Leptin Levels: High vs Low & What it Means For your Weight

Leptin Levels: High vs Low & What it Means For your Weight

Leptin The Primary Fat Loss Hormone

By now you've probably at least heard of the hormone leptin. 

Leptin is a hormone secreted by your fat cells which are primarily responsible for helping your body regulate your body weight (1) and your metabolism. 

It is the single most important hormone when it comes to managing your weight, hands down. 

No other hormones come close. 

Not thyroid hormone, not insulin, not cortisol

Yes, all of these other hormones are important when it comes to your weight but they all play smaller roles when compared to leptin. 

Why then, if leptin is so important, do we never really talk about it?

When was the last time your doctor, for instance, mentioned your leptin level or even tested it?

Probably never (unless you frequently read my blog). 

Which is a shame because understanding your leptin level is incredibly important if you are interested in weight loss. 

With that in mind, we are going to talk about how to interpret and understand what your leptin level means, whether or not you want high or low leptin, and how that will influence your ability to lose weight. 

Let's jump in: 

Leptin Levels: What Do you want?

There is a lot of confusion regarding leptin levels and what your leptin level should be. 

Let me first start by explaining how leptin works so you get an idea as to what I am talking about. 

Leptin levels are secreted from your fat cells and they signal to your brain to INCREASE your metabolism and to INCREASE fat burn (2). 

The bigger your fat cells are (remember fat cells grow they do not multiple) the more leptin that is secreted. 

And this makes sense, right?

The more fat you have on your body the more leptin you want to be secreted in order to help IMPROVE your metabolism to help your body BURN that fat. 

It makes perfect sense!

Ah, but there is one big problem. 

This works well in theory but what most people misunderstand is that high leptin levels lead to something called leptin resistance or decreased leptin sensitivity. 

This is why there is so much confusion about leptin levels in general. 

Increasing your leptin levels doesn't always result in weight loss. 

In fact, increasing your leptin levels can do the exact opposite thing in many cases. 

So if you are someone who is confused about what your leptin level ought to be then this information is for you!

In order to understand where your leptin level should be you need to understand something called leptin sensitivity. 

Understanding Leptin Sensitivity

Leptin sensitivity refers to how sensitive your cells are to the leptin that if floating around in your bloodstream. 

It's very possible for you to have incredibly high levels of leptin hormone in your bloodstream but your body is not able to recognize those levels or even utilize it. 

When this occurs, and it does in many people, you are considered to have leptin resistance. 

Leptin resistance means that your cells are quite literally resistant to the leptin that they see. 

And this process occurs in the same pattern as insulin resistance and progesterone resistance. 

Both of these resistance syndromes stem from high levels of the target hormone. 

And they occur because of feedback loops which your body uses to prevent excessively high levels of certain hormones causing issues in your body. 

They are kind of like a fail safe system that your body uses. 

And this is why you don't necessarily want high levels of leptin. 

Instead, you want a high level of leptin SENSITIVITY. 

Leptin sensitivity refers to how sensitive your cells are to the leptin levels that they encounter. 

High levels of leptin sensitivity are REQUIRED for your leptin to work which means they are REQUIRED for weight loss. 

And high levels of leptin from lots of fat cells lead to leptin resistance and DECREASED leptin sensitivity. 

Low levels of leptin INCREASE leptin sensitivity and REDUCE leptin resistance. 

Understanding this concept is so important! Make sure you read and re-read it if it isn't sinking in on the first pass. 

High Leptin Levels - Good or Bad?

When do you want high leptin levels?

You'll commonly see bodybuilders talk about leptin levels and why you want HIGH leptin levels. 

They promote high leptin levels because it will obviously help your body burn fat and lose weight. 

But this only works IF, and this is a big if, your body is ALREADY sensitive to leptin!

And in order for your body to be sensitive to leptin, you really need to be around whatever is considered a "normal" weight for your body. 

If you are someone who is 30+ pounds overweight and you are listening to bodybuilders on youtube talk about how to increase your leptin level you are listening to the WRONG information. 

Their information would be helpful but really only if you were 5-15 pounds overweight and IF your body is already somewhat sensitive to leptin. 

If you are someone who has leptin resistance (again, go back to that 30+ pounds as an example) then increasing your leptin levels will only make things WORSE. 

thyroid metabolism reset poster for side bar

Higher leptin levels, in the setting of leptin resistance, will only yield worsening leptin resistance and therefore difficulty in weight loss. 

