You’re probably thinking I’m going to talk about Insulin. While Insulin plays a significant role in weight gain, I often call it Miracle Grow for fat cells, that’s not the hormone I’m going to be talking about today.
Our health and life depend on how accurately instructions are conveyed to our cells so that they can act in harmony. It is this communication between our cells that will determine our health and the direction of our lifespan.
Many would say that genes and chromosomes are the most important molecules, however, once you’re born, they are pretty much set. While we can influence the genes to express in a healthy or unhealthy way, they still need hormones to tell them what to do.
The two most important hormones that deliver messages about energy and metabolism are insulin and leptin. Have you heard of leptin? I would say most people have not, while insulin is very well known.
What Exactly is Metabolism?
Twenty-plus years ago when I went to school, we would often hear people say, “I’m just cursed with a slow metabolism.” But what exactly is metabolism?
Metabolism can be defined as the chemistry that turns food into energy, which gives us life. Both insulin and leptin work together to control the quality of your metabolism, even the rate of your metabolism.
Insulin works mostly at the individual cell level, telling your cell to burn fat or sugar or to store fat or sugar. It also tells the cell whether it should use the energy it’s producing to do maintenance and repair or reproduction. This is super important because maintenance and repair equate to increased longevity, and turning up cellular reproduction can lead to cancer.
Leptin is the controller of the energy stores, and the entire community of cells in our body. It allows the body to communicate with the brain about how much energy, in the form of fat, the community has stored, and whether it needs more, or should it burn some off. It even communicates if it’s an advantageous time in the community to reproduce another human or not.
I won’t dive into the technical side of leptin, but I do want you to understand how it regulates your hunger messages and how you become leptin resistant just like becoming insulin resistant.
To sum up the complex process simply, the hormones your fat cells produce impact how much you eat and how much fat you burn. Did you know your fat cells make hormones?
One of these hormones is leptin and leptin sends signals that reduce hunger, increase fat burning and reduce fat storage. Now that sounds like a hormone we want to make more of!
If you are eating a diet high in simple carbohydrates and grains, you will be creating more inflammation in your body. As this sugar gets metabolized into fat cells, fat releases a surge of leptin. Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to leptin. This happens with insulin as well, and both will create inflammation.
When you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer “hear” the messages telling it to stop eating and burn fat, so you feel hungry even when you’ve eaten, this drives you to keep eating the foods you know you shouldn’t because your just not satiated.
Leptin resistance also causes the “bad” fat in the middle of the body, belly fat. This belly fat creates more inflammation, which in turn drives more fat storage. We now know this type of fat and inflammation leads to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, auto-immune disorders, and more.
Obesity Spurs on Cancers Growth
Leptin and insulin resistance is front and center of the issue of obesity, which is now a problem of epic proportions as it increases your risk for a wide variety of other serious diseases. At least 20 diseases are correlated with being obese, cancer being one of them. And according to recent research, being obese promotes the growth of existing tumors regardless of diet, which may help explain why lean cancer patients often have better outcomes than their obese counterparts.
A study published in the journal of Cancer Research showed that tumors in obese mice grew faster than those in lean mice. The researchers discovered that the presence of cancer triggered adipose stromal cells – “white” fat cells – to migrate into the bloodstream. Once these cells come across a tumor, some of them help provide oxygen and nutrients to the tumor, thereby feeding the growth of cancer.
So is there a way to convert harmful white fat into health-promoting brown fat, without using a drug? Yes, there is. In one mouse study, the animals converted white fat into brown fat simply by exercising. The study, published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms in May 2012 found that, during exercise, the animals’ muscles released an enzyme called irisin, which triggered the conversion of white fat cells to brown.
There is No Magic Bullet
The pharmaceutical industry has tried to come up with a drug to help “fix” leptin resistance, to no avail. This can’t be fixed with a drug, it can only be fixed with lifestyle.
The solution lies in the foods that you eat and the movement your body is doing. However, we cannot outrun our fork! You can’t go out and run 5 miles a day and then eat carbohydrate-rich foods and expect this to be fixed. About 80% of your results with weight will be what you put in your mouth, but that 20%, which is exercise is an absolutely essential part as well.
The beauty of exercise, especially strength training exercises, is the body will make new muscle cells that are not leptin resistant or insulin resistant. Those cells are listening and telling the body when you are full and that it needs to burn fat. So, yes, exercise is a big part of healing the body from both leptin and insulin resistance.
The second half of this is the food we consume. When you first go on a low carbohydrate diet, like a Paleo diet, you will “crave” sugar because your body is stuck in that mode of not communicating the message that you are full. But the good news is, it doesn’t take long, maybe four to five days, and the body starts to realize it’s not getting any quick fix of sugar so it needs to start burning its fat stores.
Healthy fats during this time will greatly satiate you and get you through those sugar craving days. You also must realize that you didn’t get leptin resistant in one month, this was building up over years, so give it some time.
Good sources of healthy fats include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, nuts and seeds, and animal fats. Also, take a high-quality source of animal-based Omega-3 oils.
There was a study done “Short term health impact of a yoga and diet change program on obesity”, that found that after just six days of yoga and a “healthy diet” (low-fat, high in fruits and vegetables) there was a decrease in BMI, decrease in cholesterol, better posture and strength in grip, reduced waist, and hip measurements, and a decrease in serum leptin levels. All of this in just six days! Never underestimate what small changes can do biochemically in your body.
Counting Calories is Irrelevant
As you can see, counting calories is useless if you are leptin and insulin resistant. The calories that you put in your mouth today are not necessarily what your cells will be eating, that will be determined primarily by leptin. Whether or not you put food in your mouth, your cells will be eating, and if they cannot eat fat, they must eat sugar.
If you are leptin resistant and decide to go on a low-calorie diet, you could still be eating way too many carbohydrates. The uniqueness of each of us also determines how many carbohydrates we can tolerate. But no matter your particular profile, we all need to get our carbs from plants, not refined grains and flours, which turn to sugar quickly in the body.
If you feel like you need a “jump-start” on a lower carbohydrate diet, join my 10 Day Detox Course where I walk you through what foods to eat, Intermittent fasting and fasting (which also help reduce leptin and insulin resistance) and give you recipes and tips on how to start on a healthy, moderately low carb dietary journey.
Alongside you on your health journey,
- Short term health impact of a yoga and diet change program on obesity, Med Sci Monit. 2010 Jan;16(1):CR35-40. PMID: 20037492
- Leptin: This hormone makes counting calories irrelevant, Rosedale, Ron M.D., Mercola.com, June 20, 2009
- New Revelations Support Diet and Exercise to Reverse Leptin Resistance, Thereby Promoting a Healthy Weight, Mercola, MD, October 29, 2012, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/10/29/leptin-resistance.aspx