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leptin - fat loss set point?

Leptin- is it the key to the fat loss set point?

Do you ever feel like your body is protecting your fat stores for some weird reason? Like the whole universe is just going out of its way to keep you 10,20,50 or 100lbs over weight?

What about hunger? How often do you feel full? Full in a truly satisfied, I could go 6-8hrs without eating, way?

If you feel like I just described you, then today’s article is a must read!


Leptin is a hormone that is secreted by our fat storage cells, also known as adipocytes. (Fun fact, I did research on adipocytes prior to my years in Naturopathic Medicine, and I happen to think they are the cutest cell type!) The role of leptin is to communicate with the brain about the amount of fat that you have stored on your body1,2.

This is the bodies internal regulation system. Leptin will circulate from our fat cells into our brain where it downregulates hunger signals, and upregulates energy expenditure (ie calories burned). This makes sense right? If we have too much fat, then we want our body to drive us to cut the consumption and move more to lose weight. Leptin is the most important known regulator of fat mass.

Again, the body is smart! When it works properly.


When Leptin Resistance Occurs

At this point in the article you are probably thinking, “if my body is so smart then I should be swimming in leptin, be a size 2 and have all of the energy in the world.” You would be right in thinking that as well. But what research is coming to tell us about obesity is that in some cases we develop leptin resistance, meaning, we have a lot of fat, and we have a lot of leptin, but the brain can’t hear the signals. It is deaf to leptin (kind of like when you ask your partner to do the dishes! ) and therefore our body thinks we are thin. It upregulates hunger and down regulates energy expenditure1. You actively defend your heavy body weight.


Why does leptin resistance happen?

We are still continuing to learn about leptin resistance but we do know the basic mechanisms of onset. The most common contributing factors to leptin resistance are, over eating, eating a high fat/ high carb diet, unhealthy processed fats and sugars, in activity, sleep disturbance, and of course, obesity1,3–5.

So you probably think you’ve got it now right? Leptin resistance = unhealthy lifestyle and obesity.

That is true, but there is another side to leptin. If you eat far too little to attempt to lose weight, OR if you eat too low carb for too long, then you can also alter your leptin signalling as a protective mechanism. I have seen this to be true more often in the ladies then men3,6.  Here we can see elongation of menstrual cycles or amenorrhea, as well as weight loss resistance.

The common thread to all of these things, and to this series, is that inflammation has a significant impact on your health, and weight loss.

First steps to take to reverse leptin resistance


  • Avoid processed foods and oils.

Insulin resistance, cellular inflammation, systemic inflammation etc are all associated with processed foods, additives, added sugars and oxidized or improperly processed oils. These affect the way the hormones and the cells interact at the receptor level. It is kind of like having a rusty lock, the key doesn’t quite fit in to open the door. And if the door doesn’t open then leptin, and insulin cannot do their jobs.

Focus on eating a whole food diet.


  • Decrease your triglycerides.

We also know that elevated circulating lipids can have an effect on the proper signalling of leptin and other hormones in the body7. A low carbohydrate diet is one of the best ways to lower triglycerides, but it is important to not go too low for the ladies. For the average person 50-100g of carbs will suffice. In some cases people can go as low as 20g per day, but that is rarely a long term strategy.


  • Increase fermentable fiber and polyphenols (AKA colours)

This is one of my favourite interventions because it shows just how important the gut bacteria are in weight regulation. Without going into too much detail, there is an inflammatory component of some bacteria known as LPS (lipopolysaccharide). When this LPS gets into circulation it can cause a lot of inflammation in the body, and has been associated with leptin resistance and weight gain.

One of the best ways to improve your overall gut health when it comes to weight loss is to eat plenty of colourful vegetables and fruits, containing polyphenols8. These can decrease inflammation, oxidative stress and improve hormonal signalling. Additionally, adding fermentable fibers has been shown to help lower systemic LPS, inflammation and help with weight regulation9. These include your fiber from fruits and veggies, but also things such as flax, chia, inulin and even cooled potato starch.


  • Exercise

Resistance exercise is very important to any weight loss, or weight maintenance routine. Resistance training can protect your muscle mass while losing weight, increase your energy expenditure, and has also been shown to improve insulin and leptin signalling5. Win, win, win!


  • Sleep

We do not talk about proper sleep near enough! Part of that is probably due to the fact that, one, we feel like we don’t have time to sleep, and two, every persons sleep requirements are different. That being said, it is critically important to be sleeping between 11pm and 4am. This is the period of time that our metabolic hormones reset, that our immune system is active, and the hours of most restorative sleep. If for no other reason aside from improving your cravings, energy and losing more weight, then please sleep!

Well that about wraps it up for today! I think that is more than enough homework to keep you going. Leptin and insulin sensitivity can take you so far in your health and weight loss journey and I thank you for taking time out of your day, for yourself, so that you can begin to improve. It can be overwhelming, I will not lie about that, I have been there. But it is worth it on the other side! I also want you to know that you are supported. There are so many other people in the same boat as you, and we all need to support each other!

For more support, reach out to me on my Facebook page! I would love to hear from you!




  1. Friedman, J. M. & Halaas, J. L. Leptin and the regulation of body weight in mammals. Nature 395, 763–70 (1998).
  2. Dalamaga, M. et al. Leptin at the intersection of neuroendocrinology and metabolism: current evidence and therapeutic perspectives. Cell Metab. 18, 29–42 (2013).
  3. Friedman, J. The long road to leptin. J. Clin. Invest. 126, 4727–4734 (2016).
  4. Spiegel, K. et al. Leptin Levels Are Dependent on Sleep Duration: Relationships with Sympathovagal Balance, Carbohydrate Regulation, Cortisol, and Thyrotropin. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 89, 5762–5771 (2004).
  5. Reseland, J. E. et al. Effect of long-term changes in diet and exercise on plasma leptin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr 73, 240–245 (2001).
  6. Hausman, G. J., Barb, C. R. & Lents, C. A. Leptin and reproductive function. Biochimie 94, 2075–2081 (2012).
  7. Banks, W. A. et al. Triglycerides induce leptin resistance at the blood-brain barrier. Diabetes 53, 1253–60 (2004).
  8. Sánchez, D., Miguel, M. & Aleixandre, A. Dietary fiber, gut peptides, and adipocytokines. J. Med. Food 15, 223–30 (2012).
  9. Dehghan, P., Gargari, B. P., Jafar-Abadi, M. A. & Aliasgharzadeh, A. Inulin controls inflammation and metabolic endotoxemia in women with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized-controlled clinical trial. Int. J. Food Sci. Nutr. 65, 117–23 (2014).