How Digestive Problems Prevent Weight Loss – The Leptin Diet Weight Loss Challenge #2

April 9, 2012 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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 How Digestive Problems Prevent Weight Loss – The Leptin Diet Weight Loss Challenge #2
Many potential monkey wrenches wreak havoc with your metabolism and impede your ability to lose weight. New science indicates that damage to your digestive tract heads the list of priorities for debugging stubborn weight issues. This applies to almost everyone who is overweight and not able to lose weight easily by cutting back on excess calories, following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet, ensuring your basic nutrient needs are met, and exercising more. This is likely true whether you think you have digestive problems or not. This new science demonstrates that cravings for sugar, carbohydrates and/or high calorie foods indicate a high likelihood of digestive inflammation and related toxicity that is interfering with metabolism. This issue is of immense importance. Extra body weight is linked to a survival strategy that may actually be protecting your body1 from higher levels of digestive damage than you would otherwise experience if you were not craving excess food. The science on this is complicated, so I will stick to a simple and basic explanation. I will also give you effective strategies so you can get yourself headed in the right direction.

Your Stomach has a Mind of Its Own

Ghrelin is the hunger hormone made by your stomach; it travels to your brain and impacts your desire to eat. Overweight people have malfunctioning ghrelin2, which causes food cravings. The more you crave sugar or carbohydrates the greater your problem. The problem can extend to an intense craving for high calorie foods3 of any type, and a subconscious desire to excessively indulge in the pleasure of eating4 for pleasure's sake. Binge eating is one example. Another is eating meals that are far too large to get a pleasurable feeling of fullness or satisfaction. In other words, two distinct regions in your brain respond to ghrelin. One region involves carbohydrate cravings. The other region involves pleasure and compensating for stress or other “brain pain” by eating excessively. Ghrelin activation is vital to maintain your blood sugar during calorie restriction or starvation. Ghrelin does this by activating growth hormone5 in your brain. Most overweight people suffer from leptin resistance, which means they are in a false state of perceived starvation. This causes ghrelin to excessively activate even though there is excess food consumption – causing drastic metabolic confusion.

Ghrelin as an Anti-Inflammatory Hormone and Defense Against LPS

Ghrelin duties are also linked to a primary strategy your body uses to reduce inflammation, especially in your digestive tract6, which is loaded with receptors for ghrelin. Ghrelin also helps protect your body from higher levels of the bacterial toxin known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS).7 LPS is excessive in almost all overweight people due to bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract. Elevated LPS levels in the blood are found in almost all overweight people. In other words, bacterial imbalance injures or inflames the lining of your digestive tract, causing you to have food cravings. Ghrelin helps clear your body of toxic LPS. It trys to prevent intestinal permeability8 from the inflammatory stress caused by excess LPS. There is a real battle going on. LPS actually tries to knock out your ghrelin9 to further the survival of bacterial germ gangs in your gut. In fact, even higher insulin may be used to help combat toxic levels of LPS, setting the stage for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Animal studies highlight the significant impact LPS has on multiple aspects of insulin signaling that create insulin resistance10. Adding insult to injury, elevated LPS blocks leptin entry into the brain11 and is another way you can have leptin resistance. Ghrelin acts in part by directly turning off inflammation in the key nerve influencing your digestive tract12 and coordinating your nervous system response to digestive distress13. Furthermore, if your body does not raise ghrelin to combat the problem then overload from bacterial toxins14 results in sepsis and risk of death15. A lesser degree of this problem than the acute poisoning of sepsis is common in overweight people16. The latest science shows that these gut bacteria not only tilt your metabolism toward weight gain but they also interfere with your liver's ability to clear toxins.

Antibiotics and Candida Albicans Worsen Bacterial LPS Problems

This problem of excess LPS from bacterial imbalance is partly caused by antibiotics, even those taken years earlier. This is because even two courses of antibiotics can alter digestive balance, possibly for many years, thereby chronically raising LPS, inducing digestive injury, provoking leaky gut, and contributing to undesirable food cravings and the consequent intake of too much food. Researchers have documented the link between the number of early life ear infections (treated with antibiotics) and the future risk for obesity. Antibiotics and high sugar consumption also lead to an imbalanced overgrowth of Candida albicans. Candida is highly inflammatory to your digestive and respiratory lining17, and in turn causes cravings to lock into place. The combination of antibiotics, high sugar diets, high junk food diets, and excess alcohol intake set the stage for a lifetime of digestive inflammation, food cravings, thyroid problems, and ongoing struggles with weight. Science now overwhelmingly supports the idea that imbalanced gut flora are present in overweight people and are metabolically active in a way that promotes weight gain. Even imbalanced bacteria in your mouth, which reflects digestive imbalance in general, has been linked to obesity. Despite the medical profession's denial, antibiotics are now proven to cause an overgrowth of Candida18 and risk for asthma via related inflammatory mechanisms, locking in poor digestive health as an underlying problem.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Expanding Fat, and Hypothyroid

