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Although diet and exercise are two of the leading factors when it comes to obesity and health, hormones like leptin can also help determine how much fat the body stores. In fact, studies from the University of Michigan have given scientists much to think about when it comes to ways of combatting obesity, metabolic disorders, and even certain inflammatory diseases.
Leptin is a hormone that is a lot like insulin. It was only discovered in 1995, and it is part of an entire group of hormones that work together to control how the body stores and uses energy. Recently, studies have suggested that a resistance to leptin can lead to obesity regardless of one’s diet or exercise routine. Although scientists are not sure what causes leptin resistance, they do know that it can be caused by a malfunction of the leptin receptors in the brain. After a scientist by the name of Georgios Skiniotis was able to obtain the very first picture of leptin interacting with its receptor, he discovered that leptin works in much the same way as other similar hormones.
Although the ways in which leptin works and its role in the body are quite complicated, scientists believe it plays a role in two major functions. First of all, it has been shown that leptin crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to specialized receptors in the brain that control the appetite and tell you how much you need to eat to feel satisfied. What’s more, it increases activity in the sympathetic nervous system – in particular, the part of the nervous system the stimulates fatty tissue to burn energy.
Leptin resistance is a relatively new term, and scientists discovered it after giving mice leptin and observing their behaviors. Overweight mice who were given exogenous leptin regularly were found to eat less and have leaner bodies than those who were not given leptin. Along those same lines, scientists also found high levels of leptin circulating in the bloodstreams of obese humans, and that leptin seemed to have no effect on these individuals’ appetites or the amount of energy expenditure. The only reason this could happen is if the leptin could not bind to the appropriate receptors in the brain, signaling a condition known as leptin resistance.
Although scientists and researchers are working hard to come up with a treatment for leptin resistance, there is currently no cure or medical treatment. Scientists and medical professionals agree that controlling cravings is the best way to combat this resistance in the meantime. Those who have this condition should eat a filling, satisfying breakfast – such as oatmeal sweetened with natural honey – in order to get a jump-start on their hunger. What’s more, they should take 12-hour breaks between their dinners and breakfasts in order to give their bodies time to burn ample calories between meals.
Although leptin resistance is a relatively new discovery and there are no medical treatments available to combat it, it is possible for those who have the condition to help keep their weight in check. By eating a healthy, well-rounded diet and avoiding overly-processed foods, refined sugars, and simple carbohydrates, they can train their bodies to burn calories efficiently and keep those cravings at bay.