What your about to read is based purely on my own opinion, research and experience. I am not a medical professional so it must not be taken as fact; however, for both my clients and myself, it has worked time and time again.
Hormone optimisation is something that some of you may have come across recently due to the launch of Charles Poliquin’s ‘Biosignature Modulation’ course a few years back. However, since reading up on this method I decided to conduct my own research and try to find out if there was another approach to controlling all of these crazy hormones that the majority of us supposedly have an imbalance of.
After spending many days and months looking into other people’s research, I pretty much came to the conclusion that those of us that have an idea of what hormones are may be wasting an awful lot of time trying to optimise ‘’downstream’’ (e.g. Testosterone, Estrogen etc.) hormones, which will have very little impact on the endocrine system as a whole. Instead, we need to be focusing on the ‘master hormones’ to achieve overall comprehensive hormone optimisation.
So today in this article I’m going to talk about a hormone called Leptin. Leptin, in my opinion, is the commander and chief of all other hormones. If you have something called ‘Leptin Resistance’ this essentially means that the receptors in your body won’t be responding to the Leptin in your blood, and this in turn can result in all of your other hormones being ‘out of sync’…in my experience it’s simply not possible to have optimal hormone levels without having the correct levels of Leptin and/or without having receptors that are responsive to Leptin.
What does Leptin actually do?
Ok, so what does Leptin do?? Leptin is stored within all of our adipose tissue (i.e. our fat cells) and it ‘communicates’ with the brain. For example, eating a large meal increases the amount of Leptin and this increase is detected by the brain and leads to the feeling of satisfaction and fullness that we often experience after eating a decent amount of food, and which leads us to stop eating further. However, if we don’t have sufficient levels of Leptin (or if the brain cannot ‘detect’ the Leptin we do have) we will simply feel the need to carry on munching! The problem that can then occurs with this overeating is that we might start to develop Leptin Resistance, thereby reducing the brain’s ability to detect Leptin even further and resulting in a vicious cycle of overeating! Basically, we have all of this fat in our stomach but because our Leptin receptors aren’t telling our brains that we have eaten, our brain thinks we are starving and motivates us to eat more!!
I like to give the example of a fuel gauge – imagine you’re putting fuel into your car… the gauge will only allow you to fill the tank and then it will cut off the flow of fuel so you don’t ‘overfill’. Well leptin works in the same way – when you’ve taken enough fuel on board it cuts the flow of food of by making you feel full. In those of us with Leptin resistance, however, this ‘shut-off’ mechanism doesn’t work and we pretty much feel hungry all the time!
Now before I go on to tell you how to optimise Leptin I want to say one more thing about another of its roles in the body and that’s energy expenditure. When you have optimal energy it’s a key sign that your Leptin levels are fairly good. Conversely, when you feel like you have low energy it’s because Leptin is essentially slowing your metabolic rate and putting your body into ‘survival mode’ – dedicating your fuel to the necessary bodily functions only. Another key sign that you have low Leptin levels is having a low sex – essentially this is your body’s way of saying it’s not in a thriving/procreating state (i.e. it hasn’t got enough spare energy to ensure its own survival let alone the survival of offspring).
Ok, so back to Leptin…how do we optimise it?
1. Make better food choices:
First of all we need to start eating ‘real’, good-quality foods (ideally organic and free of toxins and pesticides). We need to eat much higher levels of protein, possibly supplementing with a good quality protein shake if absolutely necessary. And we also need to make sure we’re getting a balance of fats, proteins low-GI (low glycaemic index) carbs. Carbs are more of a ‘brain fuel’, fats are a general fuel for more physical endurance, and protein is essential for the rebuilding of muscle tissue etc. so it’s important to make sure that you’re getting all three in every meal, they don’t have to be eaten in perfect ratios – just as long as they’re there. (Personally I tent to advise people to play around with their ratios and find out what works best for them. For example, personally I work better with more fat in my diet followed by protein and then carbs being the smallest content, but others operate better with a higher carb intake).
2. Eat less often:
The next piece of advice is to take longer stretches in between each meal, that means eating 3 times a day and not the five as most of us Personal Trainers advise. The 5 meals a day concept was introduced for the likes of bodybuilders who wanted to maintain a large amount of muscle mass but also shred their last few pounds of body fat before a competition, not for individuals wanting to lose substantial amounts of subcutaneous (i.e. under the skin) and possibly visceral (i.e. around the internal organs) fat, or for those individuals wanting to keep their hormones optimised!
In my opinion, we should not only be advising our clients to eat a larger quantity of food at each meal but to leave longer stretches between meals – ideally 5-6 hours in order to give their Leptin receptors a ‘break’.
The reason I believe that we don’t require snack in between each meal is because, when we eat, insulin is released to allow the storage of all the glucose from your food into your liver and muscles cells. Approximately 3 hours after eating, insulin levels are much lower and another hormone from the pancreas is released (Glucagon), which promotes the release of stored energy (mainly from the liver) in order to supply your body with energy it needs from stored fuel (i.e. fat)! Therefore you can see why eating in between each meal is not a good idea, simply because it will never be able to go into its stored fuel supplies, which means our client will almost never be burning stored fat and will constantly be fuelled by high levels of incoming calories.
That’s it for this article but remember one thing: hormone optimisation is about lifestyle. Yes, Leptin is the king of all hormones but if you have a stressful lifestyle where you get very little and/or low-quality sleep, or you have a job that you can’t stand then regardless of any diet/nutrition changes, you will struggle an awful lot to achieve satisfactory hormone levels.
My next article will be on Insulin and Adrenalin, together with Leptin these three hormones control all of the others (but still, Leptin is by far the most important)!
Until next time…..