July 2, 2021

Hunger hormones production, secretion, and interaction in the body are among the most vital operations that determine a large section of our overall health and wellness.

This article intends to set facts about hunger, appetite, eating habits, and weight straight. I will explain the various interactions between hunger hormones, weight gain, hunger hormone resistance, and other interplays of these hormones that affect our all-inclusive health.

However, the focus will be the interconnection between weight and hunger hormone imbalances and how to gently, naturally, and seamlessly regulate these hormones to foster weight loss.

Sounds interesting?

Let’s dig!

What are the hunger hormones?

Hunger hormones, in the very simplest terms, describe hormones responsible for controlling hunger and satiety. Although many groups of hormones, for example, estrogen, can alter mood and possibly appetite. Yet, they only have a short-term influence on your satiety and, thus, not tagged as hunger hormones.

Imperatively, hunger hormones describe those groups of hormones that have a long-term influence on appetite, satiety and are related to energy balance.

Following our definition above, two hormones- Ghrelin and Leptin are the hormones we could easily tag as hunger hormones. Throughout this article, we’ll refer to them as the primary hunger hormones.

What is Ghrelin?

Ghrelin, commonly called “the hunger hormone” or “lenomorelin,” is produced in the gut. It travels through the bloodstream to the brain (hypothalamus: the part of the brain that controls hormones and appetite) to indicate that your body needs food.

Ghrelin usually is secreted when your stomach is empty. Its production is highest before eating and lowest about an hour after eating. The primary function is to increase appetite and protect you from starvation. However, it affects the sleep/wake cycle, gut mobility, fat storage, and glucose metabolism (1) 

What is Leptin?

Leptin, commonly referred to as “the satiety hormone,” is produced in the body’s fat cells and equally travels via the bloodstream to the hypothalamus. It signals to the brain that you’ve stored enough fat and do not need to eat anymore but start burning stored fats for energy. 

In other words, leptin regulates your hunger and tells your body how much food to eat. Converse to ghrelin, its production is highest after eating and lowest before eating. The main function is to prevent overeating, but it also plays a role in immunity, brain function, and fertility in women (2)

Other Hormones with Mid-Term Effect On Hunger

Remember, we classified the main hunger hormones as those with long-term effects on appetite and satiety. Yet, few hormones- particularly two: cortisol and insulin have a mid-range effect on Ghrelin and Leptin. 

Cortisol

Cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone,” is produced in the adrenal gland. Its principal function is to foster insulin release for maintaining blood sugar levels and stimulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism for quick energy in response to stress.

Excessive cortisol in the bloodstream increases neuron activities in the hypothalamus, precisely the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, similarly to ghrelin and leptin. Consequently, the brain thinks of this as hunger and would stimulate appetite for sweet, salty, high-fat, or other highly palatable foods (3).

Insulin

Insulin, the body’s fat-storage hormone, is produced in the pancreas to balance blood sugar levels. Insulin secretion peaks after eating, and it increases glucose in the blood, telling your body to stop burning energy and start storing them.

The effect of insulin on appetite is quite straightforward. Insulin and blood sugar are lowest when you haven’t eaten. Low insulin signals to your body that you’re out of energy; you need to eat, or you would start to burn fat for energy (ketosis). By the same token, as you eat, your blood sugar and insulin level rises, and at its peak, insulin signals that energy in the form of glucose is available.

How Ghrelin and Leptin Work Together To Control Hunger and Satiation

Ideally, both ghrelin and leptin work hand-in-hand to control hunger and satiety. That is, when you haven’t eaten and are low in energy, ghrelin is secreted and sent to your brain to signal hunger. Likewise, as you start to eat and are full, leptin is secreted, traveling to your brain to signal that “I am full, I do not need more food.”

Ghrelin and leptin work together to maintain energy balance and weight. Nevertheless, their operations become altered and messed up in any case of obesity or diabetes. Reports from the World Health Organization show that over 13% of adults worldwide are obese and 39% overweight. You can check your Body Mass Index (BMI) here to see if you’re in these categories that affect hunger and satiety hormone. In addition, obesity and diabetes cause the body to become resistant to leptin and ghrelin, similar to insulin resistance.

Say you aren’t overweight; other bodily functions like gut health, especially gut bacteria, can alter ghrelin and leptin functions to distort appetite and body weight.

However, food cravings and the pleasure around eating aren’t controlled by hunger hormones but the brain. Precisely, dopamine and serotonin.

Hunger Hormone Resistance And Weight Gain

Leptin Resistance

Leptin is created in fat cells. So, people with obesity or more adipose tissue (a connection of lipid-rich cells that comprises about 25% of the total body weight responsible for storing energy in the form of lipids/fats) tend to have higher leptin levels than usual. That is because they have more fat cells, which produce more leptin than necessary.

Having excessive leptin for whatever reason, obesity, more adipose tissue, or inflammation, or increased fructose intake can cause your body to become used to leptin. As such, it would need more than the standard level to signal you to stop eating.

