Did you know that there are such things as mouse enthusiasts? That’s right, ever since the 1800s mouse lovers have been collecting different types of living mice! Little did they know that one of these rare mice would radically change the way that we view that glob of fat that hangs out around your midsection, butt or thighs.
In 1902 a French researcher named L. Cuenot began to research a special yellow mouse that was popular among mouse enthusiasts. This mouse, known for its peculiar propensity to gain fat, began a domino effect in the science world that ultimately led to one of the most important discoveries in the study of fat!
As researchers continued to study naturally fat mice, they happened upon a mutant strain of mouse that seemed to suffer many of the same complications attributed to obesity in humans. This mouse, referred to as the “ob” mouse suffered with:
- High insulin levels
- High stress hormones
- Low sex hormones (estrogen & testosterone)
- Low body temperature
- Low thyroid
- Lots of body fat
- High levels of infertility
The investigation of this strain of mouse led researchers to believe that there was some compound that was lacking in these mice that caused them to gain fat. That labeled this compound a “satiety factor”. Then in the 1970s, a researcher performed some of the most interesting and bizarre research that I have ever heard about. He surgically joined a “normal” mouse to one of his ob mice. The mice were attached in such a way to mimic Siamese twins where the two mice share a blood circulation. When he did this, the normal mouse stayed normal and the fat mouse got skinny. This proved that there was some sort of chemical that the fat, ob mouse was lacking. When the mice were sharing the blood circulation, the “satiety chemical” from the normal mouse entered the ob mouse and thus he became “normal”. That chemical came to be known as “leptin” which is now believed to be the greatest discovery in the bariatric sciences. Scientists were excited because they felt that they could purify this compound and inject it into overweight people to literally “cure” their obesity! They succeeded in purifying it and proceeded to clinical studies.
You can imagine their dismay when they discovered that leptin injections had no effect on overweight subjects. When further study was performed on overweight subjects they discovered that they were not deficient in leptin but instead had far more leptin in their blood than their skinny counterparts.
This just didn’t make sense. If leptin eradicates hunger and stimulates metabolism, why would it not cause weight loss? The only feasible explanination was that the body had somehow lost its ability to register the leptin that was floating through the circulation. This same phenomenon occurs when too much insulin is floating through the system which leads to insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.
What is leptin and why is it important?
Your body, which is really a community of trillions of smaller individual living cells, must be perfectly orchestrated in order to maintain life. This orchestration is coordinated by certain compounds called “hormones”. Hormones allow the trillions of cells within the body to communicate with each other. Leptin is one such hormone, in fact, leptin appears to be the mother of all hormones. This means that if leptin gets out of balance then other hormones such as insulin, cortisol, thyroid, testosterone and estrogen also follow.
Leptin’s main jobs are to regulate eating, metabolism and reproduction.
If the brain is the President of your body then leptin is her chief of staff. When resistance to leptin occurs, it appears to prevent leptin from getting signals to the brain. The brain then gets a constant signal that the body is starving for food and nutrients. This results in a number of physical manifestations to PERCEIVED starvation:
- Decreased metabolism – To slow your demise due to starvation
- Insulin resistance – To enhance fat storage when food is once again available.
- Thyroid deficiency – Slows metabolism to prevent starvation.
- Infertility – Reproduction requires lots of energy. If the body feels that you are starving then it does not deem you suitable for reproduction. After all, if you can’t feed yourself how will you feed a little one?
- Hunger and cravings – This motivates you to find food.
So where does leptin come from?
Scientists use to think that fat cells were nothing more than a depository for fat. The discovery of leptin forever changed fat from an annoying blob of goo to an endocrine organ on par with such big players as the thyroid, testicles, adrenal gland, ovaries and pituitary gland. Now fat is known to produce many hormones that play important roles with everything from fat storage to reproduction. In fact, fat may become known as the most important endocrine organ to ever be discovered!
Leptin, is the fuel gauge of the body. It continuously reports to the brain to tell the brain how much fat we have stored up and thus how likely we are to starve to death should famine rear its ugly head. The more fat we have the higher the leptin levels go and the more leptin signals reach the brain. In an ideal world, as fat builds up the brain gets the signal to stop sending hunger signals and start metabolizing fat.
Having fat stored up protects the body from starvation and thus improves its chances of survival during famine. The body, however, does not want to be “fat” or “obese”. Remember, our body is an outdated model. It is built for Paleolithic days where food was scarce and danger seeming lurked behind very bush. It wants some fat to prevent starvation, however, it doesn’t want you to be the slowest creature in the herd because that would make you more likely to get caught and eaten by a lion. Leptin, therefore, must continuously balance fat stores with being lean and agile. Leptin resistance would never have occurred in Paleolithic days because food was just too scarce.
Now, you can see how important the regulation of leptin is in your fat loss efforts as well as the quest for youth and vitality. Once you understand leptin and what causes leptin resistance to occur you will be better suited to achieve the body and health that you desire!
How do I balance letpin?
- Cut carbohydrate intake – Carbohydrates cause an increase in insulin levels which can ultimately cause insulin resistance. Anytime insulin resistance occurs, so too does leptin resistance.
- When you eat carbohydrates choose carb sources that have a very low glycemic load- Low glycemic-load foods decrease the amount of insulin produced.
- Exercise daily – There is no faster way to improve leptin sensitivity than to start exercising regularly.
- Try not to eat 3 hours before bedtime – Leptin levels should be highest in the evening and lowest in the morning; thus you should be hungry in the morning and not in the evening. If you are hungry in the evening; this suggests leptin resistance.
- Sleep at least 7-9 hours a night – Sleep deprivation causes lower leptin and higher ghrelin–the perfect storm for overwhelming hunger.