How to Turn On Your Fat-Burning Switch, Leptin (Your “Starvation Hormone”)

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Posted on: September 27, 2015

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Leptin - Dr. Axe

Currently, a major topic in the field of obesity research is the link between obesity and the hormone leptin. Some evidence suggests that obese-prone individuals don’t respond to increasing leptin levels in the same way that non-obese-prone individuals do, which is the reason obesity is now being associated with possible “leptin resistance.” Scientists first discovered leptin in 1994, after years of research focused on hormones that affect body weight and calorie intake. While initially researchers believed the discovery could be used to create powerful weight loss supplements, this has never happened.

How does leptin function in the body and where does the hormone come from? Leptin interacts with areas of the brain that control hunger and eating behavior. (1) The nickname “the starvation hormone” has been given to leptin because levels tend to plummet when someone restricts their calorie intake too much, exercises more and loses body fat. These are all factors involved in what’s called “starvation mode.” (Meanwhile, ghrelin is called a “hunger hormone” that increases your desire to eat.)

At your ideal “set point weight,” adipose (fat) cells produce a given amount of leptin, which maintains the internal energy balance needed for necessary cellular function and proper weight management. (2) In most healthy adults, changes in body weight will trigger changes in leptin, causing appetite to either increase when body fat falls or decrease when body fat rises — although in some susceptible individuals this energy-balance system seems to malfunction.

There’s still a lot to learn about how leptin resistance (or decreased sensitivity to leptin’s signals) develops, and what can be done to prevent or reverse it. Many experts believe that eating a highly processed, highly “palatable” diet — especially while also leading a stressful and mostly sedentary lifestyle — is the perfect storm for developing leptin resistance.

Even if someone is genetically susceptible to weight gain or obesity, there’s still a lot they can do to help prevent this from happening, especially eating a nutrient-dense diet, getting enough exercise and taking steps to manage stress.


What Is the Leptin Hormone?

The definition of leptin is “a peptide hormone that is produced by fat cells that plays a role in body weight regulation by acting on the hypothalamus to suppress appetite and burn fat stored in adipose tissue.” (3)

Leptin is known as the starvation hormone (or sometimes the “satiety hormone”) because it notifies your brain if you have eaten enough and your energy levels (calorie intake) are sufficient, or if your energy intake needs to increase. A number of factors can influence leptin and ghrelin levels, including:

  • Calorie intake
  • Meal timing
  • Sleep/wake schedule and sleep duration (both linked to your circadian rhythmn)
  • Light exposure
  • Exercise
  • Stress

The main regulator of leptin production is body fat (or adipose tissue)....


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