When you think of hormones your first thought probably isn't about hunger and fullness. But, one very important yet lesser known function of hormones is that they help to regulate our feelings of hunger and fullness, which help to keep us alive by reminding us to fuel our bodies. Leptin is one of these hormones, which, like the better known insulin, helps to tell your body you're full. We are diving into the research on this often overlooked hormone, exploring what it does, how it works, and how it can play a role in keeping our bodies healthy.
WHAT AND HOW //
Leptin is known as our starvation hormone or our satiety hormone. Leptin is a protein that is made in our body’s fat cells which then circulates in our bloodstream and goes to our brain. When it reaches our brain, leptin inhibits our hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that helps your body feel either low or high in energy. When leptin inhibits your hypothalamus, it is sending signals to your brain and body that you're high on energy aka full. Essentially, leptin represents the presence of energy rich lipids, or fats, in our bodies, and when there are enough lipids in our bodies there is enough leptin in our brain to signal that we are satiated. (cite)
Interestingly, what constitutes as ‘enough’ lipids and therefore leptin in our bodies varies. You see, every person has a different leptin threshold, or the point at which your leptin levels are high enough to inhibit your hypothalamus (the point at which your leptin levels make you feel ‘full’). This threshold is genetically determined, so leptin is the hormone that helps keep our bodies at a relatively stable weight. When you have leptin levels above your threshold, your brain senses that you have enough energy and can go about your daily activities such as exercising, digesting food, working etc.. Adequate leptin levels also signal that your body can undergo energy intensive activities such as puberty and pregnancy. However, if you under eat and don't have enough lipid or fat stored in your body, leptin levels will fall below this threshold. Because leptin thresholds are highly individual, this point of too little leptin can occur at any level and depends on your body and genetics. When your leptin levels drop below your leptin threshold, your brain may go into starvation mode, and your body will start to take action to drive leptin levels up again. You'll get super hungry and may have a larger appetite and strong food cravings. This is your body's defense against what it perceives as starvation. (cite)
KEEPING LEPTIN LEVELS UP//In order to keep your leptin levels balanced and stable, you need to make sure you're eating enough every day. Even if you are trying to lose weight, cutting your calories drastically may cause your body to react with extreme hunger which may lead to a pattern of yoyo (up and down) dieting. Leptin, and a certain level of body fat are necessary for our bodies to function well, especially for women. If you are trying to undergo energy intensive processes such as getting pregnant, it is important to consult your doctor about how to keep your hormones balanced. And, if you are trying to lose weight consider doing it in a responsible manner and consuming nutrient dense, fiber rich foods (such as chocho) to meet your daily caloric needs in order to keep leptin levels around or above your threshold to avoid extreme hunger.