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You Should Know About the Hormones that Regulate Hunger for Weight Loss

You Should Know About the Hormones that Regulate Hunger for Weight Loss

If you know what the hormone leptin is, you should also be aware that it plays a large role in the appetite. Research reveals that having an elevated leptin concentration is associated with lowered levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and this association is the reason why weight loss is easier when a person is on a diet who has higher levels of leptin.

What is leptin?

Leptin is a polypeptide cytokine, it’s also known as the hormone of satiety, and it is produced by the brain; it indicates the feeling of satiety.  When our body has enough fat stored in it, leptin is secreted. Leptin regulates hunger, insulin secretion, growth, stress, and energy metabolism. It helps us maintain our body weight.  Leptin acts via leptin receptors, and it has a STAT3 signaling mechanism.  Leptin has a major role in controlling obesity. It does so by decreasing appetite, increasing carbohydrate metabolism, decreasing fat synthesis, and stimulating lipolysis in fat cells.

What is the Role of the hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus plays a key role in coordinating the responses of central and peripheral tissues involved in regulating energy balance. The hypothalamus has long been known to regulate energy balance via its influences on hunger and satiety mechanisms, and this work has been extensively reviewed. In this respect, it is now accepted that key hypothalamic and brainstem neurons sense circulating hormones and nutrients to regulate energy intake and expenditure, through actions in the brain that modify neuroendocrine signals. Indeed, the major neurons of the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, known as neuropeptide Y (NPY)- and agouti-related peptide (AgRP)-expressing neurons, project to other centers involved in energy balance. This 'neuroendocrine effector' network is able to sense peripheral signals and activate hypothalamic feeding circuits in response to signals including leptin, insulin, ghrelin as well as gastrointestinal hormones such as glucose and cholecystokinin. The integration of these signals ultimately leads to a coordinated response in which the feeding center activates the autonomic reflex arc, resulting in an increase in sympathetic nerve activity and a decrease in parasympathetic nerve activity, and thereby regulates adipose tissue lipolysis, hepatic glucose production and hepatic triglyceride output.

How does Stress effect the hypothalamus?

Stress might inhibit the glucocorticoid receptors, which decrease the action of the natural corticosteroids. Furthermore, stress can inhibit the production of the enzymes required for corticosteroid synthesis, especially 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2. It can also increase the amount of cortisol binding globulin, an inhibitor of cortisol-binding. Finally, stress can increase CRH receptors, which is linked to increases in ACTH, vasopressin, and oxytocin - all of which stimulate the HPA and pituitary adrenal axes.

Aside from the pituitary-adrenal axis, the effect of stress on the limbic system can be profound. Acute stress can increase activity in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex; chronic stress on the other hand has numerous debilitating effects on these regions as they are involved in various tasks related to attention, memory, perception, and problem-solving.


“This tells us that if you’re really interested in weight control, there are a number of other physiological processes that aren’t typically talked about as much,” Dr. Rea says. “When you’re thinking about weight loss, the first thing on the horizon is energy balance, which is calories out versus calories in. But what we’re talking about now are things like satiety hormones and gut hormones. It’s not the quantity of calories that you eat, but what sort of foods you eat.”

Some women have been obese since they were children and some have struggled to lose weight as adults. If you’re trying to shed the weight and your hormonal regulation has been complicated by reasons beyond your control, you need to know what a healthy diet is if you’re to avoid complications.

Even with healthy weight loss, your hormones may be affected by weight, so it’s particularly important for you to keep your hormone levels within a healthy range – and a hormone test is a good way to determine this. If you are a woman with PCOS or another health problem related to obesity, the idea of weight loss may be particularly tough for you.

Hormones that regulate hunger (ghrelin and leptin), your body’s calorie control system, and even your sense of smell, all come into play when you are making your dinner choices.

When you are eating, you have to work at managing all of this:

It’s often not what you are actually eating.

It’s how you are eating it.

How you are eating it also affects how you feel.

And how hungry you are when you decide to have something (hunger has both slow and fast components).

And of course, you only get one chance to eat.

It’s time to think about it in those terms.

It’s why I think that so many attempts to lose weight in recent months have been failing because of the focus on calories in and calories out and food types.

Calories in and calories out are important, but we eat in ways that add to the complexity of getting our calories in to the right place as well as out of our body.

When this is combined with a culture that often tries to make sure that we only think about weight loss, we start falling down a weight loss rabbit hole that we cannot climb our way out of.

(It’s also why I think that the concept of nutrition coaching is a good idea. You need someone, not only who cares about your health, but is an expert in understanding how you think, talk and act.

And also because there are so many fads, myths and gimmicks out there.)

How to think about calories in and out

(And what you should pay attention to when counting them. No, you don’t need to know every single one of them and you may decide not to count them.)

It’s a balance and it is personal. We all need different amounts of calories to lose weight or gain it, depending on our metabolism, body type and habits.

But it’s not only about weight. As you try to lose weight, you have to also understand and be able to manage the relationship between eating and your:

Body type

Activity (exercise)




Once you have these understandings, weight loss and hunger become easier to control.

For personalized help, reach out to a Nutrition coach here.

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