Ghrelin levels can fluctuate wildly in response to ongoing digestive distress, as seen in people with irritable bowel syndrome19. A surge in ghrelin promotes constipation by slowing bowel motility, where a depression of ghrelin promotes diarrhea by speeding bowel motility. Ironically, ghrelin stimulates the release of histamine20 from mast cells lining the digestive tract. This would have value for the short term resolution of inflammation. However, it would work against a person when ghrelin is chronically activated, making a person more prone to food sensitivity/allergy and further impairing the health of the digestive tract while actually contributing to ongoing intestinal inflammation – a nasty catch-22. This also means that excess ghrelin could possibly cause any type of allergic reaction or if a person prone to being allergic was also going through a period of ghrelin problems, the allergic reaction is likely to be magnified by the ghrelin aspect of the problem. Scientists have now demonstrated that elevated LPS in your gut increases gut permeability21 so that LPS then enters your bloodstream. One thing it does is go to your white adipose tissue and make your fat cells grow in number so you can store more fat. This study also showed that taking friendly flora supplements reduces LPS toxicity, helping solve the source of the problem. Excessive ghrelin is associated with hypothyroid function22, where a lack of ghrelin is associated with hyperthyroid. Another study shows that malfunctioning thyroid23 is highly associated with malfunctioning ghrelin. Part of this problem is due to the state of leptin resistance24, where thyroid is set low on purpose (faulty signaling) to withstand “starvation” and ghrelin must elevate. However, it is also known that excessive LPS in the digestive tract can interfere with the biological activation of ghrelin, meaning that bacterial imbalance occurring with depressed ghrelin is a primary cause of hyperthyroidism. Conversely, your body will try to make high levels of ghrelin to combat the elevated LPS. This will prevent hyperthyroid but will leave you hungry and hypothyroid. This new science demonstrates that a number of people have thyroid problems specifically because of digestive problems. It has also been proven that digestive inflammation can trigger the production of thyroid auto-antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, yet another angle on the digestive/thyroid issue. In summary, ghrelin in the right amount at the right time is needed for a normal appetite signal. Following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet helps train your body for normal ghrelin release. Ghrelin is needed to regulate and coordinate the strategy for dealing with inflammation as well as being the number one backup system for the activation of growth hormone. Ongoing inflammation of any kind, especially digestive inflammation relating to imbalanced gut contents, results in food cravings and weight gain. Normal ghrelin function is required for proper sleep25 and properly timed release of all other hormones during sleep. Normal ghrelin is required for a good mood, the ability to adapt to stress, and learn. Normal ghrelin function helps orchestrate repair functions in your body by activating growth substances involved with tissue rejuvenation, including digestive tract repair. Normal ghrelin facilitates less inflammation in your cardiovascular system. Fixing your ghrelin-related weight problems has many possible positive ramifications for your health and well-being.

Solutions to Balance Ghrelin and Lower LPS

Fixing ghrelin is an issue of fixing the hormone's efficiency. This is reflected primarily by having a normal appetite, a lack of cravings for food or a lack of subconscious drive to eat excess food at any one meal or as a binge episode. These issues are either under control or not. When you are on the right track cravings lighten significantly or disappear altogether, which means that you have temporarily tamed the tiger. Keep in mind that ghrelin is highly connected to your brain circuitry, thus it takes weeks of being good to establish new food acquisition patterns that are more normal. It is best for your long-term training of this system that you keep a good pattern going for many months in a row. If you keep having indiscretions in terms of eating in response to cravings, eating too much at one meal, or breaking down and having a binge session, you will put yourself back at the beginning in terms of training your brain for long-term improved subconscious behavior. This means being mostly good all month long, month after month, especially during the time you are losing weight. Besides digestive inflammation, the primary reason ghrelin is elevated is leptin resistance, which falsely makes your brain think you are starving when that is not the case. Thus, the most basic solution is to follow the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet and evaluate how your cravings are doing after three or four days. If your cravings are gone and you are losing weight then that was all you needed to do to get yourself back on track. If you continue to struggle with cravings, have other obvious digestive symptoms, or are not losing weight even though you are following the Five Rules, then you need more help.

Dietary Adjustments

Too much fat causes LPS levels to elevate. It is typical that the absorption of fat will enable the concurrent absorption of LPS, especially if you lack DHA in your diet. Do not consume more than 30 percent of your calories as fat if you have this problem. You may need to reduce fat to 20 percent - 25 percent if your problem is significant. Boosting DHA to a higher level may help reduce the problem (2 – 3 grams of DHA per day). Make sure that you are getting higher levels of fiber, 30 grams – 60 grams per day. Fiber helps bind LPS and acts as a substrate for the fermentation of friendly flora in your digestive tract. As mentioned, friendly flora supplements have been shown to lower LPS by promoting a better balance of bacteria in your digestive tract, and would be a basic step in addition to higher fiber intake, if needed. Friendly flora has been shown to reduce other types of digestive inflammation as well. A key sign of ghrelin problems is the desire to make things taste sweet. Consuming or adding sweeteners, whether artificial or natural, is a basic sign of carbohydrate addiction, an imbalanced taste system, and bad nervous system training. I highly recommend eliminating all artificially sweetened foods and adding no sweeteners of any kind to your foods. Further, you must train your taste buds to tolerate bitter flavors typically found in vegetables. The germ killing compounds in vegetables are always in their skins. For example, don't peel your carrots, wash them well and eat them. Powerful anti-fungals are in the carrot skin. Many spices are germ killers that help balance digestive flora. When you no longer care about sweetening food, your digestive tract ghrelin will be in much better shape. Eat a wide variety of herbs, spices, and bitter vegetables as part of a balanced diet.


