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Understanding Leptin and its’ Effects on Weight Gain and Obesity

What is Leptin?

Leptin is a major hormone that we didn’t even know existed prior to 1994 [4].  What we do know now is that leptin influences all other hormones and controls virtually all of the functions of the hypothalamus, in the brain.  Leptin, as described by Nora Gedgaudas, is Lord and Master of your hormonal kingdom [4], and is essential for the control of our appetite.


In simple terms, Leptin is a hormone often associated with another hormone named, ghrelin.  Together these two hormones drive hunger and appetite [2].  Leptin is a protein that is produced, and secreted, by your fat cells [1].  The amount of leptin produced within the fat cells is directly proportionate to the triglyceride content, of these fat cells.  Under a microscope, fat cells look like swollen little spheres. Each cell has a cell membrane (a barrier) and a nucleus (containing the genetic material that controls the activities of the cell), but their bulk is made up of droplets of stored triglycerides, which look similar in consistency to most plant oils we use.  For example, olive oil or peanut oil [3].  Most weight loss and weight gain occur when these fat cells expand and shrink, as the energy inside is stored or burned [3].


What Does Leptin Do?

Although the function of leptin is quite complex, its’ main goal is to communicate with the brain.  When leptin is functioning normally, the brain is constantly monitoring leptin levels, responding to the amount, or size, of fat cells within your body, and making the required adjustments needed to regulate energy [5]. Because leptin is produced within the fat cells, in most cases, the higher the fat mass within your body, the more leptin you produce signalling the body to use excess stored energy and eat less food.  On the other hand, the less fat you have, the less leptin you produce, your body believes it is in starvation mode and therefore increases hunger and decreases energy output [5] [6].


When leptin becomes dysregulated our bodies become leptin resistant.  This simply means that although the fat cells are creating high levels of leptin, the brain is unable to receive or read the message [5].  Without these signals the brain believes that the body is starving, again increasing hunger, decreasing energy output, and now prompting the pancreas to produce extra insulin which blocks the leptin signal to the brain [1].  Our body is now totally unaware that it has enough stored energy, and so we continue to eat. The more food consumed, the more insulin produced, the higher the blood glucose levels circulating through the bloodstream, the more energy that needs to be housed within the fat cells, and therefore increased weight gain.


Health Consequences of Leptin Resistance

Besides obesity, many other chronic diseases have been inked to leptin resistance.  Some of these include:

What Should I ask My Doctor?


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Schwarz, N., Rigby, B., La Bounty, P., Shelmadine, B., Bowden, R.   A Review of Weight Control Strategies and Their Effects on the Regulation of Hormonal Balance (2011).  Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.  Volume 2011, Article ID 237932 DOI: 10.1155/2011/237932


Palanisamy, A.  The Paleovedic Diet (2015). Skyhorse Publishing.  New York.