The Hypothalamus: Master Metabolic Circuitry
The world of diet and nutrition information can seem like the wild west, with so much contradicting, confusing information.
What is needed is a more clear vision of how food interacts with the body to lead to health or disorder.
If we are to have a hope of understanding the truth about diet and health, we need a more clear picture of the circuits and mechanisms involved.
Fortunately, science progresses with this daily and has provided us with new insights about how it all fits together.
It emerges that the most important circuit which controls body weight and metabolic health is the hypothalamus in the brain.
The Hypothalamus in The Brain Controls:
- How much fat gets burnt
- Metabolic Rate
- Energy and activity levels
When the hypothalamus is 'charged up', appetite is reduced and metabolic rate is increased.
When the hypothalamus is functioning on a low setting; appetite increases and metabolic rate drops: a recipe for weight- gain.
Improving the function of the hypothalamus in the brain is the KEY to successful Weight-Loss.
If we try to lose weight without correcting the function of the hypothalamus, we will feel starving, fatigued and weight-loss will be minimal.
If we correct the hypothalamic function, weight loss will be achieved easily and without hunger and tiredness and a lack of concentration.
The most effective dietary strategy should be focused on eating foods which correct the function of the hypothalamus, thereby allowing easier and sustainable weight-loss.
The more we can do this, the better will be our ability to burn fat and eat less (due to a reduced appetite).
And these are the key factors which will determine how successful we are in losing weight and keeping it off.
The Hypothalamus Controls the Energy Rations of the Whole Body and Therefore a Multitude of health Systems.
The hypothalamus not only controls levels of body fat; it controls the level of energy at which the entire body functions and therefore the level of healthy functioning.
The hypothalamus is the energy sensor of the body.
It senses the levels of energy which are stored, in the form of body fat and it senses the levels of energy entering the body, in the form of food.
When this is working well, the hypothalamus is able to sense the availability of body fat stores and food intake and it accordingly rations a generous amount of energy to the many bodily systems and they work optimally and the general health of the body is good.
However, if the hypothalamus becomes compromised in its ability to sense the energy status of the body (the levels of body fat storage and the intake of energy from food), the hypothalamus mistakenly believes that the body is in an energy deficit.
The response of the hypothalamus to a perceived energy deficit is to reduce the rationing of energy to the many bodily health systems.
The outcome of this inappropriately strict rationing of energy to the body is a whole body functioning at a low level of energy.
This is experienced as a body performing at subpar and many and varied symptoms of poor health.
As well as reducing the energy rations to the body, when the hypothalamus perceives an energy deficit (mistakenly or not), it also increases the appetite and reduces the metabolic rate.
This response is a sensible one since it forces you to seek food as well as saves energy in the face of a perceived energy shortage and will prevent you from starvation and death.
However, in the modern
The hypothalamus is malfunctioning and mistakenly perceiving an energy deficit.
The result of this is a body operating on low energy rations and an inappropriately heightened appetite.
These symptoms of a malfunctioning hypothalamus are known as the metabolic syndrome. They correlate with each other as they have the same root cause; hypothalamic dysfunction.
High cholesterol, high insulin levels, high blood sugar are some of the better known symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
There are however, many OTHER health systems also under the control of the hypothalamus, and therefore MANY OTHER symptoms, which are the result of a malfunctioning hypothalamus.
Although less well known as part of this syndrome of hypothalamic dysfunction, these symptoms could also correctly be named as 'metabolic' problems.
Factors Which Affect the Function of the Hypothalamus
Intestinal Bacteria and Body-Fat
You may have heard talk about the microbiome (bacteria) being important for weight-loss.
However, most people don’t really understand HOW the microbiome affects body weight.
Research is revealing that it is an OVERGROWTH of the wrong types of bacteria in the small intestine which contributes to weight gain.
How Does An Overgrowth of ‘Bad Bacteria’ Contribute to Weight Gain?
‘Bad’ bacteria has been shown to damage bile acids in the small intestine.
Why is this important?
Healthy bile acid signalling supercharges the hypothalamus to burn fat and reduce the appetite.
When too much ‘bad’ bacteria grows in the small intestine, they do lots of damage to the bile acids.
This means that there are
Without this important boost by bile acid signaling, the hypothalamus starts to function below par, leading to increased appetite and weight-gain.