This point is often lost on people who don't understand the concept of leptin sensitivity and leads to a LOT of confusion. 

Are the bodybuilders wrong when they say you want high leptin levels to help burn fat?

Not at all, but they are supposing that you are already leptin sensitive. 

If you aren't, then their advice really doesn't apply to you. 

Low Leptin Levels

But do you really want to have low leptin levels?

The answer here is obviously no as well. 

In fact, having no leptin levels is just as bad as having EXTREME leptin resistance

Both low leptin and extreme leptin resistance lead to the same symptoms:

  • Weight gain
  • The inability to lose weight (weight loss resistance)
  • Extreme food cravings
  • Inability to lose weight despite exercising
  • And so on...

The treatment for both is obviously different but the manifestation of the symptoms is the same. 

When researchers first discovered leptin they were super excited because they thought that they found the "cure" for obesity. 

If you could simply give someone a leptin shot or leptin in medication form then surely you could help anyone lose weight, right?!

In theory, yes, but they quickly found out that giving people leptin actually increases weight through the process of leptin resistance (discovered above). 

Now we know that prescription medications targeted at treating obesity do much better for weight loss when they target leptin SENSITIVITY and not your leptin level. 

Does that mean leptin medications do not have a place in the treatment of obesity? 

Not at all. 

There is still a place for medications which contain leptin but only for those people who have genetic mutations which leave them with virtually no leptin levels. 

In this case, some leptin is required for fat burning. 

But you can't really consider those with zero leptin in the same boat as those with low leptin or leptin resistance in terms of treatment requirements. 

So, if you are someone with leptin resistance meaning you have high leptin levels and the inability to lose weight, do you really want to lower your leptin levels?

Yes, but only slightly and only for a short period of time. 

For instance, if you are someone who is 50+ pounds overweight and your fasting serum leptin level is 45 then it's a good idea to reduce that leptin level down 10-15 points in order for weight loss to occur. 

This drop in leptin still maintains a relatively high leptin level (which is required for fat burning) but one which is lower than your "old" leptin level. 

Lowering the leptin level here helps to IMPROVE leptin sensitivity while simultaneously keeping the leptin level somewhat high to help stimulate both metabolism and fat burn. 

Treating Leptin Resistance

How do you treat leptin resistance if you have it?

As I mentioned previously, most doctors are completely clueless when it comes to this topic. 

To make matters worse, pharmaceutical medications are not really targeted at leptin (yet). 

This leaves you with few pharmaceutical options and of those which are available they must be used off-label. 

They still can and do work, but getting them from your doctor can be difficult. 

Prescription medications which help target leptin resistance include:

I've written about these medications in detail in this article which I would encourage you to read if you are overweight and trying to lose weight. 

Is it possible to improve leptin sensitivity through the use of over the counter supplements?

The answer to that question is yes and I've had great success with certain supplements. 

Supplements are great because they do NOT require a physician's prescription and they can be used right away. 

Supplements which I find to be effective in treating leptin resistance include:

These therapies are all designed to help MANAGE or regulate leptin levels by improving leptin sensitivity. 

That's how they help with weight loss, by regulating your hormones. 

If you have leptin resistance you will want to layer therapies on top of each other. 

So make sure that you ALSO exercise and that you ALSO eat healthy when taking leptin supplements or when using leptin medications. 

Final Thoughts

Balancing your leptin level is probably one of the most important things you can and should do if you are interested in weight loss. 

I am of the opinion that EVERYONE who is overweight has SOME issue with leptin. 

I think in the coming year (probably decade) we will start to understand just how important this fat regulating hormone is. 

In the meantime, however, it will be up to you to do your own research and find your own therapies/treatments. 

Until then, if you follow the standard weight loss advice of eating less and exercising more you will continue to have about a 1% success rate in losing weight and keeping it off (these aren't my statistics but the actual numbers from people trying to lose weight). 

The key to long-lasting weight loss is targeting the hormones which regulate your body weight such as leptin (the primary one) but also others such as thyroid hormone. 

Now I want to hear from you:

Do you have leptin resistance?

Have you had your serum fasting leptin levels checked?

If so, what were your numbers? How high is your leptin?

How sensitive do you think your body is to leptin?

Leave your questions or comments below and share your experience/thoughts! 

