Posted on: March 21, 2016 at 3:39 pm
Last updated: September 22, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Is this hormone the missing link to weight loss?

Do you feel like it’s impossible for you to lose weight? Or better yet, do any of these sound familiar? You’ve tried every diet under the sun…You’ve tried exercising daily…You’ve had a personal trainer…You’ve been to your Doctor for testing…And maybe you’ve had a Gastric Bypass…AND no matter what you do, your weight won’t budge.


If you’ve experienced any of the above then you may be suffering from a condition known as Leptin Resistance. Ever hear of Leptin before? If not, don’t worry because I’m going to explain everything – INCLUDING how to reverse this guy to help you finally lose weight

What is Leptin?

Leptin signaling.png


So what is Leptin anyway? Leptin is a hormone that is pumped out by your fat cells (Yes, they do more than just give you cellulite!). Leptin has a specific action in the brain (it works on your hypothalamus) to control your metabolism, and your appetite. You see: We evolved with leptin as a way for our fat cells to communicate with our brain. And we want this to happen (when it works correctly).When we have a lot of food to eat (and fat stores are high), our body is supposed to tell our brain to increase the metabolism of our body to start burning up that extra fuel.

You may be asking yourself…So if that’s the case, why does it feel like your metabolism is so low despite having a lot of excess fat on your body?That’s a great question, and what you just described is known as Leptin Resistance.


How do we get Leptin Resistance?

Leptin resistance is what happens when the entire system goes haywire, and it leads to some pretty nasty symptoms.As you gain more and more fat cells, your leptin levels continue to increase in the blood. Eventually your brain becomes “numb” to the signal and starts to tune out the leptin that it sees. Over time your brain completely blocks out any leptin in the system. And that’s when the symptoms kick in…

Once your brain tunes out the leptin it starts to think your body is in a state of starvation. So your brain slows down the metabolism of your entire body and increases your appetite to try and compensate. So, even though you have extra fat and high levels of leptin your body thinks you’re starving and all you can think about 24/7 is eating food – ultimately making you gain more and more weight.

How to Diagnose Leptin Resistance

Now we know what it is, we need to talk about how to diagnose it. To start, ask yourself if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Inability to lose weight no matter what you do

  • Constant weight gain despite eating the same and exercising the same

  • Constant food cravings, even after eating a large meal

  • Constant fatigue, low energy or feeling “sluggish”

  • Any of the symptoms of Hypothyroidism

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have Leptin Resistance, but if you suffer from more than 2 of these there is a good chance. If you want a definitive answer, then you’re going to have to get some lab values (and you will have to ask your Doctor to order these). The absolute best way to diagnose Leptin Resistance is by checking a Serum Leptin level. Your Serum Leptin level should be < 12. If it is higher than 12 then you have leptin resistance. I also like to check Uric Acid levels. Uric acid levels > 5 can indicate that you are consuming too much fructose for your body. If you have an elevated uric acid > 5 and a leptin level > 12 then you are likely suffering from Leptin Resistance.

Leptin Resistance and your Thyroid function

Aside from the fact that Leptin Resistance makes it almost impossible to lose weight, it also causes further issues with your thyroid gland. As Leptin levels increase and your brain slows down your metabolism, your body will start to convert Free T4 into Reverse T3. Reverse T3 actually competes on your cells for binding with the free and Active T3 hormone. The higher your reverse T3 levels, the lower your metabolism and the more likely you are to suffer from Hypothyroidism.

This also means that if you have Hypothyroidism at baseline it’s easier to slip into Leptin Resistance. If you think you might be suffering from Hypothyroidism get your levels checked (Just make sure that they fall within the “optimal range” and not just the “normal range”). I recommend testing for the following:

  • TSH

  • Free T3

  • Free T4

  • Reverse T3

  • Anti thyroid antibodies

How to treat and Reverse Leptin Resistance

So now comes the most important part of this whole article. If you have Leptin Resistance what are you supposed to do about it? Well, I will be the first to tell you that it can definitely be tricky but here are some tips that I use in my clinic.

My Tips and Tricks to Reverse Leptin Resistance:

  1. Add in high intensity interval training: You’ll specifically want this type of exercise to help reduce insulin levels (which can help reduce leptin resistance). Avoid doing lots of low intensity exercise! I recommend starting with 10-15 minute bouts of HIIT once per week.

  2. Avoid highly processed foods: These foods increase inflammation. High levels of inflammation make thyroid function worse and lead to the downward spiral of leptin resistance!

  3. Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night: This should go without saying, but just in case you aren’t you need to be getting good quality sleep in. Lack of sleep can kick leptin levels up.

  4. Reduce the amount of Fructose you are consuming: Yes, that means even fruit! If you are still consuming high fructose coryn syrup, it’s time to kick it to the curb. Fructose is very damaging to the liver, increases inflammation and increases leptin levels.

  5. Stop yo-yo dieting or calorie restricted dieting: Doing this will increase leptin and lower thyroid levels. Neither of which is what you want and they will NOT lead to long lasting weight loss.

Just doing these simple things may be enough to lower your serum leptin levels, but…It won’t be enough for everyone. In extreme cases you may ultimately need to see your Doctor or look into medications. A specific class of drugs can actually help people lose weight without changing their diet or adding in exercise, simply by reducing Leptin levels.

I don’t recommend going down this route until you have exhausted the other options above – but know that this may be required in some people. You can learn more about the medication Exenatide by reading this study.

Take home message:

Leptin Resistance is a serious condition that can make losing weight almost impossible. It’s a vicious cycle that results in a hormonal imbalance where your body thinks it’s starving leading to constant weight gain and a voracious appetite. Unfortunately, it can be hard to diagnose and is missed by most Doctors because they aren’t looking for it. Because of this you will need to be your own advocate, check your symptoms, and start taking action with the steps provided at home. Remember balancing Leptin, the “master hormone” of your body fat, is required if you want to ever have long lasting weight loss.

Now it’s your turn

Have you been diagnosed with Leptin resistance? What has actually helped you to lose weight? Leave a comment below!



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