Leptin Supplements for Weight Loss

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Leptin is a hormone produced naturally in the body that helps regulate feelings of satiety (fullness or hunger). Because of this, marketers commonly promote leptin supplements as a weight-loss aid. But these supplements don't actually contain leptin, which means they're unlikely to lead to weight loss.

Research has examined the influence of the leptin hormone on weight loss and whether supplements can affect leptin resistance, but more large-scale clinical studies are still needed. If you are considering leptin pills or trying a leptin diet for weight loss, the information in this article may help inform your decision.

What Is Leptin?

Your body produces many hormones that help you eat the right amount of food and maintain a healthy weight. Leptin is one of them. This polypeptide hormone is produced by the adipose (fat) cells in your body.

Leptin travels through the bloodstream to the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates hunger, thirst, mood, and many other physical functions. When leptin receptors in the hypothalamus interact with leptin, they send satiety signals to your brain that it's time to stop eating since you have sufficient energy (fat) stored away. Energy stores are fat stores.

Researchers have been investigating the influence of the leptin hormone on weight loss and long-term weight maintenance since the 1990s. A review of 25 years of research published in 2019 in Nutrients indicates promise for leptin as a treatment for obesity. "New mechanisms and pathways activated by leptin are continuously being discovered, together with the development of new techniques and drug combinations that could improve the effectiveness and safety of leptin," the authors concluded.

Leptin sends signals to your brain to decrease your food intake and increase energy expenditure.

Leptin Resistance

When a person is overweight or obese they have more fat cells in their body, which means they're producing more leptin. Leptin resistance occurs when leptin levels are high but the brain is unable to receive the usual satiety signals transmitted by the hormone. In other words, the messages that should tell your brain to stop eating and start burning more calories are not functioning normally.

Some researchers have suggested that leptin resistance could explain why people who are obese have a harder time eating less and losing weight. If there is no signal to let you know that you're full, your brain will continue to think that you're hungry.

But leptin resistance can be a controversial topic because scientists still don't know exactly how the hormone interacts with other factors. For instance, other hormones related to appetite and hunger also play a role in what you eat and how much you eat. Researchers also know that other things affect your food intake, such as food smells and flavors, eating habits, reward systems, and even cultural traditions. So researchers can't say for certain that leptin resistance causes obesity, despite the association.

Studies have shown that leptin levels are higher in people who are obese, but researchers are still studying the influence of leptin resistance in the body and how it relates to other hunger-related hormones. 

Leptin Supplements

If you're trying to lose weight, you've probably seen ads for leptin supplements that claim to boost leptin levels or improve leptin resistance. But these pills don't actually contain the hormone leptin—most leptin pills have ingredients like green tea or fiber that may help you feel full or burn more calories. Since researchers don't yet fully understand leptin and leptin resistance, there's no evidence to suggest that leptin supplements will work as a weight loss aid.

Whether or not leptin supplements are effective, they are generally considered safe for most people. However, like all vitamins and dietary supplements, any claims made by manufacturers of leptin pills are unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dietary supplements are not held to the same rigor of testing standards as pharmaceutical drugs. That's why it's always a good idea to consult with your doctor before trying dietary supplements like leptin, especially if you have a chronic health condition.

Leptin supplements should not be used to treat leptin deficiency, a rare condition that is usually diagnosed in childhood. When levels of leptin in the body are very low, the body thinks it has no fat at all and is essentially in a state of constant starvation. This contributes to uncontrolled hunger and eating and can cause severe obesity in children and delay the onset of puberty. Leptin deficiency is treated by a medical doctor with leptin injections.

If you suspect that your leptin levels are off or that you may have leptin resistance, talk to your health care provider about hormonal tests or other treatments to help you lose weight before you try leptin supplements.

The Leptin Diet

If you've been researching leptin supplements, you may have come across the leptin diet, an eating plan created by Byron J. Richards, a board-certified clinical nutritionist. In "The Leptin Diet" book, Richards outlines five rules for weight loss success to "master" the leptin hormone.

  1. Do not eat anything after dinner. Finish eating dinner at least three hours before bed.
  2. Eat three meals a day. Allow 5–6 hours between meals and do not snack between meals.
  3. Do not eat large meals. Finish a meal when you are slightly less than full.
  4. Eat a high-protein breakfast—aim for 25 grams or more of protein.
  5. Reduce the number of carbs you take in but don't cut them out completely.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the leptin diet will change your leptin levels and lead to weight loss. However, there are a few science-backed dietary shifts you can make to help regulate the levels of leptin in your body. Making healthy changes to how you eat is relatively simple, does not produce negative side effects, and provides other health benefits in addition to weight loss. Here's how to get started.

  • Choose low-sugar foods. Some scientists have found a link between insulin levels and leptin. You may be able to improve leptin levels in your body by controlling blood sugar and insulin. Choose foods that are minimally processed and contain less added sugar.
  • Decrease your saturated fat intake. Researchers have suggested that high triglyceride levels may interfere with the healthy transport of leptin. You can try to decrease your triglycerides by eating less saturated fat.
  • Eat high-fiber foods. Fiber is not known to have an impact on leptin levels, but fiber-rich foods have a similar satiating effect. When you eat foods higher in dietary fiber, you'll feel fuller faster and stay satisfied longer, which can help you to eat less overall.
  • Sleep well. Studies have shown that getting a good night's sleep may help boost leptin levels. Make changes to your daily routine to rest well at night.

Research has also explored how different types of foods and dietary patterns can affect leptin control to help promote weight loss. For example, one study showed that a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet increased leptin levels more than a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet. However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that a specific diet can effectively regulate levels of leptin or cure leptin resistance.

Leptin levels can only be measured in a lab with a blood test. Ask your doctor about what tests and treatments might be available for you.

A Word From Verywell

Until researchers know more about the link between leptin and weight loss and whether leptin pills are effective, the best way to lose weight often begins by making healthy dietary and lifestyle changes. Remember, there is no one way to eat or to lose weight, and what works for you may not work for someone else.

While we endorse a style of eating that is mindful, inclusive, and balanced, we know that varies based on an individual's goals, lifestyle, and budget. Each person needs to find an eating pattern that is healthful, sustainable, and satisfying—and sometimes this may require the help of a doctor or registered dietitian.

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