Cravings for food and digestive problems in general are signs of problems that can have a serious impact on metabolism and weight loss potential. You need a strategy that is adequate to bring food cravings under control and reduce any digestive symptoms you may have. When you combine the approaches in this article with the basic strategies outlined in the first article in this series, then it is possible to get weight loss moving. You may not need to do everything I have suggested here, but you do need to do enough to get on track. The severity of this problem will vary from person to person. However, it is almost always a percentage of the problem in any person who is struggling to lose weight. It is worth understanding this topic because it opens the door for solutions that have not previously been understood.

Referenced Studies

  1. ^ Ghrelin-Driven Weight Ghrelin-Driven Weight Gain is TRying to Protect Against Digestive Inflammation  Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol.  Hyland NP, Chambers AP, Keenan CM, Pittman QJ, Sharkey KA.
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  3. ^ Ghrelin Raises Desire for High-Calorie Foods  Annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in San Diego, 2010.  Tony Goldstone, et al.
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  5. ^ Ghrelin Links NPY and Growth Hormone Activation  PLoS ONE  Guillaume Osterstock,, Pauline Escobar, Violeta Mitutsova, Laurie-Anne Gouty-Colomer, Pierre Fontanaud, François Molino, Jean-Alain Fehrentz, Danielle Carmignac, Jean Martinez, Nathalie C. Guerineau.
  6. ^ Ghrelin is Intimately Involved in Digestive Tract Repair  PLoS ONE.  Wu R, Dong W, Ji Y, Zhou M, Marini CP, Ravikumar TS, Wang P.
  7. ^ Ghrelin Helps Combat LPS Toxicity  Peptides.  Soriano RN, Nicoli LG, Carnio EC, Branco LG.
  8. ^ Ghrelin Helps Protect Against Stress-Induced Leaky Gut  J Neurotrauma.   Bansal V, Ryu SY, Blow C, Costantini T, Loomis W, Eliceiri B, Baird A, Wolf P, Coimbra R.
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  12. ^ Ghrelin Turns Off Inflammation in Vagus Nerve    
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  15. ^ Ghrelin Protects Against Sepsis-Induced Mortality  Crit Care.  Koch A, Sanson E, Helm A, Voigt S, Trautwein C, Tacke F.
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  20. ^ Ghrelin Invokes Histamine Release  Peptides.   Hirayama T, Kawabe T, Matsushima M, Nishimura Y, Kobe Y, Ota Y, Baba K, Takagi K.
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  25. ^ Ghrelin's Impact on Sleep and Hormonal Release During Sleep  Mol Cell Endocrinol.   Steiger A, Dresler M, Schüssler P, Kluge M.
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  33. ^ Lipoic Acid Protects Brain from LPS Toxicity  Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz).   Goraca A, Asłanowicz-Antkowiak K.
  34. ^ Lipoic Acid Protects the Heart from LPS Toxicity  J Physiol Pharmacol.  Goraca A, Piechota A, Huk-Kolega H.
  35. ^ Silymarin Protects Against LPS Toxicity and Inflammation  Biochem Pharmacol.   Kang JS, Jeon YJ, Park SK, Yang KH, Kim HM.
  36. ^ Silymarin Protects Macrophages from LPS Toxicity  J Pharmacol Exp Ther.   Kang JS, Jeon YJ, Kim HM, Han SH, Yang KH.
  37. ^ Silymarin Protects Dopamine Neurons from LPS Nerve Toxicity  Eur J Neurosci.   Wang MJ, Lin WW, Chen HL, Chang YH, Ou HC, Kuo JS, Hong JS, Jeng KC.
  38. ^ Quercetin Lowers LPS Toxicity  Adv Exp Med Biol.  Zhang M, Swarts SG, Yin L, Liu C, Tian Y, Cao Y, Swarts M, Yang S, Zhang SB, Zhang K, Ju S, Olek DJ Jr, Schwartz L, Keng PC, Howell R, Zhang L, Okunieff P.
  39. ^ Grape Seed Extract Protects Against LPS Toxicity  J Periodontol.  Houde V, Grenier D, Chandad F.
  40. ^ Resveratrol Protects Against LPS Nerve Toxicity  Mol Pharmacol.   Zhang F, Shi JS, Zhou H, Wilson B, Hong JS, Gao HM.
  41. ^ Oregano Oil Stops Bacterial Toxin Production  Int J Food Microbiol.   de Souza EL, de Barros JC, de Oliveira CE, da Conceição ML.

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