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What is Leptin Resistance?
Everything You Need to Know

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: July 26, 2021

If you tried every diet plan and exercise regimen known to man but still can’t lose weight or find it hard to stop eating, the leptin resistance might cause the trouble.

Weight gain could be a symptom caused by a loss of hormonal balance in your body and not just a lack of willpower to shed pounds.

So, I researched and dug into journals and studies to find out more about what leptin resistance is, and here's everything you need to know.

Leptin Levels and Leptin Resistance

fork and spoon tied in a measuring tape on an empty plate

Leptin is often called the “satiety hormone” – a hormone secreted from fat cells that helps you feel full.

The hormone leptin acts as a signal to the brain to regulate fat stores, energy expenditure, and food intake. Here’s how:

  • When fat cells decrease, leptin levels fall to stimulate your appetite until the body gains the right amount of body fat.
  • When fat cells increase, leptin levels rise to suppress your appetite until the body loses weight.

Leptin works together with other hormones such as ghrelin, the hunger hormone, to control when you eat and how much you eat.

Leptin resistance happens when the brain does not recognize the leptin signals. There's a high amount of leptin in your body, but the brain can’t read that, so you’re always in a starvation state.

High levels of leptin lead to eating more and gaining more body weight.

There is also a rare condition called leptin deficiency, where the body produces no leptin, resulting in increased food intake and severe childhood obesity. This condition may affect the immune system and cause delayed puberty.

What Are the Symptoms of Leptin Resistance?

man pinching his fat stomach

Here are some symptoms of this medical condition:

  • Constantly feeling hungry
  • Struggling to drop pounds
  • Being overweight
  • High levels of leptin
  • High inflammation levels

Leptin resistance happens when the brain does not recognize the leptin signals. There's a high amount of leptin in your body, but the brain can’t read that, so you’re always in a starvation state.

High levels of leptin lead to eating more and gaining more body weight.

There is also a rare condition called leptin deficiency, where the body produces no leptin, resulting in increased food intake and severe childhood obesity. This condition may affect the immune system and cause delayed puberty.

What Causes Leptin Resistance?

food that are fatty acids, and a man munching a burger

No research has figured out the exact cause of this condition, but many factors can be at play. Here are some:

High levels of leptin

When there’s more leptin than your body normally has, it causes you to be resistant to leptin over time. Overeating and obesity, the symptoms of this condition, can result in more leptin, too. The more you eat, the more fat you intake, the higher the leptin amount.

It becomes a vicious cycle.

Inflammation

Research says that leptin triggers the production of inflammation-promoting substances from the fat cells, in turn evoking more leptin production [1].

So, inflammation can be a cause and a symptom at the same time. More leptin released may lead to becoming leptin resistant.

Free fatty acids

High amounts of triglycerides, a type of body fat, seem to interfere with leptin signaling the brain, triggering increased leptin production.

Leptin Resistance Diet and Treatment

woman pushing away a donut and another woman holding up a salad bowl

There are ways to increase leptin sensitivity through diet and certain lifestyle habits.

Leptin Resistance Diet

Here are the leptin diet ground rules:

  1. Consume more lean protein and soluble fiber.
  2. Reduce carbs in your diet but do not eliminate them completely.
  3. Eat only three meals a day and avoid snacking between meals and before bedtime.
  4. Cut back sugar, artificial sweeteners, and soda; instead, consume a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, protein sources, and healthy fats.

Foods To Eat When You’re Leptin Resistant

plate filled with broccoli and fried fish

Fill your plate with the proper nutrition for LR: 

  • Low-fat proteins: Fish, Poultry, Beans, Soy
  • Whole-grains
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower
  • Fiber-rich foods: Oats, Peas, Beans, Apples, Citrus fruits

Healthy lifestyle habits

Research also found that leptin resistance is tied to unhealthy habits, such as poor sleep [2]. So, try to do more of these healthy lifestyle habits:

  • Get more sleep.
  • Reduce your stress by spending time with your friends, preferably outdoors - in nature, or reading an interesting book.
  • Exercise regularly especially high-intensity workouts and weight lifting.
  • Detoxify your life by avoiding processed and artificial foods and switching to natural products.=

Other factors may also have a positive impact on leptin sensitivity, like reducing insulin resistance (a hormone that lowers blood sugar levels) and decreasing triglycerides, a type of blood fat.

“Insulin resistance creates leptin resistance. So, lower your insulin levels by consuming less sugar – it could be the answer to improve insulin resistance and aid weight loss.” – Robert H. Lustig, MD, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco

It’s also recommended to talk to your healthcare provider to test the leptin in your blood and get a diagnosis and support for leptin resistance.

FAQs

Is There Medication for Leptin Sensitivity?

A study suggests that metformin, a medicine for treating diabetes, may help treat leptin resistance and increase leptin sensitivity [3]. However, it’s best to contact your doctor before taking any medication.

What Foods Should I Avoid With Leptin Resistance?

Cut back added sugars, refined grains, processed foods, regular and diet soda, fats, and oils from butter, margarine, or palm oil to aid leptin functioning.

Is There a Supplement for Leptin?

Leptin cannot be taken as a supplement because it is a digestible protein and does not enter the bloodstream; however, these called leptin supplements on the market have ingredients that may help balance hormones and increase feelings of fullness.

Do You Struggle To Lose Weight?

Leptin resistance does not only sabotage your weight loss goals but may put you at risk of other health issues, too.

So, if you think you have any of the symptoms, better get yourself diagnosed – there’s a simple blood test to determine the amount of leptin in your blood and fat stores.

Your healthcare provider can also recommend medical treatment in managing leptin resistance.

Please share your experience with us: if it is difficult for you to drop some pounds and what your leptin levels are telling you.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829991/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15531540/

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