Mastering Ghrelin for Amazing Healthy Weight loss

ghrelin and leptin, ghrelin

How the Ghrelin Hormone Manages Your Hunger

By now you are well aware of the obvious things that affect your health and weight. You don’t need to read another article about how aerobic exercise burns fat, or how kale has an impressive nutritional profile. You get it. The thing is, sometimes diet and exercise aren’t the only challenges you’ll face on the road to a healthy body. Sometimes you’re doing everything right, but there’s still something that’s hindering your progress. Here I’ll discuss two of your body’s most important hormones for energy balance, leptin and ghrelin, how they can get out of whack, and how you can bring them back to functioning levels.

Ghrelin the Hunger Hormone

Ghrelin, better known as your body’s “hunger hormone,” is released when your stomach is empty. Its primary function is to stimulate the hypothalamus, the region of your brain responsible for maintaining homeostasis by regulating hunger, thirst, and temperature. That triggers a feeling of hunger and tells your body to start storing energy for the perceived lean times ahead. Once you have eaten, ghrelin levels decrease, and your hunger temporarily subsides.

ghrelin, hypothalamus

Your body’s response to ghrelin makes evolutionary sense, as early humans did go through periods where food was both scarce, and not very calorically dense. Storing energy as fat was often necessary for survival. These days, however, the moment we feel slightly peckish we can quickly obtain heavily calorically dense foods to silence our growling stomachs.

This ease of access becomes a real issue when we never actually face times with little food. We overeat, don’t burn off the extra calories we ingested, and end up storing more fat. Not because we need it for survival, but simply because we eat too much and move too little. It sounds simple: too much ghrelin = weight gain, but there’s more to the story. As we can see Ghrelin may be part of the problem, but it is far from the only player in the game.

Ghrelin and Leptin

Ghrelin’s counterpart is the hormone leptin. It is known as your body’s “satiety hormone.” Unlike ghrelin, which rises and falls in response to the contents of your stomach, leptin continuously circles in your bloodstream. It lets your brain know you have enough fat stores to use for energy so that you can eat and expend energy as normal.

That is where it gets slightly complicated. Your fat cells produce leptin, meaning the more fat you have, the more leptin you will produce. Logically, then, obese people should be satiated more quickly and longer than normal weight people. However, in general, obese individuals take in more calories on a regular basis than the non-obese. So what is happening? Studies have found that obese people experience leptin-resistance, meaning they have a tougher time feeling full and often overeat, as they are not receiving the signal to stop eating.

Leptin-resistance works in much the same way as insulin-resistance. When the hormone is over stimulated, the mechanisms to process the hormone stops functioning properly. The key to reversing both leptin and insulin resistance is to cut down on hormone spikes.

Reducing Ghrelin

You might be thinking that ghrelin is the villain here. If ghrelin makes you feel hungry, which leads to overeating, which then leads to weight gain and health issues, you should probably figure out how to reduce ghrelin, right? Not exactly.

First of all, blocking any hormone from properly doing its job can have adverse effects on your body. Ghrelin makes us hungry, but it is also part of the reason we find eating enjoyable. Although some scientists are researching ghrelin-blockers as a means for weight control, there is not yet any sure way to tell what adverse effects removing both the urge to eat and the enjoyment we get from eating will have.

Secondly, ghrelin isn’t always the problem in overeaters. I discussed leptin resistance above. In that case, it is not the existence of ghrelin that is causing people to overeat, but rather the malfunction of the leptin response. People don’t get the “I have sufficient energy stores” signal, and they keep eating. In fact, ghrelin levels are lower in obese people than in normal weight people. It’s not the “I’m hungry” signal that causes the problem.

Leptin also seems to be the culprit in diet-induced hunger, that extreme hunger you feel when you first start dieting and losing weight. Our bodies just want homeostasis. They want comfort, and routine. Your body sees anything that throws this balance off as a threat it will try to correct. When a non-leptin-resistant person starts a diet and loses some fat stores, their levels of leptin decrease. That freaks the body out, making it think it’s starving. The brain will then send out hunger signals to try and get the fat stores back to their original number, and leptin levels back to what it thinks is normal.

How to balance ghrelin and leptin


Ok, so it’s not the mere existence of one or both of these hormones that are causing weight gain. It’s their imbalance. So what behaviors affect ghrelin and leptin levels, and how can you keep these hormones in check?


When you haven’t slept enough, your ghrelin levels are higher than normal, and your leptin levels drop. Additionally, some research suggests that lack of sleep impairs the brain’s ability to make logical choices, and increases one’s drive for gratification. So, after a restless night, you’re not only hungrier, you’re also more likely to forgo healthy foods and devour junk food. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night will help balance your hunger hormone.

Reduce Stress

Studies have shown that chronic stress increases ghrelin levels. More recent studies have linked ghrelin to not only an increase in appetite in general but a stimulation of the drive to eat more pleasurable foods. That, in part, explains why some people are “stress eaters,” and why stress eaters tend to go for sugary or fatty foods, rather than something healthy. It also sheds some light on why stress and obesity are so closely linked. Reduce stress through exercise and meditation (two practices which also help you sleep!) to help avoid this ghrelin spike.

Eat Right

It makes sense that you’d be able to manipulate your hunger hormones with food. However, it turns out that, when it comes to ghrelin, not all foods are created equal. Eating foods high in complex carbs and proteins seem to keep ghrelin levels lower for longer than a meal made up of fats and simple carbs. So eating vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats will keep you feeling fuller longer than eating junk food.

Reduce Fat

As mentioned above, too much leptin in your system can lead to leptin resistance. Reducing your fat stores will help you avoid, or even reverse, leptin resistance. You can do this by exercising more, changing your diet to include more complex carbs and protein, and sticking to portion sizes regardless of whether you’re feeling full or not. Sometimes just recognizing what the problem might be, can help you control that urge to overeat.

Remember that our bodies are always striving for homeostasis. Reducing just one hormone won’t allow your body to achieve that much-desired equilibrium. Instead, shoot for a happy balance of hormones that will keep your body functioning properly.


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Recommended Reading

Ok, so it’s not the mere existence of one or both of these hormones that are causing weight gain. It’s their imbalance. So what behaviors affect ghrelin and leptin levels, and how can you keep these hormones in check?

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