7 Ways to Reverse Leptin Resistance Naturally (incl. Diet Tips)
First some background: Leptin is an appetite-regulating hormone that is secreted by fat cells throughout the body. It has the important function of telling our brains that we are full, have enough energy stored in our fat cells, and do not need to eat more. Unfortunately, however, unhealthy dietary habits and obesity can cause disruptions in this system, and a condition called leptin resistance may develop. In a leptin resistant individual, the brain no longer responds to the messages leptin is sending and mistakenly thinks the individual is starving. As a result, the brain tells the body to increase food intake and store energy as fat, which in turn leads to weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
The good news is that leptin resistance is reversible. Below, we provide some tips that might help reduce leptin resistance naturally, based on what we know about the workings of leptin from studies. That said, it is important to keep in mind that research on leptin resistance is still in its infancy, and much of what we know is derived from animal studies, not from clinical trials involving humans. Therefore, it is important that you take the tips below with a grain of salt, and talk to your doctor or a certified nutritionist before making any significant changes to your diet or starting a new supplement.
1. Exercise Regularly
Besides burning calories, exercise might help restore your body's sensitivity to leptin or decrease your chances of developing leptin resistance in the first place. A study published in the open access journal PLoS Biology in August 2010 found that exercise increased IL-6 and IL-10 protein levels in the hypothalamus of obese rats, and that these molecules play a crucial role in increasing the sensitivity of both leptin and insulin. These findings echo the results of an earlier animal study published in the September 2006 issue of the journal Diabetes. So get your body moving in whatever way works for you, whether it's walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga, or one of the hundreds of other ways to get your heart rate up! If you are currently not very fit, start slowly and gradually increase the frequency and intensity of your activity.
2. Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Researchers commonly induce obesity and leptin resistance in laboratory animals is by feeding them a diet that is high in fat and sugar (particularly fructose), but a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2011 suggests that when it comes to reversing leptin resistance, a low-sugar diet is the winner! In this study, a group of researchers from the University of Florida found that a high fat diet without the presence of sugar caused neither leptin resistance nor obesity in laboratory rats during the 70-day study period. Only when the rats were put on a diet that contained both dietary fat and fructose, did they become leptin resistance and gain significantly more weight. Moreover, removal of fructose from the rats' diet put the brakes on weight gain and initiated a natural reversal of leptin resistance.
3. Add Curcumin to Your Diet
Curcumin is best known as the main bioactive constituent of turmeric root (although there are also a few other sources of curcumin). In fact, most of the famous health benefits of turmeric have been attributed to the presence of curcumin in turmeric. And now research suggests we might be able to credit curcumin with yet another health benefits: reversal of leptin resistance. In one study, administration of curcumin resulted in decreased leptin resistance in fructose-fed rats. In another study, published in the Chinese Journal of Preventive Medicine, similar effects were observed in rats that had been fed high-fat diets. There are also a number of studies that suggest turmeric and curcumin might aid weight loss.
4. Eat Foods Rich in the Amino Acid Leucine
Here's yet another tip that might prove helpful if you are trying to overcome leptin resistance: add leucine-rich foods to your diet. A study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research in 2015 found that the amino acid leucine was capable of reversing leptin resistance in laboratory rats. Fish is a particularly good source of leucine, but if you don't like fish or are worried about the high levels of mercury in some fish, there's another great option: spirulina powder! Dried spirulina algae is one of the most concentrated natural sources of leucine according to nutrient data published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it is widely available in health food stores as well as online (the online retailer Amazon, for example, has tons of spirulina products, ranging from spirulina tablets produced in Asia to U.S.-grown spirulina processed into "superfood" powder that can be added to soups, smoothies and salad dressings.
5. Incorporate Anthocyanin-Rich Foods into Your Diet
Ranging from red to blue to purple shades, anthocyanins are naturally occurring flavonoid pigments that have been extensively researched for their beneficial effects on health. In one study, published in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology in August 2015, obese rats that were treated with anthocyanins extracted from purple sweet potatoes lost more weight than the rats in the control group. Further investigation revealed that the observed anti-obesity effects were linked to the ability of the anthocyanins to mediate the effects of leptin in the brain and to reduce oxidative stress. Purple sweet potatoes, along with blueberries and wild blackberries, are among the most famous natural sources of anthocyanins, but there are also a number of other foods that are loaded with these powerful flavonoids. According to a study published in the Chilean Journal of Agricultural Research, maqui berries, for example, contain even more anthocyanins than blueberries and wild blackberries.
6. Give Pectin-Rich Foods a Try
Adding certain pectin-rich foods to your diet might prove to be yet another way to reverse leptin resistance naturally. In an interesting study published in the July 2015 issue of the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Spanish researchers investigated whether pectin supplementation could correct age-associated disturbances in insulin and leptin actions in rats. The results were promising: after just one month, pectin supplementation had reduced the amount of body fat as well as insulin and leptin resistance, independent of changes in food intake. For detailed information about natural sources of pectin and the potential of this extraordinary dietary fiber to fight leptin resistance and obesity, check out our in-depth article on pectin and leptin resistance.
7. Consider Reducing Your Gluten Intake
Naturally found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley, gluten is the substance that gives breads and doughs their appealing texture. In an intriguing study published in the January 2015 edition of the journal BMC Biochemistry, researchers first broke down wheat gluten artificially with enzymes that are also found in our digestive system, and then measured the ability of leptin to bind to its receptor in the presence of the digested gluten. The researchers discovered that the gluten inhibited the binding of leptin to its receptor in a concentration-dependent manner, which provides preliminary evidence that gluten might play a role in the development of leptin resistance and associated conditions such as obesity.
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