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Leptin Resistance: What It Is And How To Reverse It

An image of a woman with a thought bubble showing her much skinnerTwo things stand out in the culture today. One concerns the current epidemic of obesity in the country. This generation suffers from more illness conditions and weighs more in general than any previous generation. The second involves the multitude of ‘guaranteed’ ways to lose weight and get fit that you can find on the internet with little trouble. This article explores an explanation for the difficulty many people encounter when they try to lose weight: leptin resistance.

What is Leptin and What Does It Do?

Before you can understand leptin resistance, you first must understand the hormone leptin. This hormone plays a key role in your body’s balance of energy. Its level in your bloodstream helps regulate metabolism, appetite, and body weight.

It gains in importance if you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). With AFS, you may already suffer from weight gain, especially around the middle of your body, with hardly any loss no matter what you try. A large factor in this kind of weight gain involves metabolism imbalance, which aligns closely with insulin resistance and leptin resistance.

Leptin produced by the adipose tissue in your body helps regulate how many calories you consume, how many you burn, and how fat your body stores fat. Also, it circulates in your bloodstream, traveling to your brain. As a result, it stimulates your hypothalamus and plays a role in regulating hormones in your body.

Once it enters your bloodstream, leptin binds to protein in your blood, allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier. As a result, inside your brain, it stimulates receptors in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. In other words, it tells the hypothalamus when you should stop eating and then stimulates an increase in metabolism to attain and maintain homeostasis in your energy balance.

Likewise, it tells you when to eat. When your body fat declines it leads to lower leptin levels and it signals your brain that you feel hungry.

In a healthy body, leptin signals the hypothalamus to control your appetite to keep a stable weight. When this system works properly, you experience better brain function, memory, metabolic performance, mental sharpness, and more controlled mood and emotions. But, if the leptin system doesn’t work properly, obesity may result. With obesity comes leptin resistance.

What is Leptin Resistance and What Causes It?

Leptin resistance occurs when your body doesn’t recognize and respond to changes in the level of leptin in your bloodstream. As a result, you feel hungry when you don’t need to. Even with sufficient stored energy, your body experiences hunger. Leptin resistance also leads to a lowered metabolic rate to conserve energy. Therefore, this miscommunication in your body results in more difficulty in losing weight.

Warning Signs of Leptin Resistance

Research still pursues the exact causes of leptin resistance. However, some warning signs can appear before a specific assessment of leptin resistance.


Possibly the most frequently noted warning sign involves inflammation. Inflammation lies at the root of many illness conditions and problems in your body. Leptin resistance falls into this category.

Inflammation impairs signaling from the leptin receptors in your brain by dulling them. As a result, problems begin. Your brain no longer recognizes the presence of leptin leading your body to produce more to stimulate the receptors.

In addition to making it more difficult to lose weight, these high levels of leptin can lead to increased fatigue and intolerance to histamine.

One factor implicated in inflammation affecting the brain involves regular consumption of highly processed foods that contain lots of refined sugars and fats. Another factor may involve dysregulation of the inflammation and detoxification circuits of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response.

The NEM consists of six inter-related circuits that work in conjunction with one another to help your body deal with stress. The Inflammation and Detoxification Circuits interact with each other through the immune system.

If your immune system becomes dysregulated due to problems in these circuits, increased inflammation results. That inflammation circulates throughout your body to deal with foreign substances resulting from a leaky gut. However, the level of inflammation can get out of control when your immune system becomes overactive as it tries to protect your body from harm.

As a result of this out of control inflammation, it becomes destructive to healthy cells in your body. This places more pressure on your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol to counter the inflammation. When you suffer from AFS, your adrenals already experience overwhelming stress to produce cortisol. The increased inflammation becomes another source of stress.


Increased levels of cortisol also make the brain less likely to recognize and respond to leptin. Therefore, if you suffer from adrenal fatigue and experience increased levels of cortisol, you most likely will also experience leptin resistance. Stress and its results pressure your adrenals to produce more cortisol.

Yo-Yo Dieting

An image of a woman pushing a plate of fried chicken away as she eats a saladMany people go from one diet to another to lose weight. This leads to a negative impact on the natural regulation of leptin.

Typically, people will experience a loss of energy when on a diet. This lowers leptin levels, decreasing your metabolic rate. A lowered metabolic rate does not help you lose weight.

Once you end your diet, possibly in frustration over not losing the weight you wanted, you tend to overeat. Then the weight gain from overeating leads to another diet.

This back and forth can result in your body becoming less sensitive to leptin.


If the leptin system works properly, your brain signals you to stop eating when you need to. However, sometimes you may overeat simply because what you see and taste push you to do so. If this becomes habitual, and you continue to ignore your body’s stop eating order, your body may become numb to the leptin receptors in your brain. Continuing to overeat leads to more leptin resistance and more weight gain.

