Leptin is a hormone that scientists discovered in 1994, and the initial thought was that leptin supplements could help obese people lose weight easier. Leptin is not actually an obesity hormone. A better description would be a hunger hormone. The hormone is a protein produced by fat cells and then begins circulating in the bloodstream. When the protein reaches the brain, it tells the brain to burn energy at a normal rate because the level is adequate.
When people begin dieting and restricting calories, less fat ends up in their fat cells. While this is a desired effect of dieting, the leptin level drops, energy levels are reduced and the brain gets the message that starvation is taking place. This whole process stimulates the vagus nerve which turns on hunger pangs in order to restore energy levels.
People who are overweight have a high amount of leptin in their system, but their brain does not react to it normally. This may be due to the fact that the brain has become desensitized to the hormone simply because there has never been been a shortage of it. This is a condition known as leptin resistance, and it works in a similar way to insulin resistance in diabetics. Since the leptin no longer signals the brain to stop eating, people with the condition become obese since they always feel hungry.
When people eat the wrong kind of diet that is high in refined sugar and carbohydrates, this can cause their brain to stop reacting properly to the leptin hormone. This is thought to be the most common reason leptin resistance begins.
Discovery of Leptin Supplements
When scientists identified the hormone in 1994, they had great hopes leptin supplements could help obese people get their appetite under control and lose weight. Unfortunately, the brain of an overweight person does not recognize the hormone because they are leptin resistant, so there are no changes in how hungry they feel.
Leptin supplements are still sold as a weight loss product, but a very high percentage contain none of the hormone at all. Instead, the ingredients are intended to improve the function of the leptin already present in the body and result in feelings of fullness. The ingredients thought to be most effective in these weight loss products include olive leaf extract, African mango and white willow bark. On the other hand, no studies on these ingredients have found them to be effective weight loss aids.
Nutrition experts recommend that obese people focus on reducing their triglyceride levels which often interferes with the transmission of the hormone to the brain.
Lowering triglycerides can help the brain recognize leptin, resulting in reduced feelings of hunger.
While supplementing with leptin may not be much help for weight loss, the hormone does have other health benefits that are worth mentioning. Leptin directly affects the mineral density of bones because it helps them absorb calcium and stay healthy longer. Leptin also supports a healthy immune system which reduces inflammation and lowers the risk of cardiac diseases.