Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells in adipose tissue. Leptin signals to the brain, in particular to an area called the hypothalamus. Leptin does not affect food intake from meal to meal but, instead, acts to alter food intake and control energy expenditure over the long term. Leptin has a more profound effect when we lose weight and levels of the hormone fall. This stimulates a huge appetite and increased food intake. The hormone helps us to maintain our normal weight and unfortunately for dieters, makes it hard to lose those extra pounds!

Obese people have unusually high levels of leptin. This is because in some obese people, the brain does not respond to leptin, so they keep eating despite adequate (or excessive) fat stores, a concept known as ‘leptin resistance’. This causes the fat cells to produce even more leptin. This is similar to the way people with type 2 diabetes have unusually high levels of insulin, as their body is resistant to the effects of insulin. The cause of leptin resistance is still unclear.

There is an extremely rare condition called congenital leptin deficiency, which is a genetic condition in which the body cannot produce leptin. In the UK, there are only about four families affected by this genetic condition.

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