Leptin is a very important hormone that deserves to get a lot more attention than it does.  It plays a vital role in health and when dysfunction is present it can play a role in cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, risk of stroke, obesity etc.  Perhaps because its discovery was not that long ago and history has taught us that it can take many years for something important to “catch on” that it is still relatively unknown. 

Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that reside in white adipose tissue.  It is very important because it has a regulatory effect on other hormones which cannot function properly without it.  Its role is key to leptin2understanding issues like weight gain, addictive behaviors, and internal inflammation.  Leptin communicates directly with the hypothalamus in the brain which is the orchestra leader of the autonomic nervous system which is always trying to achieve balance in the body.  Leptin problems therefore, contribute to an inability to know when to stop eating, how much fat is stored, and causing a metabolic rate that is not optimal.  Leptin signals the hypothalamus to stop storing fat, or to store more fat, and the metabolic rate is adjusted accordingly.  

In my previous newsletter on Metabolic Syndrome, I explained the underlying problem of insulin resistance.  This is where the pancreas secretes too much insulin and over time the cells reject the insulin from entering leading to an excess of insulin in circulation causing a myriad of problems, the least of which is excess fat accumulation.  There is also a condition of leptin resistance, which can be a precursor to insulin resistance.  With leptin resistance, the hypothalamus no longer accepts or receives the leptin which would give it the communication necessary to instruct the autonomic nervous system how to respond appropriately in order to maintain internal balance.  

When leptin signaling is off appetite is affected.  If leptin is too low, appetite is diminished.    If it is too high, people want to eat frequently, never feel full, and continue to gain weight.  The hypothalamus does not hear the knock on the door from leptin.  This dysfunction creates internal inflammation and a stress response.  Over time, the picture gets worse.  Adrenaline resistance is the next issue caused by continual high levels of adrenaline secreted over time from the stress that has been created.  The result can be an increase of fat, particularly around the middle, a low metabolic rate, high blood pressure, and problems sleeping.  

How does one know if they have leptin problems?  There may be fat accumulation around the middle, low thyroid, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.  Certainly these issues have more than one possible cause, but if compulsive cravings for sweets are present and there is excessive hunger at night, leptin resistance is almost guaranteed.  The need to eat frequently and stress eating are also indications of imbalances. 

Fixing the problems is possible and should be done.  It does take some time but is well worth the effort.  The alternative is a life on several drugs that treat only the symptoms and have many side effects.  A few eating rules must be adhered to.  Byron Richards, CCN recommends following these five rules strictly.

  1. Never eat after dinner. Allow three hours between dinner and bed.  Allow 11-12 hours between dinner and breakfast.
  2. Eat three meals per day with no snacking. Allow five hours between meals.
  3. Do not eat large meals and eat slowly. Don’t eat until feeling full.
  4. Eat a protein at breakfast. This helps regulate blood sugar.
  5. Reduce the amount of carbohydrates. No refined carbs should be eaten at all. 

I would add a number 6 and that is to eat real, chemical free food.  MSG, for example, causes glutamate neurotoxicity that negates leptins ability to signal the hypothalamus to decrease appetite.  This is why when obese lab rats are needed for study, scientists will use MSG to achieve that goal.  There are many other neurotoxins in our food supply that are unnecessary and need to be avoided.

The good news is that by following these rules not only will leptin resistance be improved, so will insulin and adrenaline resistance. 

If cholesterol or more importantly triglycerides are already high, supplementing with the following nutrients may be helpful:  acetyl l-carnitine, pantethine, tocotrionols, carnosine, chromium and vanadium.  These will also help with glucose metabolism and insulin resistance. 

As more is learned about the effects leptin has, particularly in the area of disease prevention, the more we’ll hear about it in the future.  It is already known, for example, that prostate cancer cells have leptin receptors allowing high levels of leptin to fuel the disease.  It has also been known that excess belly fat, an effect of a leptin imbalance, increases one’s risk of getting the disease.  Leptin’s ability to increase inflammation makes it a possible component of any disease process.  

I will be writing more about leptin and its role in various diseases in the near future. 

Be Well, 

Dr. Dennis K. Crawford


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