appetite regulating hormone

There are obviously many reasons that can be given as to why people become overweight but none of these reasons would be as strong as an individual’s tendency to overeat. One common trait exhibited by majority of overweight individuals is the fact that they have an uncontrollable appetite and food craving. While the general opinion for years has been that this propensity to indulge in overeating was because of a lack of will power, science is however now indicating that it may have more to do with our hormones.

Think of it, you’ve probably been told by your doctor that you have to lose those extra pounds or you’ll be heading for a coronary artery disease. Taking this advice seriously, you take up the challenge to start dieting and exercising in order to shed some of those extra pounds. However, like most dieters, as soon as you start dieting by moderately lowering your caloric intake, the displeasure of occasionally serious hunger pangs take their toll on you. Frankly speaking, its takes a lot of serious will power to overcome these frequent hunger pangs and honestly not a lot of people can keep this up for long.

This tendency to become hungry is fundamental to human physiology but tend to take on a whole new dimension when one starts dieting. For its survival and optimal performance, the human body has a very efficient pair of hormones that notifies the brain about when it needs to eat and when it has had enough food ingested. People tend to overeat when the brain either does not receive these signals from the respective hormones or is unable to effectively interpret the signals.

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Leptin and ghrelin are the hormonal messengers that are responsible for letting the brain know when the body has had enough food or when it needs to eat. Therefore they control our desire and need to eat and whether the excess calories from the food we eat are used for immediate energy supply or stored as fat in adipose tissues. They are also responsible for our craving after certain foods.

A good understanding of how these hormones function in our body will enable us to have better control over their secretion and therefore increase our chances of burning more fat and accelerating weight loss. This is very important because differences in the levels of these hormones or in the body’s responsiveness to them appear to play very important roles in our ability to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Leptin

Derived from the Greek word meaning "thin", leptin is a protein hormone produced by fat cells (adipose tissue) that send signals to the hypothalamus of the brain notifying it that the body has eaten enough calories and should stop eating. Leptin is therefore a hormone secreted by fat cells. When secreted, it makes you feel full and satisfied, speeds up your metabolism, and the body focuses on burning stored fat.

High level of leptin tells the brain that there is enough stored fat and that the body doesn’t need to ingest or store any more fat. A drop in leptin levels can result in an individual overeating because the brain is not receiving the "full" signal. It is also important to understand that the body needs to store some fat because it wants to make sure it has enough reserve to survive in case of future scarcity.

It was initially argued that people who were overweight or obese probably had a genetic breakdown in their system that did not produce enough leptin. However, research quickly showed that the contrary was the case as overweight people tended to have higher levels of leptin than those who are thin. This has now been attributed to overweight people being more leptin resistant.

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This resistance may be due to several underlying factors. Firstly, when people engage in overeating because of it being either a habit that they have created (conditioned response) or as an "emotional eating" problem, the receptors in the hypothalamus of the brain become "numbed" or "de-sensitized" to the effect of leptin. Secondly, it may be possible that the cells transmitting the signals to the brain are not making it through the blood-brain barrier due to inflammation of arteries or the low cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to plasma ratio common in overweight and obese people. Either individually or as a combination, these factors invariably causes a vicious cycle of increased weight gain and elevated leptin production making the body the more leptin resistant.

Regulating leptin levels can therefore help to eliminate craving for sugary snacks and also allow dieters to eat less without feeling hungry too quickly. Of particular interest here would be the sleep hormone melatonin, which studies have shown to assist with the healing of leptin receptors as well as restoring of normal leptin sensitivity. Lack of adequate sleep causes insufficient secretion of melatonin to restore normal leptin function.

Ghrelin

This peptide hormone was recently discovered, isolated and named in 1999 and is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Not much is presently known about ghrelin’s general function as it is also known to stimulate the pituitary gland to release growth hormone.

Ghrelin, when secreted by the cells in the lining of the stomach stimulates appetite. Ghrelin is thus important in appetite regulation and maintenance of the body’s energy balance. Once food enters the stomach, the body halts the production of ghrelin. Ghrelin levels therefore seem to be well regulated throughout the day as it apparently increases before meals and decreases after meals and thus basically serves to increase appetite to eat.

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Ghrelin, the hunger-promoting hormone, obviously becomes the main culprit that has sabotaged the weight loss effort of millions of people because when people embark on calorie restricted diets in order to lose weight, the body simply increases the secretion of ghrelin. This often results in uncontrollable hunger and eventually leads to overeating and is therefore the main reason why deprivation based weight loss diet plans cannot be sustained for long.

A study by researchers at the University of Bristol indicated that there is a strong relationship between sleep and appetite. The study found that people who slept for five hours or less per night had a 15 percent reduction in leptin production and an equally interesting 15 percent increase in the production level of ghrelin when compared to those who slept for about 8 hours per night. The study concluded that sleep deprivation may trigger appetite and craving for sugar-rich, calorie-dense junk food which increases the likelihood of weight gains.

Certain lifestyle changes such as avoiding excess sugars and saturated fatty foods, improving sleeping habits, and engaging in regular daily exercise can help prevent leptin resistance. Obviously, having more adequate sleep can also help to reduce ghrelin secretion.