Appetite Hormones 101: Leptin

This series is designed to explain the role of hormones on both appetite and body weight goals, whether it’s weight loss or weight restoration. “Appetite Hormones 101” will be made up of three articles that describe the major appetite hormones: leptin, ghrelin, and peptide YY.


Leptin, discovered by scientists in 1994, is also known as the “starvation hormone”. According to leptin expert, Dr Robert Lustig, leptin sends a signal to our brains that fat cells have enough stored energy to engage in normal metabolic processes. Every individual has an optimal level of leptin, which is thought to be determined genetically. When leptin levels are below optimal levels, the brain receives a message to conserve energy because the body is in a state of deprivation. When this occurs, the brain sends a message to the body that it is hungry (in an attempt to get the individual to eat) so that leptin levels can be restored to an optimal level.

Leptin levels are typically high in obese individuals and low in severely underweight/malnourished individuals. When leptin levels are too high, the individual experiences leptin resistance.

When an individual becomes leptin resistant, the body prevents leptin from passing through the blood brain barrier, which also prevents the brain from receiving the signal that leptin levels are at an optimal level. Instead, the brain senses that the body is in a state of starvation, and the individual becomes hungry. Leptin levels go up as a result.

High triglyceride levels also contribute to the prevention of leptin passing through the blood brain barrier. Triglyceride levels are often high in obese individuals as a result of poor dietary choices. In the individual with anorexia, triglyceride levels are often high because of liver damage and anorexia-induced hormone disruption.

If you think that you may be suffering from Leptin Resistance, there are several things that you can do.

  • Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep disrupts many hormonal processes, including leptin levels.
  • Avoid non-fruit sources of fructose. Studies show that fructose raises triglyceride levels, blocking leptin from crossing the blood brain barrier.
  • Avoid lectins, (carbohydrate-binding proteins that are found in most plants, particularly seeds and tubers such as cereal crops, potatoes, and beans) especially those from cereal grains (rice, wheat, barley, corn and oats) as they tend to bind to leptin receptors, preventing leptin binding. This intensifies the affect of leptin resistance.
  • Cook and supplement with healthy fats, like coconut oil. Coconut oil lowers triglyceride levels, increases metabolism, and promotes healing in the gut (and liver for those recovering from anorexia).
  • Eat a high protein, low carb diet and stay active! Diet and exercise have the greatest effect on overcoming leptin resistance.


BMC Endocrine Disorders – “Agrarian diet and diseases of affluence – Do evolutionary novel dietary lectins cause leptin resistance?” (//

Mark’s Daily Apple – “A Primal Primer: Leptin” (//

The Fat Resistance Diet – “Leptin Resistance”

Live Strong – “High Cholesterol Levels in Anorexia” (//

Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.

© 2011, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible.

Please credit ‘© 2011, Dr J Renae Norton.

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