He believes 1.5a€‰billion overweight or obese people in the world suffer from this condition a€” and is convinced that the problem can be tackled by targeting insulin.
SWEET FOOD LEAVES YOU WANTING MOREA high sugar diet can trigger leptin resistance even if you are just slightly overweight. The sweet, processed food that makes up so much of the modern diet (much of it disguised as a€?low fata€™ and therefore healthy) has addictive qualities a€” particularly for those caught up with leptin resistance.When we eat food, the brain chemical dopamine is released, creating a feeling of pleasure and reward, explains Professor Lustig.
Have just one dessert a weekWhen cooking, reduce sugar in every recipe by a third, and eat dessert as a treat, once a week.
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While ita€™s easy to blame your appalling willpower or TV-inspired lethargy, according to a respected U.S. In his studies, many participants took insulin-lowering drugs, but the professor says similar results can be achieved by a few small lifestyle changes a€” notably reducing sugar in your diet.
The professor has a heavyweight background in endocrinology (the study of hormones), as both a medical doctor and academic.
While leptin activates biochemical reactions that send a€?satiety signalsa€™ to the brain, insulin can very effectively block these signals, resulting in no satiety, no sense of fullness, and uncontrolled eating of high fat, high sugar foods.
They build up resistance, meaning that higher and higher amounts of dopamine are needed to trigger a reward signal. He argues that the urge to overeat and lounge around doing nothing is not a sign of weakness.
He used organised trials to studyA  the role the brain plays in governing appetite and activity levels and found that patients who had damage to the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls energy levels) could not lose weight, but somehow gained weight even when restricted to a near-starving 500 calories a day.Lustig realised that a similar process could be happening with obese adults and set out to investigate a potential solution. This is leptin resistance, and leaves the brain a€?blinda€™ to leptin signals, so it still thinks wea€™re hungry. As a result, you may feel compelled to eat greater quantities to achieve the same sense of satisfaction.

Slower digestion also gives your brain a chance to register that you are full.Take 15 minutesa€™ exercise dailyExercise alone cannot cause significant weight loss (unless you change your diet at the same time) but Professor Lustig says 15 minutes a day is enough to improve your insulin sensitivity (because activity helps cells become more receptive to insulin), and build muscle at the expense of fat.
It is, he says, a hormonal issue, triggered by eating too much sugar.He points the finger of blame at the hormone leptin, which acts like an appetite thermostat.
His studies revealed that the roles of leptin and insulin are intertwined, and bind to cells in the same area of the brain a€” the hypothalamus. Even worse, in healthy people, one of the things leptin should do is to tell the brain to reduce insulin production.
Although you may not see a drop on the scales, by improving insulin sensitivity and lowering insulin levels, exercise, will improve leptin signalling.
As one of two a€?hunger hormonesa€™ in the body, leptin works to decrease the appetite (its partner, ghrelin, increases appetite).
It does this by dulling appetite and thus reducing food intake (so cutting the bodya€™s need to produce yet more insulin to deal with the food).
Insulin also works to clear dopamine from the brain, gradually blunting the reward felt for further food. When you have had enough to eat, your fat cells release leptin, which effectively dulls the appetite by instructing the brain that ita€™s time to stop eating.
But if you have too much insulin and you are leptin-resistant this doesna€™t happen, and insulin levels rise ever higher, creating a vicious cycle.Lustig believes that our high sugar diets cause continually stimulated insulin production. But if youa€™re insulin-resistant too, the brakes wona€™t work, and the reward impetus continues unabated.This, Professor Lustig believes, explains why many people can want, and apparently enjoy, never-ending quantities of food even when energy stores were long ago full a€” for example over the Christmas period. Professor Lustiga€™s mantra is: a€?Dona€™t eat anything your grandmother wouldna€™t recognise. But Professor Lustig warns that our sweet tooth is sending this process haywire.SUGAR TRICKS YOUR BRAINFor many years scientists thought obesity could be caused by a shortage of leptin a€” thinking that without adequate levels, overweight people simply never received the message that they were full. He says the insidious creep of insulin resistance means that our bodies now produce double the insulin for every teaspoon of sugar consumed compared to 30 years ago.

He fears insulin resistance (and therefore leptin resistance) may also start in the womb, and that exposure to high sugar diets a€” via the mother a€” may trigger genetic changes that increase a babya€™s risk of insulin and leptin resistance in later life. If the food has a company logo youa€™ve heard of, ita€™s processed.a€™Dona€™t eat on your feetEating standing up means you will be eating fast, with no time for satiety signals to kick in, says Professor Lustig.
But more recent studies have shown that obese people have plenty of leptin (in fact, the fatter you are, the more of it you appear to have), but are more likely to be a€?leptin-resistanta€™.
Always include some sort of protein (chicken, pulses) in every meal (to slow the digestive process and reduce the risk of insulin spikes) and avoid any a€?fooda€™ that is just fat, carbohydrate and sugar (such as doughnuts, milk-shakes, pastries). This means the cells in the brain that should register leptin no longer a€?reada€™ the signals saying the body is full, but instead assume it is starving a€” no matter how much food you continue to eat.In panic, the brain pumps out instructions to increase energy storage a€” instigating powerful cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods because these are the easiest and most immediate forms of energy a€” and conserve energy usage, by dampening any urge to get up off the sofa and go for a run. The food cravings are made even more intense a€” and impossible to resist a€” because leptin is supposed to dampen the feeling of pleasure and enjoyment you get from food by suppressing the release of the brain chemical dopamine, helping to decrease appetite. In an effort to make low fat food more palatable, many manufacturers raised the carbohydrate level, adding quantities of sugar to almost everything (both sweet and savoury). But now Professor Lustig and his team have been able to show a€” in repeated studies on humans a€” that too much sugar in the diet is to blame.
For instance, a small pot of low fat yoghurt can contain as much as four teaspoons of sugar, and even wholemeal bread hides two teaspoons per loaf.Gradually tastes and eating habits have changed, Lustig says, resulting in growing populations worldwide inadvertently hooked on easy-to-eat high sugar foods. But repeated insulin spikes, due to a high sugar diet, can lead to a condition called a€?insulin resistancea€™ (when the cells have been so bombarded by insulin they no longer respond to it). Professor Lustig believes insulin resistance triggers leptin resistance, and, crucially, he has discovered that by reducing insulin levels it is possible to improve a€?leptin signallinga€™ (the braina€™s ability to read leptin), stop cravings, put the brakes on food consumption a€” and trigger weight loss.In his new book Fat Chance, Professor Lustig explains that leptin resistance a€” and sugar a€” is at the root of the obesity epidemic.

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