The researchers described for the first time a collection of leptin-responsive neurons in the brain's lateral hypothalamic area (LHA). Those LHA neurons feed directly into the mesolimbic dopamine system, which controls the rewarding properties assigned to things.The study therefore adds to growing evidence that leptin doesn't turn your appetite on and off just by controlling whether you feel hungry or full. It can also make you want food more or less regardless of hunger.
The way your fat cells communicate with your brain is with leptin, a very powerful hormone that relays messages such as whether you should:
Be hungry, eat and make more fat
Reproduce and make babies
"Hunker down" and work overtime to maintain and repair yourself
Although most think of their brain as being “top of the food chain” in terms of making decisions to keep your body functioning, your brain actually depends on your fat to “speak” to it and tell it how much energy your body has available, and then what to do with it.
Growing evidence, including the study above, also shows that leptin may influence areas of your brain that control your motivation to eat. It has also been found that leptin not only changes brain chemistry, but can also "rewire" the very important areas of your brain that control hunger and metabolism.
How Leptin Influences Your Hunger Pains
The way your body stores fat is a highly regulated process that is controlled, primarily, by leptin. If you gain excess weight, the extra fat produces extra leptin that should alert your brain that your body is storing too much fat and needs to not only stop storing anymore, but also burn off the excess.
To do this, signals are sent to your brain to stop being hungry and to stop eating.
It is very important that your brain is able to accurately “hear” the messages leptin sends it, as otherwise you will continue to feel hungry and will likely continue to eat and store more fat.
So why then, if your body has an innate system to regulate your fat stores, is the United States and many other countries facing an obesity epidemic of unprecedented scale?
Because many people have become “leptin resistant.”
Why Leptin Resistance May Make You Fat … and Increase Your Risk of Disease
Leptin resistance occurs when your body is unable to properly hear leptin’s signals. How does this happen? By overexposure to high levels of the hormone.
You may be familiar with this process occurring with the hormone insulin. High blood sugar levels cause repeated surges in insulin and this causes your cells to become "insulin-resistant," which leads to further high levels of insulin and diabetes.
It is much the same as being in a room with a strong odor for a period of time. Soon, you stop being able to smell it, because the signal no longer gets through.
The same process also occurs with leptin. It has been shown that as sugar gets metabolized in fat cells, fat releases surges in leptin and those surges result in leptin-resistance just as it results in insulin-resistance.
When you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer hear the messages telling it to stop eating and burn fat -- so it remains hungry and stores more fat.
This will not only contribute to your weight gain, but also increase your risk of many chronic illnesses, as leptin plays a significant, if not primary, role in heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, reproductive disorders, and perhaps the rate of aging itself.
Part of the problem is that high leptin levels are very pro-inflammatory, and excess inflammation has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Leptin also helps to control the manufacture of other potent inflammatory chemicals from fat cells that also play a significant role in the progression of heart disease and diabetes.
It’s now thought, in fact, that this is the reason why obesity is linked to so many health problems including heart disease and diabetes.
How to Make Sure Your Brain Can Hear Leptin’s Signals
You become both insulin and leptin resistant by eating the typical American diet full of sugar, refined grains, processed foods … and not a whole lot else.
The solution is fairly straightforward, and this is to instead eat a diet that emphasizes good fats and avoids blood sugar spikes -- in short the dietary program detailed in my nutrition plan, which emphasizes healthy fats, lean meats and fresh vegetables, and restricts sugar and grains.
If you want to take your health to the next level, I highly recommend finding out your nutritional type as well, and then eating a diet according to your unique biochemistry.
Making these changes to your diet will help your body become sensitized to leptin’s signals once again. This, combined with a regular exercise program and a tool to handle emotional eating, will be your key to controlling your motivation to eat.