What Causes this Overgrowth of ‘Bad’ Bacteria?
This problem begins with several dietary and lifestyle factors:
Sugars and Refined Carbohydrates
The 'bad' bacteria feed on simple sugars, like fructose and glucose.
Excess intake of foods which are high in long- chain saturated fats, such as butter and hard cheeses, create lipotoxicity in the hypothalamus which causes it to malfunction. (Note: this is only in the context of a higher carbohydrate diet. In a low-carb diet context, saturated fats have a different, more beneficial effect on the hypothalamus).
Prolonged intake of trans-fats, poor sleep, a lack of exercise and good daylight exposure also lead to a decline in the function of the hypothalamus.
The Vicious Cycle of Weight-Gain and Declining Health
Several aspects of the ‘western’ diet and lifestyle cause a reduced function of the hypothalamus and this in turn creates a vicious cycle.
The hypothalamus controls the effectiveness of the innate immune system and
the innate immune system is what keeps levels of bacteria in the intestine 'in check'.
When the hypothalamus is not working properly, the innate immune system starts to perform poorly too, in its role to keep bacteria in check.
This means that a vicious cycle is set in motion when the hypothalamus goes wrong.
Because the innate immune system can't control levels of bacteria as well, the problem of excess bacteria escalates.
And this is reflected in a worsening function of the hypothalamus, increasingly out-of-control appetite and spiralling weight-gain.
To make matters worse for the person who is trying to lose weight; when the body senses that fat is being lost; the availability of the hormone Leptin is reduced.
Leptin is a very important hormone which charges up the hypothalamus to function on all cylinders.
Any 'dieter' who has had a bit of success with weight- loss, will have lower levels of the hormone Leptin.
This is because the body senses that the energy stores (body fat) are being depleted. It responds by reducing the availability of Leptin.
Because Leptin charges UP the hypothalamus to fire on all cylinders; when this supply is reduced, the hypothalamus responds with declining function, increased appetite, reduced fat-burning and low energy levels.
This is precisely why the body reduces Leptin when we lose weight: the body wants us to put the weight back on.
It wants us to replenish the energy stores.
When we were evolving, a loss of fat stores would have indicated starvation and the risk of death. The main problem facing man during the thousands of years of evolution was a LACK of food, not too MUCH food, so the body evolved this Leptin mechanism to prevent the eventuality of starvation.
This reduced Leptin response to starvation and weight-loss would have helped to prevent the chance of death; by making us very hungry, forcing us to seek out food and by reducing fat-burning and metabolic rate - to preserve the body's energy stores ( body fat).
HOWEVER, in the modern world, weight-loss is very rarely a result of starvation.
Weight-loss which occurs in the modern world is a result of a successful diet attempt.
The body doesn't know this, though:
When the body senses a loss of fat, it simply thinks the body is starving, so it still responds with this reduced Leptin response to make us really hungry and hold on to fat, to ensure that we replenish the body's energy stores (fat) i.e put the weight back on and fail at the diet.
It doesn't realise or care that we are feeling great to be back in our size 10 jeans, it just wants us to replenish the lost fat, by making us extra hungry and holding on to the fat stores that we have left.
This out-dated mechanism is responsible for the dreaded and familiar weight rebound and yo-yo dieting effect. The body really wants to make you go back to your biggest weight.
Low leptin will achieve this by making you very hungry and making you crave the most calorific, fattening foods, i.e. junk foods.
People who have lost a lot of weight (low Leptin levels) or who are overweight (leptin resistant) crave the very foods they are trying to avoid.
Someone who is slim and has never had a weight problem has far less interest in the highly calorific junk foods than someone who is trying to keep their weight down following weight-loss or who
It's looking bad huh!
Is there anything we can do to overcome the vicious cycle of a poorly functioning hypothalamus and a worsening control of bacteria which leads to an even worse hypothalamic function?
Is there anything we can do to overcome the bodily leptin mechanism designed to make us hold on to fat?
There ARE several dietary, exercise and lifestyle strategies which can do a lot to charge up the hypothalamus, to overcome the fact that we have less Leptin when we have lost weight and also to break the vicious cycles which are set up when the hypothalamus goes wrong.
We have to be targeted and use every trick in the
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