Dr. Scott Isaacs was one of the first to suggest the vital role hormones play in losing weight, in his 2002 book Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight By Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism. In the book’s updated 3rd edition, out this month, Isaacs describes how leptin, a hormone produced by fat, helps regulate hunger and metabolism by sending signals to your brain about the amount of fat in your body. Not enough leptin means your body thinks it’s starving and signals you to find food—NOW! In this excerpt, Issacs explains how obesity is often due to leptin resistance, and offers tips on optimizing the amount of this important hunger hormone in your body.
If you’ve lost weight on a diet and then gained it back, you probably have leptin resistance. Leptin resistance is the reason why 98 percent of people who lose weight on a diet eventually gain it all back. Even after you lose weight, leptin resistance persists. Metabolism slows, appetite increases, and the motivation for healthy behaviors dwindles, driving the body weight back up to the higher set point. To lose weight permanently, you have to alleviate leptin resistance, which helps your body feel normal at your new healthy weight, resetting the set point back to normal. The following are ways you can naturally lower leptin resistance:
Eat healthy fats
Unhealthy fats cause inflammation and leptin resistance. To alleviate leptin resistance, you must eat healthy fats. Unhealthy fats are saturated fats or trans fats in meat, butter and cheese as well as coconut oil and palm oil. These fats build up in blood vessel walls, causing cardiovascular disease. Processing unsaturated fats creates trans fats. Trans fats are synthetic fats that are extremely unhealthy. Trans fats and saturated fat cause inflammation and leptin resistance, which results in inappropriate appetite and junk food cravings.
Fast food and snack foods (especially crunchy snack foods) have an addictive quality that causes cravings for even more unhealthy food. These foods stimulate the brain’s dopamine reward system. Replacing unhealthy foods with foods that have healthy fats will break the addictive cycle of cravings for fast food or snack foods.
Drink two quarts of water daily
Dehydration causes leptin resistance and stops you from losing weight even if you are eating healthy foods. Keeping the body hydrated burns fat and decreases inflammation. Drink at least two quarts of cold filtered water every day. Some of my patients have told me that they don’t feel thirsty or they forget to drink water. We lose our sense of thirst as we get older. Be mindful of drinking enough water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
You should not drink any beverages that have natural or artificial sweeteners, including sodas, juice or sweet tea, all very high in sugar and calories. Avoid all artificially sweetened beverages. Many studies have shown that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, because the fake sweetness tricks the brain, which expects sugar, and in turn increases your appetite and sugar cravings. The effect may last for several hours.
Move your body
To alleviate leptin resistance, exercise as often as possible. Daily exercise gives you the best results. Regular exercise, like a balanced diet, is a great way to keep leptin resistance at a minimum. Research has found that people who exercise consistently are most likely to have permanent weight loss. Consistent exercise reduces inflammation.
In addition to alleviating leptin resistance, boosting leptin production is also very important. Here are three ways you can help your body make more leptin.
Sleep six to eight hours every night
Researchers have found that sleep deficiency or poor-quality sleep cause both leptin resistance and leptin deficiency. Leptin is usually produced at night, during sleep. If sleep is bad, leptin gets a double whammy. Studies have shown that just a couple of nights of poor sleep will lower leptin levels twenty-five percent. You need to sleep at least six to eight hours every night.
Get enough of zinc
Leptin production is regulated by the mineral zinc, and zinc helps leptin work properly. A 50 mg zinc supplement is all that is needed if you don’t get enough from your diet. Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, wheat germ, lima beans, and dairy products.
Smoking lowers leptin levels, giving yet another reason to quit.
Excerpted from Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight by Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism, 3rd Edition by Scott Isaacs, M.D., F.A.C.P, F.A.C.E. available from Bull Publishing Company. In stores June 2012.
Scott Isaacs, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., is the medical director at Atlanta Endocrine Associates in Atlanta, Georgia, overseeing multidisciplinary staff of professionals who offer state-of-the-art care in the fields of endocrinology, diabetes management, metabolism, general health, nutrition, and weight management.