What is Leptin?

Malcolm Tatum

Leptin is an example of a 16 Kda protein hormone that is produced in the fat cells of the body. The role of leptin has to do with the regulation of body weight by interaction with the hypothalamus. Here are some examples of how leptin works within the system, and why the hormone is so important to our physical health.

Leptin controls the degree of hunger that the body experiences.
Leptin controls the degree of hunger that the body experiences.

First discovered during the latter part of the 20th century, leptin uses the bloodstream to travel into the brain. From there, leptin is able to work on specific neurons within the hypothalamus to aid in appetite regulation. The stimulation of the hypothalamus by the leptin usually results in sending out signals that let the body know there is currently no hunger, and it is time to refrain from the consumption of food. Because the hormone acts to control the rate and degree of hunger that the body experiences, it plays a valuable role in helping to minimize the physical desire for food, although leptin has no impact on the emotional craving for sweets and other forms of food.

Leptin acts on neurons in the hypothalamus to indicate there is no need to eat.
Leptin acts on neurons in the hypothalamus to indicate there is no need to eat.

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While protein hormones can do their job very well, they do not ensure that individuals will not eat more food than is needed for a healthy balance. Nor is it possible for the chemical reaction of leptin in the system to control the types of foods that are consumed by the individual. From this perspective, persons may choose to ignore the fact that they do not feel hungry, and choose to have a snack or a second helping at a meal. When this happens, the excess food consumption is converted into energy and stored as fat in the body. Over time, the presence of excess fat can actually make the appetite regulation function of leptin hormones more difficult, since the individual may no longer be able to clearly read the biological prompting to cease and desist.

Leptin works on specific neurons within the hypothalamus to aid appetite regulation.
Leptin works on specific neurons within the hypothalamus to aid appetite regulation.

The presence of leptin within the system is a natural way of sensing when there is no need for additional food. By learning to pay attention to the signals emitted from the hypothalamus and choosing to limit our food consumption, most of us would have less of a weight issue and gain a higher standard of physical health. Fortunately, it is possible to retrain our minds to pay attention to these physical promptings that begin with the production of leptin in the system, and change our eating habits to match the demands for energy our bodies provide to us each day.

Leptin may play a key role in weight gain and loss.
Leptin may play a key role in weight gain and loss.

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Discussion Comments

elfi64

I wonder if some substances interfere with the workings of leptin, MSG possibly?

If the signals that we are full are not working as they should, it would be easy to add pounds.

milagros

It seems that using leptin on lab mice helped keep them slim, however, with humans it is more complicated. There is however possibility of using leptin in weight loss. The method of achieving that is being studied.

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