Relationship Between Leptin Resistance and Insulin Resistance

Leptin levels and your thyroid work together in a strong relationship. Hormones from your thyroid circulate throughout your body working to influence growth, metabolism, and development. The amount of leptin in your brain plays a major role in determining the number of thyroid hormones released into your body.

If you experience leptin resistance, it may predict the development of insulin resistance. Therefore, leptin may play a role in insulin sensitivity.

In the condition of leptin resistance, leptin tells your thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) in the hypothalamus to make sure your thyroid hormones operate to produce low energy because your body may starve. Also, your hypothalamus regulates how much thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) your pituitary produces. This depresses your metabolism due to its responding to a fake famine. It makes weight gain increase and weight loss extremely difficult.

In addition to this, you will experience lower energy in your cells, and fatigue will result because of low thyroid functioning.

Research indicates a minor rise in TSH can lead to leptin and insulin problems related to weight gain instead of a thyroid problem. Other research indicates weight gain coming because of leptin problems can cause inflammation in the thyroid and production of thyroid antibodies that can further irritate the thyroid. This combination of leptin resistance leading to insulin resistance can further lead to hypoglycemia.

How to Reverse Leptin Resistance

Ongoing research into ways to reverse leptin resistance seems to indicate several lifestyle strategies may help to maintain leptin sensitivity.


Exercise appears to increase leptin sensitivity. At least thirty minutes a day of aerobic and strength-building exercise seems best.

After establishing your baseline fitness level, you should add high-intensity interval training once a week. As a result, you will stimulate your human growth hormone levels and regulate leptin levels.

An image of an older woman stretching on a yoga matExercise such as that described can help build lean muscle mass and increase metabolism. Even if you possess a genetic predisposition to weight gain, this kind of exercise can protect you from the disruption of your leptin levels.

Exercise helps divert stored energy in adipose tissue to the building of lean muscle. When you exercise, the increases in testosterone, adrenaline, and growth hormone work to help your body burn stored fat for energy.

Also, exercising regularly decreases the amount of free fatty acids in the bloodstream, reducing the risk of leptin resistance. Likewise, regular exercise releases endorphins into your bloodstream. This lowers stress and works to reduce the risk of leptin resistance.

Make Getting Good Sleep a Priority

Sleep, rest, and relaxation form a triad of good practices for reducing overall stress. Scheduling time for rest, meditation, and spending time with friends and family, along with good sleep, will reduce stress and lower the need for cortisol.

Under stress, your adrenals produce and release large amounts of cortisol to fight the effects of stress. However, exposure to high levels of cortisol for too long at a time can lead to health consequences. One of those consequences, as mentioned earlier, may involve an increased risk of leptin resistance.

Eat More High Fiber Foods

Eating good amounts of foods high in fiber leads to feeling full longer. They provide a high volume and lower calorie intake helping to prevent overeating and helping to reset your leptin cycle.

Consume Fewer Processed Foods

Eating lots of highly processed foods will interfere with leptin and its effects on appetite. You should eat less of foods such as highly refined grains, added fats, artificial flavors, added sugar, and other artificial ingredients including artificial sweeteners.

Eat More Protein and Healthy Fats

Protein helps control hunger and builds lean muscle mass. Healthy fats contain a lot of dense energy but help absorb nutrients. Also, healthy fats satisfy you more and help you stay full longer.

Decrease Stress

Overall stress reduction along with a reduction in cortisol will decrease inflammation and help you become more leptin sensitive.

Final Word on Leptin Resistance

A healthy leptin level and leptin sensitivity both help you live a more healthy life. This hormone works to help regulate several essential functions in your body.

If you develop leptin resistance, its effects will resonate throughout your body. Your metabolism rate will decrease, leading to weight gain and difficulty losing weight. You will experience increased fatigue, lose clarity in thinking, experience memory problems, and possibly develop mood and emotional difficulty.

Important for you to keep in mind is the fact that leptin resistance can increase your risk of insulin resistance. And insulin resistance increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

However, you can reverse leptin resistance. Making better choices regarding living a healthy lifestyle will improve leptin sensitivity greatly. Exercise, eating better, and avoiding stress make up the basics of this reversal.


If you are suffering from leptin resistance, here are a few suggestions you can do to help alleviate the situation:

An image of a woman relaxing on her couch

  • Watch for the warning signs listed in this article.
  • Make sure you have sufficient levels of leptin by consulting your healthcare professional.
  • Reduce your stress in the most effective and healthy ways possible.
  • Make good lifestyle choices.

Whatever course of action you decide to take, please do so with the guidance of your healthcare professional.

If you would like to know more about or need assistance with leptin resistance, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1-626-571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Leptin resistance occurs when the leptin receptors in the brain become dulled and unable to recognize the presence of leptin. Inflammation may be the most likely culprit, as inflammation in the hypothalamus prevents the receptors from working properly. This leads to increased production of leptin and increased weight gain.

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