Sunday, July 4, 2010

Resistant to Weight Loss? It Could be a Hormone Imbalance

NOTE: this blog is predominantly a compilation of information that I have gleaned from the many articles that I have read on the topic of high leptin levels/leptin insensitivity and its effects on fat metabolism and weight loss. I AM NOT A DOCTOR and this information is purely to help those think ‘outside of the box’ about what some of the causes of their weight gain and / or increased body fat composition might be caused by.

I dedicate this blog post to 30+ year old females like myself who are frustrated and discouraged by their ability to lose weight dispite their healthy lifestyles of eating ‘right’ and exercising more than the average. I hope this blog helps them to think about ways to be pro-active in their own health concerns and the fat metabolism and weight loss challenges that they may face. There is a plethora of knowledge to help you on your own quest to work with your health care professionals in asking those insightful questions and finding answers so that you can be proactive in safely looking at ways to diagnose and treat any potential hormone imbalances that you may have as you go through the cycle of menopause.

About Me:
I am a six year post-menopausal 49+ female who eats a high vegetable / low sodium / low sugar diet and works out 4 – 6 days a week, but have noticed a gradual increase in weight as well as abdominal fat that has caused me to become discouraged. I recently had a 75 panel blood draw (comprehensive metabolic profile) ordered by my new osteopathic doctor that is going to help me with my post-menopausal symptoms with a combination of bio identical hormones and supplements to help me continue my VERY active lifestyle (which includes dancing ballet). The Leptin insensitivity that I have been diagnosed with may have a strong genetic component since it is considered by some to be a pre-cursor to insulin resistance (Diabetes runs in my family).

What is Leptin?
Leptin is one of the most important hormones in weight gain and weight loss. Leptin sends a signal to your brain that you are full, and you don't need to eat more. Leptin is produced by your fat cells (aka adipocytes) to break down fat into a form that is useful for making energy. It is a key hormone for maintaining a lean body. People need leptin to keep a lean body mass. However, your body can become confused and get mixed signals that actually make your body think it’s in starvation mode and HOLD its stores of fat!

High sustained concentrations of leptin from these enlarged fat (adipose) stores result in leptin desensitization or insensitivity. People, who have leptin levels that are considered too high, may have a ‘flawed’ pathway of leptin control resulting in the body’s inadequate receipt of the signal that they are satiated. Professor Jeffrey M. Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., from the Rockefeller University discovered in his 1994 research that the leading cause of belly fat is leptin resistance. Below I provide some ideas/strategies if you have noticed that you have an increase of fat stores (particularly belly fat) and have slowly been gaining weight and having trouble losing it regardless of healthy eating and frequent exercise.

Insulin, estrogen, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone, and even brain chemicals all have an effect on increasing and decreasing the balance of Leptin in the body. I would strongly recommend that if you are concerned about your weight gain and/or increase in body fat, talk to your doctor about the feasibility of getting a comprehensive metabolic blood panel done to check ALL your hormone and metabolic levels. Besides having an imbalance in my Leptin levels, I also have an improper ratio of other hormones because I am post-menopausal. Personally, taking synthetic hormones over time resulted in unexplained bleeding and I am now looking for more natural ways to treat my hormone imbalances.

Blogger’s Personal Comments
Because I had low blood sugar most of my life, it was my habit to eat 4 - 6 small meals a day. However, this eating habit has probably played a role in my developing Leptin INSENSITIVITY (it may also be a genetic factor for me with diabetes in my family).

Look for foods that help increase your metabolism and burn fat like omega3 fish / fish oils, pulses (beans) and vegetables. Many of us know that omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been linked with a reduction in the risk of heart disease as well as improving cognitive abilities. In the right doses, they can also raise your metabolic rate and help you burn fat faster. I eat oily fish such as salmon (which has a relatively low mercury content) several times a week OR take a high-quality fish oil supplement daily. The challenge? Unfortunately, many types of fish are contaminated with mercury, while some fish oil supplements contain organic pollutants.

Side Note: interestingly, one of the symptoms of leptin insensitivity is sugar craving, which I don’t have.

It's NOT a Diet, but a Life Style Change!

If you are leptin resistant, you NEED to change the way you think about food, and HOW you eat. Even if your Leptin levels are NOT too high, these are good habits to aiding weight loss (minimizing unhealthy weight gain) as we age :

1. Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day and should contain protein. It is VERY important to eat protein with breakfast. Protein activates other satisfaction signals that will help you get through the day without overindulging in high-calorie foods. Just remember that protein keeps your hunger signal at bay because it takes longer to digest than carbs.
2. I don’t eat sugar and I don’t crave sugar, but many processed foods contain high-fructose corn syrup (includes almost all commercial baked goods, and most "whole grain" breads). Read labels!!! If it has fructose, put it down!
3. Eat more live foods / foods in the natural state. I cannot stress enough the importance of minimizing processed foods. You can do tons of research to find low glycemic and/or gluten free foods that have adequate amounts of fiber. Fiber helps your food digest more slowly which keeps your insulin levels from rising too quickly. [You also want to think about food providing energy and not being stored on your body as fat]. Bottom line: five to six servings of veggies a day.
4. Eat ONLY three meals a day and do not eat a lot of food during any of your three meals. Think of the division of your daily calories in 1/3 for each of your three meals (five to six hours in between your meals, remembering that 12 hours should occur between your third (last) meal and breakfast the following morning). Why is this important? IF you eat too much, you will have fatty acids in your bloodstream stopping the signal that your fat cells are full.
5. Do not graze on food throughout the day. Stick to ONLY three meals per day (five to six hours apart. Remember the 1/3 of your calories per meal rule).
6. Don't eat a lot of carbohydrates and remember fiber! Carbohydrate can be as detrimental as fructose (starchy food becomes sugar when it is digested). Think high fiber / non-processed foods. One of my docs told me that if ANYTHING you eat doesn’t have at least 2g of fiber, don’t eat it. It’s not worth wasting your calories. 30g per day should be your target for fiber.
7. Don't eat before you go to bed / don’t go to bed on a full stomach. Your brain is most receptive to the weight-loss hormone while you are asleep. If you eat too soon near your bedtime, your fat cells won't be making the hormone while the brain is particularly sensitive to it.

Other Strategies in Controlling Leptin Levels

Lifestyle factors are important in controlling leptin levels to achieve weight loss. Although not all research agrees, melatonin levels do decrease with age and increasing melatonin levels in rats was found to decrease leptin levels. Melatonin plays a key role in regulating leptin and as we get older, pineal melatonin secretion declines, while visceral fat, blood insulin, and leptin levels in the blood tend to increase. A number of studies show that melatonin supplementation can lower leptin levels and that the pineal gland helps control leptin release. suggests consuming 2,000 to 3,000 mg of calcium each day. Calcium cancels a brain signal known as agouti, which spurs hunger. To be effective, calcium supplements must be part of a calorie-reduction plan.
Take vitamin D to inhibit leptin production. As an added benefit, vitamin D also helps the body absorb calcium. My doctor recommends 5K per day.
Take acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) supplements. ALC is an amino acid that aids the brain in understanding how much leptin the fat cells are generating. When consumed at night, ALC is also shown to produce growth hormone, elevate moods and improve critical thinking skills. The typical recommended dosage is 500 mg of ALC twice a day, in the morning and before bed.

Below are links to more information on things you can do to help you fight against Leptin Resistance, Fat Metabolism and Weight Loss.

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