What is Leptin and Why Should You Care?

leptin via wikipedia

photo credit to Wikipedia

Over the past several years, I have become convinced our society consumes way too much sugar, grains, potatoes, and process foods, resulting in something close to a metabolic melt down. All of these foods are loaded with carbohydrates and raise the blood sugar. This requires the release of insulin to bring the blood sugar back to normal levels. Over time, our bodies can begin to have a hard time dealing with this constant assault, and begin to become resistant to insulin. When this happens, the blood sugar and insulin levels become chronically higher and we get fatter. Not just any kind of fat, the dangerous type of fat around the belly. This belly fat is the hallmark of Metabolic Syndrome, which can be the beginning of a slow degradation in to obesity, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, and eventually heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I used to think it was a simple equation that involved carbohydrates and insulin. Now I am learning there are other things in play here as well.

Have you ever heard of leptin? Let me go to the authority on everything, Wikipedia, and define it for you. Leptin (from Greek λεπτός leptos, “thin”), the “satiety hormone”, is a hormone made by fat cells which regulates the amount of fat stored in the body. It does this by adjusting both the sensation of hunger, and adjusting energy expenditures. Wow, surely this plays into the equation. If leptin is doing its job correctly, we are satisfied when we eat enough food, hungry only when we really need more food, only have the right amount of fat stored, and have all the energy to expend when we need it. For most Americans, something must be wrong here.

Leptin is made by fat cells, so if we are fatter, we often have higher leptin levels. Generally, higher levels of leptin tell the body it does not need food, thereby reducing hunger. For example, leptin levels rise during the night and early morning, possibly so that we sleep well despite 12 hours without food. The problem is that, although higher leptin should reduce hunger, levels tend to be chronically high in obese individuals. The reasons for this are not completely understood, but it may be a case of leptin resistance, similar to insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes. As we get fatter, the fat makes more leptin than we need, and our bodies begin to be less sensitive to it. So, although it should cause us to be less hungry, when we don’t get the message from the leptin, we are hungry all the time. Bummer!

According to the book Mastering Leptin, Your guide to permanent Weight Loss and Optimum Health, by Byron Richards, there are five rules to managing leptin.

Mastering Leptin

  1. Don’t eat after dinner and don’t go to bed on a full stomach. Our bodies need this short fast between dinner and breakfast to regulate leptin levels.

  2. Eat three meals a day and don’t snack in between. Don’t graze all day on small meals and snacks. Again, our bodies need the regular rhythm of food and fasts. Try to go 4-6 hours between meals.

  3. Eat normal sized meals and not to excess. Not gorging is important. Eating a little slower might help.

  4. Breakfast should contain protein and not be high in carbs (sugar, grains, starches)

  5. Reduce the amount of carbs you eat at all meals, while increasing the amount of colorful vegetables, fat and protein. Cutting back on carbohydrates helps reduce the amount of insulin produced and settles down leptin resistance. Most people eat more carbohydrates than they are able to metabolize, which is why more than fifty percent are overweight.

Let’s break this down into “grandma’s advice” and just use common sense. How have we ever strayed so far?

  1. Grandma always said to let your food digest a bit before you go to bed. Makes sense to me. Also, grandma normally shut down the kitchen after dinner. There was no sitting around watching TV grazing on popcorn, chips and ice-cream.

  2. Grandma offered three healthy meals a day filled with nutritious foods, and then the kitchen was closed. She would never have permitted people to be plowing through the kitchen cabinets and fridge between meals. Wait until dinner!

  3. Be polite and don’t shovel your food.

  4. Eating a good breakfast starts the day right. Captain Crunch and Pop-Tarts are ridiculous. Have some fresh eggs.

  5. Eat your veggies! Historically, vegetables have always been the mainstay of nutrition. In the summer, grandma prepared all kinds of fresh vegetables from the garden and then canned, dried and froze them for the winter. Now many people only get French fries and a slice of lettuce as their daily vegetables.

I am convinced we have strayed so far from eating real foods, that our bodies simply can’t handle it. We were never designed to nourish ourselves on Chick-Fil-A, Doritos, Cliff bars, hotdogs, Gatorade, and Captain Crunch. Even if the label says it is “fortified” with a full day’s supply of vitamins and minerals, it does not nourish! True nourishment requires colorful vegetables, healthy fats, and unprocessed meats, not processed foods, sugars, and excess grains and potatoes. Now, I am learning it also requires good eating habits, such as not snacking between meals, digest before bed, and eat a little slower and enjoy it! Didn’t we always know this? I think Grama did.

Eat Your Veggies,

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