In our brain there is an area known as the hypothalamus. It main role is homeostasis. It functions to regulate our appetite, temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, fluid and electrolyte balance and sleep cycles. It receives information from all parts of our nervous system and responds by producing hormones. These hormones are released onto our pituitary gland which produces more hormones targeted to our organs. Together, these two areas of the brain control our kidneys, adrenal glands, sex organs, bones, muscles, thyroid gland, ability to orgasm and connect with our loved ones, as well as produce milk after birth. And that is just the short list.
In this article we explore how appetite and body weight are controlled by the hormone leptin and what fasting can do to help regulate this process.
What is leptin?
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells. Its function is to tell the brain how much fat we have so that it can regulate energy production. When we have enough fat stored, we don't need to eat to have enough calories to run the system. Our bodies are a complex balance between the amount of energy we need, the calories required to eat and expend and how much fat we will store on our bodies to meet that need. It is an ongoing tally. The leptin system evolved so that we wouldn't starve to death and now we sure aren't. In fact we are eating ourselves to death. Why is that?
The Broken Leptin System
Leptin communicates to the brain how much fat is being carried in an effort to balance the energy out/energy in requirement. Since leptin is produced by our fat cells, when there is lots of fat, there is lots of leptin. In a state of adequate fat stores, a satiety signal is produced in the brain inhibiting us from consuming more calories. In low fat states our brain is told we are running the risk of starvation and to increase caloric intake. This is a negative feedback cycle where in the presence of adequate fat stores, the desire to consume more calories is turned off.
When people are obese, they have a lot of fat cells and therefore a lot of leptin. This over production of leptin, coupled with the over production insulin seen in obesity, causes a leptin resistance in the brain. The brain becomes less sensitive to the signals from leptin telling it there are adequate fat stores. Leptin resistance due to high levels of insulin and circulating leptin is the main physiological mechanism behind obesity. This leptin resistance the brain signals us to both eat more, and expend less energy!
What Happens When We lose Weight?
Although losing weight, and therefore fast cells and leptin would seem like a good idea, in fact it triggers the desire to eat more. When we lose fat cells and leptin, we don't automatically regain leptin sensitivity in the brain. The reduction in circulating leptin trigger a starvation effects on the brain resulting in increased appetite and decreased energy expenditure.
Other Causes of Leptin Resistance
Losing weight isn't the only cause of leptin deficiency. There are genetic defects that lead to low levels of leptin. It is estimated that approximately 3% of obese individuals have a receptor defect causing obesity. In the United States, that is roughly 2.3 million people.
Inflammation in the hypothalamic region of the brain has been shown to cause leptin resistance. Leptin has a role in regulating the immune system because of its similarity in shape and function to another inflammatory mediator called interleukin-6. The presence of the inflammatory marker CRP has been correlated with leptin resistance in obese individuals.
Other causes of leptin resistance are due to intracellular suppression of leptin signalling as well as extracellular binding of leptin, making it unavailable to the cells.
Increasing Leptin Sensitivity to Keep Weight Off
1. Reduce circulating insulin level
Insulin sensitivity can be improved many ways: reduced glucose intake, fasting, eating foods that support insulin sensitivity in cells: Chia, Maca, Cinnamon zeylenicum/cassia and the plant Gymnema sylvestre.
2. Decrease inflammation
The majority of inflammation in the system comes from the gut. Specifically eating inflammatory foods such as: processed foods, refined sugar, GMOs, non-organic foods, and allergenic foods like wheat, dairy, corn and soy. Avoiding inflammatory foods reduces inflammation in the gut. When the gut is exposed to inflammation over a period of time, the tight junctions between the gut cells becomes permeable. Meaning undigested food particles escape into the blood stream. These food particles trigger the immune system to produce immunoglobulins against them, thinking they are foreign invaders. This process creates food allergies and sensitivities. The foods we are allergic to differ person to person, so having them assessed by a physician is the first step to helping repair the gut. Other ways to repair the gut lining and decrease inflammation are taking supplements proven to help: fish oil, L-glutamine, FOS (fructooligosaccharides) and probiotics.
Getting enough sleep + exercising have been shown to lower gut inflammation.
Exercise doesn't have to be stressful. Even 30 minutes a day has been proven to lower heart disease and prevent diabetes. If you are staring exercise for the first time, you can use my 15 minute rule:
- 15 minutes there
- 15 minutes back
This is basically a walk around a few blocks. Getting outside also improves mental health. Sun exposure and nitrogen intake are all correlated with better moods. Have a look into a new science called "forest bathing".
Fasting, whether it is true water fasting or intermittent is a great way to increase leptin and glucose sensitivity in the cells. Intermittend fasting is the practice of have 1 day of decreased calories per week or 1 complete fasting day per week or a 16 hour fast each night. Any of these options work the same way: giving the body a chance to use up the glucose and being to use up the glycogen or glucose stores. In doing this, we train our body to respond less to the signal that glucose is gone. Because it knows there is another reserve (glycogen). What this looks like is a decrease in urgency for a snack or glucose fix. And it is freeing. Whatever your needs are during the week for work, activing or family life, there is an intermittent fasting protocol that fits your needs.
Water fasting is a more intensive form of resetting the glucose tolerance and insuline sensitivity in cells. It involves ingesting only water for a period of time. By doing this, our body uses up all the glucose and glycogen energy stores and begins a process called Ketosis - breaking down fats for fuel. For more information on how to water fast or intermittent fast, contact our clinic for personalized programs and advice.
5. MIC injections
MIC stands for methionine, inositol and choline and they are known as lipotropic or " fat metabolizing". These injections target the primary fatty deposits in the stomach, gluteus region, hips, inner thighs and under arms. They are a special formula of vitamins, nutrients and cofactors designed to support the liver to breakdown and eliminate fats from the body.
How do they help burn fat?
Methionine is an essential amino acid meaning that we have to eat it to have it. It assists in the break down of fat in the liver which lowers your body's cholesterol and removes it from the circulatory system.
The inositol component is involved in the biological signalling of fat metabolism. It reduces serum cholesterol, by promoting fat metabolism.
Choline is an essential nutrient required for the transport of fats and cholesterol. After break down, fats are transported to the liver where they are broken down in to their component parts and excreted from your body through bile.
Other nutrients in the formula are Vitamin B12, B-Complex and Carnitine. B vitamins are ubiquitous helpers in the body's biochemical processes. Carnitine is an amino acid helpful in breaking down fat and preserving muscle and transporting fat from high density areas to the liver.
Through diet, people may be deficient in any or all of these nutrients making fat burning more difficult. A routine schedule of MIC injections can support the body with the nutrients it needs to function properly as part of a fasting or medical program.
Our fasting programs are designed specifically for you, to help you lose weight in a way that works best for your body. To learn more about the best way to lose weight and reduce fat book an appointment!
Dr. Ariel Jones ND