The effect? A savage cycle of eating and gaining weight. In simple terms;

  • You eat more since the body no longer respond to leptin quickly or correctly
  • You gain more body fat
  • More body fat means more leptin production
  • More leptin production increases leptin resistance, and you don’t get satisfied correctly
  • Increased leptin resistance means eating more than necessary
  • You get even fatter
  • The cycle continues

Ghrelin Resistance

Ghrelin resistance isn’t as talked-about as leptin resistance. That is because weight gain does not directly affect your hunger hormone as it does your satiety hormone. Still, similarly to leptin resistance, obese and overweight people have higher risks of ghrelin resistance. In fact, their hypothalamus doesn’t quickly comprehend signals to stop eating. Thus, overeating and weight gain.

How To Regulate Hunger Hormone And Foster Weight Loss

Make an Eating/Intermittent Fasting Schedule

One of the numerous benefits of intermittent fasting is entraining of ghrelin secretion to regular eating times and a change in the production when you start fasting (5). In addition, fasting also links to weight loss (reduction of body fat) that will, in turn, decrease the amount of leptin that can be produced from the dwindling fat cells until leptin secretion becomes normal.  

Balance Blood Sugar

Sugar offers outstanding benefits to your health. Albeit, it equally comes with a much more adverse effect if the right type isn’t consumed in the right amount. Precisely, intake of sugary foods causes insulin levels to rise. High insulin levels in the body shunt metabolism and tell your body to start to store energy in the form of fats rather than burn them. Thus, increasing the total mass of fat cells and causing more leptin to be produced.

Balancing your blood sugar could be one of the most effective ways to start your journey to regulate your hunger hormone because every other remedy will become abortive if you miss this part.  

Related: An Extensive Analysis on Sugar- Benefits, Health Risks, and Effects

Get Some Sleep

Sleep plays a significant role in regulating hormonal secretion, including leptin and ghrelin. Specifically, studies link short sleep duration with decreased leptin production and increased ghrelin, causing you to eat more than you should and gain weight. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults per night for proper bodily and metabolic function.

Eat Proteins and Fiber-rich Foods

Fiber and protein-rich foods can suppress ghrelin levels and the desire to eat. By suppressing your appetite, you are more likely to reduce calorie intake and the risks of adding weight. Fiber-rich foods are also essential for bodily functions like eradicating toxins, improving gut health, and fostering fat metabolism.

You can increase your fiber intake with veggies, whole grains, nuts, flaxseeds, lentils, and more. However you do, make sure to increase your water intake as well.

Add Probiotics to your meals

Probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir. While these foods may not directly affect your hunger hormones, they improve your gut health by proliferating good bacteria and fostering the metabolism of fat cells that otherwise would be producing leptin and causing you to eat more than necessary.

Manage Stress

Finding ways to avoid stress will help regulate your eating and hunger hormones secretion. That is because cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, slows down metabolism, causes sugar cravings, emotional eating, and reduced sleep. These factors all combine to foster fat storage and the production of more leptin in these fat cells.

You could try meditation, take breaks, or other healthy ways that take your mind off stressors.

Related: Stress, Cortisol and how it affects weight and hormones

FAQ

Are the hunger hormones responsible for craving?

A short answer; No!

Long answer: Cravings and the pleasure/reward for eating them are controlled by the brain. Serotonin and dopamine (also responsible for addiction) are precisely the culprits accountable for these cravings, emotional eating, pleasure. Imbalances in cortisol secretion, nutrient deficiencies, or other factors affect appetite and eating habits, but these are distinct from hunger and hunger hormones. 

Is there a difference between appetite and Hunger?

Hunger and appetite are a little related; they stern from different hormones that can function independently. Succinctly, hunger is controlled by ghrelin, and it is an indication that your body is devoid of energy and needs to refill energy sources. On the other hand, appetite, controlled by serotonin or dopamine, describes the mind craving and wanting to eat certain foods irrespective of what the body actually needs.

What is the connection between hunger hormone and microbiomes?

If you’re following the article correctly, you must have noticed a link between gut health, especially gut bacteria, and regulating hunger hormones. While gut bacteria have no direct relationship with ghrelin and leptin production, it determines metabolic rate and the burning of fat cells responsible for producing leptin.  

Final Note

Overall the main hunger hormones interact with body weight to determine eating cycles, calorie intake, and weight gain. Although other hormones, particularly cortisol and insulin, can alter appetite, eating habits, eating cycles, and weight.

Following the specific diet and lifestyle changes, we discussed earlier is one effective way to get started on your journey to balance hunger, metabolism, and weight. Albeit, eating habits, including emotional eating, cravings, and more, are not subject to activities of the main hunger hormones but alters your calorie intake and cause weight gain.

So, finding ways to control your mind’s orientation towards food and eating along with the lifestyle and diet changes discussed earlier combines to form an indisputable duo for eating right and losing weight.

You can sign-up for my mindful weight loss program today to get a hassle-free, enjoyably transformation of your eating and lifestyle habits, showing you secrets to understand your unique body and its metabolism and uncover your true weight-loss potential.

About the author 

Aayah Khalaf

A health coach and detox specialist, CEO and founder of Bee Nourished a health and weight-loss initiative. I help women and mothers achieve their health and weight-loss goals with life changing programs that are uniquely yours.

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