Your metabolism is maintained via a careful hormonal dance, with each hormone sending feedback messages to influence the release of the others. The hormones we most often think of with respect to weight and metabolism are thyroid and insulin, and for good reason: these are probably the biggest players that we can directly influence. (Insulin’s opposite, glucagon, helps the body to break down fat and turn it into energy, just as insulin puts sugar into storage form: triglycerides. So you want glucagon to be higher, just as insulin is lower.) Androgens, such a testosterone also play a significant role.
But there are a few others that don’t get quite so much attention. Leptin is one — and so is its “opposite,” adiponectin.
Fat Cells Produce Hormones
Both leptin and adiponectin are produced by fat cells. In the case of leptin, it’s there to try to regulate your weight by decreasing appetite and encouraging fat burning. Therefore, the more fat you have, the more leptin you produce. But at a certain point, your cells become desensitized to its signal, much as too much insulin over time can lead to insulin resistance.
Adiponectin is produced by fat cells too, and it helps the body to regulate glucose and break down fatty acids to be used as energy. But its production is the exact inverse of leptin’s: the fewer fat cells you have, the more of it you produce. High adiponectin and low leptin therefore corresponds to a lean body mass index (BMI).
Many feedback mechanisms in the body are self-reinforcing: when your BMI is low, you likely already have high adiponectin and low insulin, However, this study shows that adiponectin also directly sensitizes the body to insulin.
This study also demonstrates that in diabetic patients, adiponectin is lower those who have cardiovascular disease than in those who don’t. This implies that in addition to helping the body to maintain BMI, adiponectin may also be cardioprotective.
Raising Your Adiponectin
Since adiponectin levels are inversely proportional to BMI, you can raise your adiponectin by losing weight, and rising adiponectin levels will help you keep it off. It’s a bit of a catch 22.
But certain behaviors can begin to get the ball rolling.
This study shows that eating healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, fish, and avocados, helps to raise adiponectin levels, while this study also shows that specifically DHA (one of the essential fatty acids) raises levels. This study also echoes that olive oil in particular raises adiponectin. Another great argument for a Mediterranean diet!
This study shows that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, does double duty: it both raises adiponectin and helps to regulate leptin levels.
And finally, this study shows that glycine, an amino acid, can directly raise adiponectin levels. (I wonder if this might be in part because glycine can improve sleep quality when taken at night, and better sleep leads to a lower BMI.)
The good news is, once your weight is where you want it, adiponectin will help you keep it there. Before you’ve reached your goal, though, you can encourage adiponectin to help you “early,” as it were, by increasing your good healthy fats, adding in curcumin (ideally Meriva, a version in phospholipid form, as this is most absorbable), and getting plenty of good sleep.
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