Leptin is a signaling molecule that is released from your fat cells. It is typically described as the master hormone regulating fat loss, due to the fact that it is more or less released in proportion to the amount of fat you have on your body. The more fat, the more leptin (Owecki M. et al. 2010). This, however, leaves out all of the other roles it plays and it can actually be seen as a master-signaling hormone that is involved in the regulation and signaling of bone density, metabolic rate, fat mass, cognition and memory plus more. (Moran CN et al. 2011, de Boer TN et al. 2012, Horio N et al. 2010, El Safoury et al. 2010). It also promotes the production of a-MSH, an appetite suppressant.
Leptin plays a big role in many different systems of your body, it is especially important to fat loss and overall appetite regulation.
Leptin is produced and released by body fat and one of its many duties is to signal your brain to the amount of fat on your body. It is also released in response to eating and tells your brain how much food you've just ingested. It also responds to exercise intensity and duration, as well as the amount of chronic inflammation in your body (Suzukawa M et al. 2011).
In other words, any typical diet intervention and/or exercise routine will stimulate a response in leptin. Since women have at least twice as much leptin as a man, your specific diet approach needs to be nuanced and designed to work for you as a woman. This just means a different style of nutrition and exercise should be followed to maximize your results.
You have roughly twice as much leptin circulating in your system as a typical man does. Since leptin is a major metabolic signaling molecule you might think that means you should burn twice as many calories as a man. But that isn't the case. Typically when there is more of a hormone circulating in the blood that means it is required to be at that level for some reason, or that the other systems of the body are 'resistant' to that hormone. In the case of leptin it seems that women are somewhat naturally resistant to leptin compared to men. Think of it as it takes a little more leptin to do its job in a woman’s body compared to in a man’s. This difference is increased with higher body fat levels. This is partly why it's difficult for women to start and stay consistent on a diet long enough to get the results they really want. It's also why severe low calorie and very strict dieting (AKA “Crash dieting”) doesn't work for women but might actually be more useful for men.
In two research studies done by Nicklas et al. in 1997 it was shown that leptin falls almost twice as much in women compared to men. This means that women experience higher leptin highs, lower leptin lows when attempting to diet. Men don't have these same dramatic swings in leptin as men have lower natural circulating leptin levels, and when men go on a calorie restrictive diet they don't get as much of a decrease in leptin. In other words, a man's metabolism won't crash on a severely calorie restricted diet as easily as it could in women. It also means men won't experience the same feelings of hunger and cravings for carbohydrates during a weight loss program. This might sound familiar to you if you’ve ever attempted to diet alongside a male friend and noticed how much easier of a time he seemed to have with it.
The two main differences between men and women when it comes to leptin are:
1. Men seem to have a higher natural sensitivity to leptin and therefore lower natural circulating blood levels.
2. When men go on a very low calorie restrictive diet they experience less of a drop in leptin and as such their metabolism doesn't crash as easily and they don't get as severe cravings for carbs.
To put it another way, women have higher natural leptin, and experience much more dramatic drops in leptin when dieting. So your highs are higher and your lows are lower. Kind of like being on a roller coaster with your metabolism and hunger and cravings throughout the dieting process. Does this sound familiar from the last time you attempted a restrictive diet?!
So many diets written or created and tested on by men never really work out so well for women. Men can simply push through a low calorie diet with brute force without experiencing large drops or swings in leptin that cause cravings and metabolic disturbances.
An effective diet program for women must be designed to limit these dramatic swings in leptin in order to allow you to successfully complete your weight loss program and arrive at your ideal weight.
In order to eliminate these swings in leptin and avoid creating massive food and carb cravings and metabolic disturbances you can do two things:
1. Increase your sensitivity to leptin.
2. Use food itself to restore leptin levels so they never drop too far.
There are 4 things you can do to increase your leptin sensitivity:
1. Get more sleep.
As with many processes of the body, a lack of quality and consistent sleep can mess it up, and leptin is no different. Research shows that a lack of sleep can lead to leptin resistance (Charles LE. et al. 2011) . A very simple but effective strategy for increasing leptin sensitivity is to ensure that you're getting enough quality sleep.
2. Follow a well-designed exercise programme.
Just as sleep seems to have an effect on all systems of your body, so does exercise. Research also shows that a consistent exercise program will improve leptin sensitivity (Guerra B. et al. 2011). Even low intensity non-resistant training exercise will do it. The bottom line is that exercise is an effective tool for improving leptin sensitivity.
When you do exercise, do only sprints and weight lifting. Walk or swim if you want to but don’t do cardio just for the sake of cardio. It’s just a stress on the body. High intensity and weight lifting, on the other hand, give the hormone benefits of working out without the stress from excess cardio and are great after the first few weeks. If you can, workout in the evening, not the morning, to support hormone levels.
3. Use a supplement designed to increase leptin sensitivity.
Until recently there have never been any supplements that work directly with leptin. Drug companies thought that dosing people directly with leptin would be a cure for obesity (as it is in mice) but unfortunately that doesn't happen in people. As it turns out, having too much leptin isn't the answer. Improving your sensitivity to the leptin you already have, however, is very powerful for producing a fat burning effect. The supplements you want to look for (ideally) should include Modifilin, Shan Qi, African Mango and/or Oleanolic acid.
Eat (or take) more Omega-3s (fish, grassfed meats, chia seeds) and minimize your Omega-6 consumption (vegetable oils, conventional meats, grains, etc) to get lower inflammation and help support healthy leptin levels.
Periods of short term fasting can help improve leptin sensitivity and reduce body fat stores. This doesn't mean you need to go an entire day without eating but rather practice strategic meal skipping. Eat little to no simple starches, refined foods, sugars and fructose. Consume a large amount of protein and healthy fats first thing in the morning, as soon after waking as possible. This promotes satiety and gives the body the building blocks to make hormones.
Each of these four strategies can go a long way for improving your leptin sensitivity, which will reduce your feelings of cravings as well as improve your metabolic functioning throughout the dieting process. Let's face it, dieting is hard enough, and I recommend you use every tool you can to get an advantage and make the process easier.
Another strategy is part of the metabolic override protocol. These are strategic 'eat up' days, which are not to be confused with 'cheat' days. These will be discussed in the next article.
Below is a video giving some more information regarding Leptin and it's role.