How leptin resistance can prevent weight loss by Functional Nutritionist Andrea Nicholson

Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells and is responsible for controlling how much food you take in and how much energy you burn. It also plays a role in fertility, immune system function, and brain health. Leptin resistance occurs when the body becomes resistant to the effects of leptin, leading to obesity, difficulty losing weight, insulin resistance, inflammation, and many other health problems.

Leptin resistance is thought to be caused by a number of factors, including a high body fat percentage, insulin resistance, and inflammation. When body fat levels are high, leptin levels also increase. This can lead to resistance, contributing to weight gain and difficulty losing weight.

If you are struggling with any of these issues, it is important to explore ways to improve your leptin sensitivity. This can help you improve your overall health and well-being, and help improve your weight loss efforts. Just to be clear, leptin resistance is producing more leptin than you should need because your cells are not responding to its presence. There is also a very rare condition where people are leptin-deficient – not producing enough. These people rapidly become morbidly obese. Again, leptin deficiency is very rare – leptin resistance is far more common.

Reverse Leptin Resistance

If you are struggling with leptin resistance, there are a few things you can do to improve your sensitivity to the hormone.

Lower your insulin levels

This can be done by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Insulin is released after a meal, telling the body what to do with the incoming fuel from food. One of insulin’s primary roles is to allow glucose (sugar) into cells. Insulin acts as a key unlocking the door from the bloodstream into the cells. In this way, blood sugar decreases and the glucose can be used in the cell to either produce energy or get stored for later use. Appropriate blood sugar values are critical for health – as both too high and too low are toxic and detrimental to the body.

The problem with insulin come in when our levels are consistently or chronically elevated. Elevated insulin occurs when we’re consuming high amounts of sugar or foods that break down into sugar (carbohydrates mostly, though some protein and fatty acid components can also be converted to glucose). This ultimately leads to insulin resistance, where the body is no longer responding in the same way to insulin. It now takes a higher level of insulin to do the same job.

Insulin is a storage and growth hormone that signals the body is in a “fed” state (actively eating or digesting food). In the presence of insulin and the absence of activity (exercise or movement), insulin will direct the cell to store fuels (converting them to either glycogen or fat). At the same time, insulin also blocks the ability to burn body fat or stored fuels. It would be wasteful to be actively storing fuels while also burning what is stored. We can be in storage or burning mode, but not both. Insulin levels make that determination.

How does insulin relate to leptin? Two ways: Insulin, because it’s a storage hormone, promotes fat growth (blocking burning). Leptin is made by the fat cells to tell the brain that the body has sufficient fuel on board – thereby slowing appetite and signaling satiety and leptin production is stimulated by insulin. Just like insulin though, when chronically elevated, the body becomes resistant to those signals, so satiety and appetite reduction don’t occur.
When the body is leptin sensitive (everything is working appropriately), this sends the signal to suppress insulin. When the body becomes leptin resistant, it can no longer suppress insulin, and the higher levels of insulin consistently increase the leptin levels. This means insulin levels stay high and leptin levels stay high – but both are being ignored. There is no negative feedback loop slowing down appetite or fat storage, so the fat continues to accumulate.

Reduce inflammation

A large portion of inflammation stems from poor-quality foods, consuming food sensitivities, having poor gut health, and poor lifestyle choices.
  • Balancing blood sugars can help lower the inflammatory response that is initiated when blood sugars are too high or too low. These highs and lows can cause damage to tissues throughout the body.
  • What, when, and how much you eat plays a major role in causing inflammation. Consuming highly processed foods, food sensitivity foods, and other toxins can directly cause inflammation in the body.
  • Having poor gut health can contribute to inflammation through having a leaky gut, having pathogens or other microbial imbalances, or having digestive dysfunction preventing you from properly digesting and absorbing nutrients.
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle or over-exercising can cause an inflammatory state. Exercise is a good stress on the body, but when done to excess, it damages tissues faster than your body can repair. Not exercising can cause inflammation by consistently breaking down healthy tissues. We grow and improve with some challenges. Too little or too much is harmful.
  • Lack of quality sleep can cause inflammation by not allowing for proper detoxification during sleep, not allowing your body to fully rest and recover, and increasing your cravings and appetite (especially for junk food).
Since leptin is made in fat cells, reducing your overall body fat percentage can also be helpful in reducing inflammation and in repairing leptin sensitivity. Fat cells, especially excess body fat, produce inflammatory cytokines. As body fat increases, so does inflammation. This is one of the reasons that being overweight or obese is associated with a number of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.


When we move our bodies and use our muscles, blood sugar and available fuels are shuttled to the muscles to be burned for energy. This action does NOT require insulin, so it’s a great way to burn off sugar without the harmful side effects of high insulin. This can be as simple as taking a walk after eating! Even a few minutes at a casual pace can make a major difference in your blood sugar levels, therefore your insulin levels, and therefore your leptin levels!

There are many things you can do to help your body become more leptin sensitive. Eating a healthy diet, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and exercising are all important steps.


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