Leptin Resistance: How to Overcome It For Weight Loss and Better Hormone Health
At Dr. Randolph's Ageless & Wellness Medical Center, we believe that eating healthy good food is an important act of self-care, a gift that you can give to yourself every day!
Food and Hormones Are Related
Every bite of food you put into your body is either making you healthier - or not. Hormones control our digestion, our moods, our energy, our libido, our metabolism, and more. When we do not eat food with the nutrients our bodies need, we cannot expect our bodies to effectively produce the hormones we need. Without the "building blocks" for healthy hormones, our bodies cannot maintain hormonal balance!
Researchers have found that many people tend to put on extra weight throughout fall and winter. (1) In a study tracking holiday weight gain, they found that the average participant gained an average of 1.3 pounds during the Christmas and New Year’s season. This weight might accumulate quickly but it can take months to lose and have an adverse effect on health.
But heavy holiday meals, party cocktails, and extra desserts might not be the only reason you find yourself gaining weight this time of year. The problem could be a hormonal imbalance. Losing weight isn’t just a matter of eating less and exercising more. The most important influence on your body's metabolism and energy processing system is your hormones! Let’s take a deeper look at the relationship between your hormones and your weight.
High Estrogen Levels
High levels of estrogen put fat on your belly and hips - even if you skip meals and work out like crazy. In fact, calorie deprivation and high-stress activity can make hormone imbalance worse!
Nearly all women begin to develop higher levels of estrogen in their early 30s -- it's called "estrogen dominance." Some men also develop high estrogen when their hormone levels begin to drop in their early 40s.
How Food Affects Hormone Balance: Leptin Resistance
Another hormone that is affected by the foods you eat is leptin, sometimes called the "satiety" hormone.
What is Leptin?
Leptin (the "satiety" hormone) is secreted by your fat cells in response to the amount of fat that is already stored (The hormone insulin moves blood sugar (glucose) from your bloodstream into storage in your cells for later energy use).
Leptin has a different job: it tells your brain how much body fat you have stored in your cells, to help regulate energy intake and energy expenditure -- in other words, to keep your body fat levels balanced.
Leptin levels in your body are typically in line with your eating schedule. For example, in a normal "leptin sensitive" body, leptin levels are low in the morning, so that you wake up hungry, and high in the evening so that you go to bed feeling full.
The primary role of this hormone is to regulate the overall relationship between hunger and activity in your body. From an evolutionary standpoint, body fat allowed us to survive periods of food shortage or illness. Fat cells use leptin as a method for measuring how much energy/fat is available for use in the body. Your brain then directs your eating and activity behavior in response to leptin's important message.
Leptin Levels and Hunger
Here's how it works: if your leptin levels are low (like they are in the morning, OR if you have body fat that is too low), your brain receives and responds to leptin's signal by telling you: Slow Down and Eat!
Your metabolism slows down, you are less active, and you eat more until leptin again signals the brain that there is enough fat in storage. Then leptin levels rise, and your brain tells you: Stop Eating Now and Get Moving! This interplay is what keeps your body fat and energy levels balanced.
Obese people have unusually high levels of leptin. This is because, in some obese people, the brain does not respond to leptin, so they keep eating despite adequate (or excessive) fat stores, a concept known as ‘leptin resistance’. This causes the fat cells to produce even more leptin. This is similar to the way people with type 2 diabetes have unusually high levels of insulin, as their body is resistant to the effects of insulin. The cause of leptin resistance is still unclear.
However, when you eat too many processed foods, simple carbs, and high-sugar meals, your system gets overwhelmed with glucose. The sugar gets used up for energy first, and meanwhile: the body fat accumulates. The excess glucose and triglycerides also mess up your brain's ability to receive leptin's signals, and you develop leptin resistance.
When your brain and other tissues are no longer sensitive to leptin's messages, your hormonal energy/fat balance goes haywire. Your brain isn't getting the message that you have enough fat! Your brain does not see the number on the scale, or the reflection in the mirror -- it can only respond to internal hormonal signals. So, you keep on eating. Your fat cells may be churning out leptin, but your brain cannot get the message. And when the "supernormal stimuli" of processed foods are calling like a siren song: well, you get the picture.
In a study (2) of the effects of processed food on hunger hormones, it was found that when participants consumed processed food for two weeks, they consumed an average of 508 more calories per day compared to the amount they ate on other days. They also gained an average of two pounds in two weeks. With ultra-processed foods making up a staggering 57.9% of energy intake in the United States, it’s no wonder so many of us are struggling to keep our weight down. The good news? The participants in the study who ate unprocessed food for two weeks lost an average of two pounds!
Get Enough Sleep
Another complication is not enough sleep. Studies (3) have shown that chronic sleep loss is associated with lowered levels of leptin, and higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite. Poor sleep is also linked (4) to changes in serotonin
levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a great influence on both mood and appetite (5). High cortisol, which triggers a need for serotonin, may be one of the things that make you CRAVE fat and carbs because they lead to a release of serotonin. (6) When you eat too many high-sugar processed foods AND don't get enough sleep, you have a perfect storm. When estrogen dominance and insulin resistance and leptin resistance collide? Time to get back in balance!
What else can you do?
As we explained in an earlier article, you should aim to reduce your body's estrogen "load" by trying the following strategies:
- Use topical bioidentical progesterone cream to help counteract the effects of high estrogen! This is one of the quickest ways to start reducing the effects of estrogen in your body. For many people, this can make a huge difference in energy and weight loss.
- Eat foods that help your liver detoxify excess estrogen. Vegetables containing a phytonutrient called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) have been shown to improve the production of "good" estrogen and decrease the "bad" estrogen. Learn more in Dr. Randolph's book From Belly Fat to Belly Flat.
- Consider supplements and blends that help reduce estrogen, containing Calcium D-Glucarate or Diindolylmethane (DIM).
We always recommend you have all your hormone levels checked. This helps establish a baseline for understanding what problems you are dealing with.
Bioidentical hormones can help with deficiencies in sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone. Balancing out estrogen can help you lose weight, and reduces the amount of fat you have in storage!
Patients often sleep better when hormone-related symptoms like hot flashes are under control, and better sleep further reduces leptin imbalance. And when you learn to pay attention to the foods you eat, by reducing processed foods and "eating clean," with healthy fats and low sugar - you can experience the full benefits of hormone balance.