References (Click to Expand)

leptin levels pinterest
Dr. Westin Childs

Dr. Westin Childs is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. He provides well-researched actionable information about hormone-related disorders and formulates supplements to treat these disorders. He is trained in Internal Medicine, Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine. His focus is on managing thyroid disorders, weight loss resistance, and other sex hormone imbalances. You can read more about his own personal journey here.

14 thoughts on “Leptin Levels: High vs Low & What it Means For your Weight”

  1. My Leptin Was 8. I am about 20-25 Pds heavier then I would like to be and have tried everything to lose weight. Without any good results

    Reply
  2. My Leptin is 54.7 and I have started taking metformin and Victoza – presently titrated up to 0.9 ml and have lost 4 lbs since Jan 1 (the date I checked my labs). How long should I wait until I recheck my Leptin?

    Reply
  3. Hi. I just looked back and had my leptin levels checked in March of 2019. My leptin level serum is 32.4. Is that high? I am 46 year old female, 40 lbs overweight and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to lose weight. I eat well and exercise. So frustrating!!!! I also take naturthroid (it helps with “puffiness” but not necessarily weight loss at all).

    Reply
  4. Just had mine checked. My leptin is 2.6 and my body fat/ level of leanness is roughly 18% which doesn’t correlate to how extremely low my leptin level is. I also checked my fasting glucose was 75 & fasting insulin was low too at 2.7. Thyroid is considered in normal range. Do you think I’d be a candidate for leptin replacement therapy? I never feel full and can eat a ton but I just resist because I’m a physique athlete so naturally I have to be mentally strong and not give in to food cravings because otherwise I’d never be able to complete in my sport. In my opinion, I feel like having extremely low leptin is just as bad as being leptin resistant. Not sure what to do because “carbing up” does nothing for me. :(. Thanks

    Reply
  5. I had my Leptin level checked in May 2017 and my level was 43.0. My Endocrinologist never told me this was bad or good; didn’t say much about it at all.

    My highest weight was 552 pounds in May 2010. I was dealing with life stuff at that time and lost my appetite for 4 months, losing 80 pounds in those 4 months (I wasn’t eating at all; could hardly drink a glass of water). After 4 months, my appetite came back and I started eating very little; started exercising; continued to lose weight.

    Fast forward two years and by July 2012 I was down 225 pounds and was preparing to have a Vertical Gastro-Sleeveectomy procedure which would remove two thirds of my stomach.

    On Nov. 7, 2012, I underwent the Gastro Sleeve procedure. My day of surgery weight was 327 pounds. I underwent the gastro procedure to help assist me in reaching my goal weight of 200 pounds.

    Over the course of 8 months (July 2013) I only lost 30 pounds from the gastro procedure. I could not understand why I was struggling so hard to lose weight following my procedure when people who have this same type of surgery lose at least 100+ pounds within the first year.

    By March of 2014 I had regained (from 298 pounds) 114 pounds and was weighing in at 412 pounds. I should state due to life events I stopped exercising/going to the gym in August 2013.

    I had blood work done this last week and I am retesting my Leptin level.

    I really could use some assistance or a referral to someone who can help me. I am currently at 454 pounds. I have been overweight since I was 3-1/2 years old. I can’t even begin to tell you what living with morbid obesity my entire life has done to me on an emotional level/living life level.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Nobody said if they took that thyroid meds and lost weight on it.. how much weight should you lose on 1 mo supply

    Reply
  7. Hello – I have tried it all including bariatric bypass, I initially lost over 130 lbs then just as I was about to reach size 14 it stopped and I gained back and cant do anything. I work out, each fresh, no wheat, no corn, no dairy,etc stuck at the 260’s. My Leptin is at 34.7 which I found out was high. I started seeing a bariatric nutritionist otherwise I may never know of this test. He put me on Phentermine 37.5 and topiramate 25mg 1x a day, for my appetite which I dont think is the problem. Does this sound correct to you?

    Reply
  8. My fasting leptin was low at 4.4, fasting insulin a little higher than I would like to see it (4.8) and it looks like I have sub optimal thyroid without antibodies. (T4 free 1.0, TSH 2.73, T3 free 3.0, T4 Total 7.4). I’m planning on starting your thyroid glandular. Will treating my thyroid improve my leptin? I have about 10-15 pounds to lose, but no matter how hard I try the scale does not move.

    Reply

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