Leptin is a hormone produced primarily by fat tissue. It plays an important role in weight regulation (1).
In recent years, leptin supplements have become quite popular. They claim to decrease appetite and make it easier for you to lose weight.
However, the effectiveness of supplementing with the hormone is controversial.
This article reviews what leptin is, how it works and if supplements can help you lose weight.
What Is Leptin and How Does It Work?
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells. During periods of food shortage or starvation, leptin levels decrease.
The hormone was discovered in 1994 and has been studied ever since for its function in weight regulation and obesity in both animals and humans (2).
Leptin communicates to the brain that you have enough stored fat, which curbs your appetite, signals the body to burn calories normally and prevents excessive eating.
Conversely, when levels are low, your brain senses starvation, your appetite increases, your brain signals you to take in more food and you burn calories at a slower rate (3).
This is why it’s often referred to as the starvation or hunger hormone.
Summary Leptin is a hormone released by fat cells. It helps regulate how many calories you burn and how much you eat, which in turn regulates how much fat tissue your body stores.
More Leptin Does Not Equal Weight Loss
If plenty of leptin and fat tissue are available, leptin tells the brain that your body has enough energy stored and you can stop eating.
However, in obesity, it’s not so black and white.
People who are obese are shown to have much higher levels of this hormone than individuals of average weight (4).
It would seem that higher levels would be favorable, as there would be plenty available to communicate to your brain that your body is full and cease eating.
Yet, this isn’t the case.
Leptin resistance occurs when your brain stops acknowledging the hormone’s signal.
This means that even though you have more than enough of the hormone available and energy stored, your brain does not recognize it and thinks you’re still hungry. As a result, you continue to eat (5).
Leptin resistance not only contributes to eating more but also signals your brain that you need to save energy, which leads you to burn calories at a slower rate (6).
In terms of weight loss, more leptin is not necessarily what matters. How well your brain interprets its signal is much more significant.
Therefore, taking a supplement that increases blood leptin levels does not necessarily lead to weight loss.
Summary Leptin resistance occurs when there’s plenty of the hormone available but its signal is impaired. Therefore, increased leptin levels are not what’s important for weight loss, but improving leptin resistance may help.
Do Supplements Work?
Most leptin supplements don’t actually contain the hormone.
While numerous supplements are labeled as “leptin pills,” most contain a mix of various nutrients marketed to reduce inflammation and, therefore, increase leptin sensitivity (7).
Some feature ingredients like alpha-lipoic acid and fish oil, while others contain green tea extract, soluble fiber or conjugated linoleic acid.
There are many studies involving weight loss supplements, but the effect of these supplements on improving leptin resistance and appetite remains unclear (8, 9, 10, 11).
Some research has looked at African mango, or Irvingia gabonensis, and its proposed positive effect on leptin sensitivity and weight loss.
It has been shown to decrease leptin levels, which may be favorable for improving sensitivity (12, 13).
In addition, some studies have observed that African mango produced a modest reduction in weight and waist circumference. Note that research is limited to only a few, small studies (14, 15).
Ultimately, further research is needed to conclude if supplements can influence leptin resistance.
Summary Leptin supplements contain various nutrients that are said to improve leptin sensitivity and promote fullness, but research is lacking. African mango may help lower levels of the hormone and improve sensitivity, but more studies are needed.
Natural Ways to Improve Resistance and Promote Weight Loss
Research is currently insufficient to suggest that the answer to improving leptin resistance and weight loss lies within a pill.
Yet, correcting or preventing resistance is an important step in supporting weight loss.
Here are some suggestions that may help improve leptin resistance, increase sensitivity and encourage weight loss without having to take a supplement:
- Increase your physical activity: Research in both animals and humans indicates that engaging in regular physical activity may increase leptin sensitivity (16, 17, 18).
- Decrease intake of high-sugar foods and beverages: Diets rich in excessive sugar may worsen leptin resistance. Studies show that resistance improved in rats on a sugar-free diet (19, 20).
- Eat more fish: Studies suggest that diets rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fish may reduce blood levels of the hormone, improve sensitivity and promote weight loss (21, 22, 23).
- High-fiber cereals: One study suggests that eating high-fiber cereals, particularly oat fiber, may improve resistance and sensitivity and aid weight loss (24).
- Get a good night’s rest: Sleep is key to hormone regulation. Chronic lack of sleep has been associated with altered leptin levels and function (25, 26, 27).
- Reduce your blood triglycerides: Having high triglycerides is said to inhibit the leptin transporter involved in carrying the signal to stop eating through the blood to the brain (28).
Consuming a well-balanced diet, completing moderate physical activity and getting enough sleep is the best way to improve leptin resistance and encourage weight loss.
Summary Increasing physical activity, getting enough sleep, decreasing sugar intake and including more fish in your diet are some steps you can take to improve leptin sensitivity. Lowering your blood triglycerides is important, too.
The Bottom Line
Leptin is a hormone generated by fat cells. It signals your brain to tell your body when you’re full and should stop eating.
Yet, people who are obese often develop leptin resistance. Their leptin levels are elevated, but their brain cannot recognize the hormone’s signal to stop eating.
Most leptin supplements don’t contain the hormone but rather a mix of nutrients that may improve leptin sensitivity.
Yet, research proving their effectiveness for weight loss is lacking.
Making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle is a much more effective way to improve leptin sensitivity and promote weight loss.