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Hormones and Weight Loss

Posted Mar 18 2009 3:03pm

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Many people believe that fat cells simply hold fat and do not have any real function. That is not the case; fat cells produce a hormone-like substance that acts on the central nervous system. They signal the brain about your energy balance—in other words, they let the brain know if you are well-fed. Leptin is a hormone produced by adipose cells, and because it has the potential of reversing obesity, at least in mice, it has been intensely studied.

Not surprisingly, leptin has been shown to have many other properties and actions beyond inducing satiety. Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and The Rockefeller University in collaboration with investigators at Yale University have found that leptin affects both the architecture and function of neural circuits in the brain. The body’s response to leptin is very complex.

Leptin appears to decrease insulin secretion from the pancreatic beta cell. Leptin has roles in weight maintenance, increasing insulin sensitivity, decreasing triglycerides and increasing energy expenditure. Leptin acts on the hypothalamus to decrease food intake.

Leptin levels are involved in obesity. They increase as body fat increases. The brain has receptors to monitor the body’s leptin levels. Leptin is responsible for your brain’s response to food deprivation.

On a practical level, leptin has a very important role in weight gain and weight loss. If you have a lot of adipose (fat) tissue, your leptin levels tend to be high. You can actually become insensitive to leptin, much the same way that a type II diabetic becomes insensitive to insulin. Rapid weight loss rapidly lowers leptin levels, which may be the reason that many people regain weight after dieting.

Another hormone that is important in weight loss is insulin. Everyone knows that insulin moves sugar from the blood into the cells. What is equally important is that insulin stores all calories, including fat. You can’t break down fat when the body is under the influence of insulin.

Another hormone, glucagon, is produced between meals. It has the opposite effect of insulin. Just as insulin stores calories immediately following a meal, glucagon burns calories between meals. When you are losing weight, you want to encourage glucagon and discourage insulin.

Cortisol, a hormone produced under stress, also contributes to weight gain. Stress is the most commonly reported trigger of binge eating, and high cortisol levels are positively related to both central body fat and food intake after laboratory stress. There is a link between cortisol an insulin resistance.

When forming a strategy for weight loss, take these hormones into consideration. It will make your task much easier.

  • Don’t starve yourself. Rapid weight loss from food deprivation will drop leptin levels and your nervous system responds as if it is starving.
  • Eat slowly; it will help you to become full with less food and you will produce less insulin with the meal. Eat a lot of vegetables with each meal. They will slow absorption and insulin production.
  • Exercise moderately—without becoming out of breath. It will produce less cholesterol than an anaerobic workout. Increase activity in general.
  • Don’t snack between meals or eat late at night. It produces insulin and stops the production of glucagon.
  • Eat a good breakfast, one that contains protein.
  • Avoid high glycemic foods like sugar and white flour. These cause you to produce insulin.
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