When I was recently reading an article on weight loss, I recognized leptin, one of the hormones mentioned in the study, as one I’d seen several times before. I knew it was somehow related to obesity and possibly weight loss, but I wasn’t exactly sure how. So I did a little digging.
Leptin induces eating in response to fat loss. Basically, leptin sends messages to your brain telling you that there's enough energy stored in your body's fat cells that you can engage in your normal daily activities. So it allows your body to continue burning energy at a normal rate, helps prevent overeating and allows you to do this while maintaining moderate exercise.
I wondered if leptin could help our body regulate its own eating habits and in turn lead to weight loss. Here’s what I found out.
When scientists discovered leptin and its role in the human body in 1994, many hoped they had stumbled upon the secret to combating the rising rates of obesity. The potential benefits led to a flurry of interest and quickly to a vast offering of leptin supplements for people to buy at their local drugstores. Even today, a quick Google search comes up with dozens of offers.
Leptin is responsible for sending messages to your brain telling you that you're full, and it also helps regulate your metabolic processes. That’s why it was first called the "obesity hormone" or "fat hormone" in the '90s, but scientists today actually refer to it as the "starvation hormone."
When researchers first discovered leptin, they believed obese people were leptin-deficient—the idea being that their bodies didn't produce enough leptin from the fat cells they already had, so their bodies demanded that they eat more, make more fat and use that extra fat to make up for the lack of leptin in their bodies.
However, much like Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, the problem isn't that obese people don't produce enough leptin. The problem is that leptin resistance affects the body's ability to send accurate messages to the brain, not the amount of leptin actually in your body. So taking leptin as a supplement and increasing the amount in your body offers no benefit whatsoever.
Obese people have plenty of leptin. Their body simply has a problem telling that to the brain. What's even worse, leptin is a digestible protein like you'd get from eating chicken or steak, so a pill form of leptin would never even enter your bloodstream. On top of more leptin not even helping you, those pills you can buy online won't really increase the amount of leptin you receive, anyway.
Leptin and weight gain
Since leptin and Type 2 diabetes are so closely linked, it’s worth remembering the effect of insulin resistance caused by Type 2 diabetes. What does this do? It starts with glucose, a sugar, created from the food that we eat and meant to move through our bloodstreams and into our cells to give us energy. It does this with the help of insulin. However, when we eat too many carbohydrates and sugars, our bodies create too much glucose, which causes insulin resistance. At that point, the process of delivering energy to our cells becomes less and less effective over time, causing sugar to build up in our bloodstreams. In order for our cells to still receive the energy they need, we're forced to eat more food, increasing insulin resistance and the amount of glucose in our blood.
Unfortunately, leptin resistance makes our bodies consume more food than we would otherwise need. We then create more fat than is actually needed to provide our body’s energy.
What supplements can actually help you lose weight without tons of side effects?
The search for the "smoking gun" to weight loss is ongoing, so there is no one good treatment or option for everyone. Each person’s body is unique, and the way we respond to different substances is different as well. However, there are options to give you at least a small boost toward your weight loss goals. One of these is psyllium, which is a soluble fiber that can help "keep you regular" and in certain people lowers blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. It can even aid in weight loss when combined with a healthy diet, as it helps you stay full for longer and makes it easier to eat less more consistently.
For many other options out there, the potential side effects just are not usually worth the possible weight loss benefits. Various forms of "diet pills" definitely fall into this category, and I recommend staying away from them without your doctor's consent. Instead, the best options are another fiber known as glucomannan, as well as caffeine from black coffee and green tea. Consuming these in moderation will give your metabolism a helpful boost. Combined with proper diet and exercise, you will begin to see the results you're looking for. Be patient, though. Losing weight the healthy way will always take time.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He's on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at email@example.com with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.