, Ruggeri ZM.Contribution of leptin receptor N-linked glycans to leptin binding.Biochem J. 2008 Mar 15;410(3):595-604.
x Sinha MK, Opentanova I, Ohannesian JP, et al. Evidence of free and bound leptin in human circulation. Studies in lean and obese subjects and during short-term fasting. J Clin Invest. 1996;98(6):1277–1282. doi:10.1172/JCI118913
xi Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014;19(2):181–192. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2013.12.008
xii Kong Z, Sun S, Liu M, Shi Q. Short-Term High-Intensity Interval Training on Body Composition and Blood Glucose in Overweight and Obese Young Women. J Diabetes Res. 2016;2016:4073618. doi:10.1155/2016/4073618
xiii Ellulu MS1, Khaza’ai H2, Patimah I3, Rahmat A1, Abed Y4.Effect of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on inflammation and metabolic markers in hypertensive and/or diabetic obese adults: a randomized controlled trial.Food Nutr Res. 2016 Jan 29;60:29268. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v60.29268. eCollection 2016.
xiv Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062