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How to Control Hunger Hormones: Ghrelin and Leptin

Understanding how Hunger Hormones work and how to Control them is a key factor in managing food craving and your personal health.

Reviewed by Jordan Thomson, CPT
Updated 04/07/23

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks or maybe even months where you just can’t seem to curb your cravings?!

Sweet treats, salty snacks… and oh, we can’t forget chocolate.

These cravings can actually be a result of hormones.

In this article we discuss how our hunger hormones work, how they can be affected by, and how to control hunger hormones so you can achieve a healthy weight and manage food cravings.

Jump to Topic:
Ghrelin: The Hunger Hormone
Leptin: The Satiety Hormone
How to Control Hunger Hormones

Ghrelin: The Hunger Hormone

Ghrelin is the hormone that signals to our brain that it’s time to eat. This is the most powerful hunger-stimulating hormone. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and runs to tell the brain that it’s food time!

These hormone levels peak before meals and drop to the lowest levels approximately 1 hour after a meal – working on a cycle.

Ghrelin interacts with receptors in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain responsible for regulating appetite, to stimulate appetite and increase food intake. Studies have shown that ghrelin levels are affected by factors such as sleep deprivation, stress, and exercise, which can either increase or decrease appetite. Additionally, ghrelin plays a role in long-term energy balance by influencing the amount of body fat stored.

Overweight individuals are more sensitive to this hormone and in turn causing a greater feeling of hunger even though ghrelin levels are usually lower in this population.

Individuals who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, which involves removing part of the stomach, experience a reduction in ghrelin levels and subsequent appetite suppression.

Understanding the role of ghrelin in appetite regulation can lead us to solutions on how to control our hunger. But first let’s talk about the satiety hormone- leptin.

Leptin: The Satiety Hormone

Leptin is the hormone that signals to our brain the feelings of fullness after eating. Leptin is produced by adipose tissue (fat cells) and plays a crucial role in regulating appetite and body weight.

This hormone sends signals to the brain about the body's energy status. When fat stores increase, leptin levels rise, sending a signal to the brain that the body has enough energy and should reduce food intake and increase energy expenditure.

On the other hand, when fat stores decrease, leptin levels drop, signaling the brain to increase appetite and conserve energy.

Leptin also interacts with other hormones, such as ghrelin, to coordinate hunger and satiety signals. However, individuals with certain conditions, such as obesity, can develop leptin resistance, where the body fails to respond to the hormone's signals.

Meaning we no longer have the feelings of fullness response and we continue to eat and eat.

Good news… we can improve leptin resistance with diet and exercise. Keep reading…

An Infographic about Hunger Hormones

Summary

Understanding the roles of leptin and ghrelin in appetite regulation can be useful for anyone trying to manage their weight or improve their health.

Eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day, incorporating high-quality protein-rich foods, consuming omega-3 fats, including foods high in resistant starches, filling up on low-energy-dense foods, getting enough sleep, and committing to regular exercise are some effective ways to control these hunger hormones.

By taking control of our eating habits and making healthier lifestyle choices, we can help our bodies work more efficiently and improve our overall health and wellbeing.

For more tailored information about how to implement these suggestions into your lifestyle, meet with one of our Nutrition Coaches for a free online consultation. Email [email protected] to get started.

Need to get consistent with exercise first?

  • Cummings, D. E., Purnell, J. Q., Frayo, R. S., Schmidova, K., Wisse, B. E., & Weigle, D. S. (2001). A preprandial rise in plasma ghrelin levels suggests a role in meal initiation in humans. Diabetes, 50(8), 1714-1719.
  • Druce, M. R., Wren, A. M., Park, A. J., Milton, J. E., Patterson, M., Frost, G., … & Bloom, S. R. (2005). Ghrelin increases food intake in obese as well as lean subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 29(9), 1130-1136.
  • Farooqi, I. S., & O'Rahilly, S. (2009). Leptin: a pivotal regulator of human energy homeostasis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(3), 980S-984S.
  • Friedman, J. M., & Halaas, J. L. (1998). Leptin and the regulation of body weight in mammals. Nature, 395(6704), 763-770. https://doi.org/10.1038/27376
  • Tschöp, M., Smiley, D. L., & Heiman, M. L. (2000). Ghrelin induces adiposity in rodents. Nature, 407(6806), 908-913.