Adaptations of leptin, ghrelin or insulin during weight loss as predictors of weight regain: a review of current literature

Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 Mar;38(3):388-96. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.118. Epub 2013 Jun 26.


Numerous laboratory studies involving both animal and human models indicate that weight loss induces changes in leptin, ghrelin and insulin sensitivity, which work to promote weight regain. It is unclear, however, whether these biological changes serve as a biomarker for predicting weight regain in free-living humans in which biological, behavioral and environmental factors are likely at play. We identified 12 studies published between January 1995 and December 2011 that reported changes in leptin, ghrelin or insulin during intentional weight loss with a follow-up period to assess regain. Two of the nine studies examining leptin suggested that larger decreases were associated with greater regain, three studies found the opposite (smaller decreases were associated with greater regain), whereas four studies found no significant relationship; none of the studies supported the hypothesis that increases in ghrelin during weight loss were associated with regain. One study suggested that improvements in insulin resistance were associated with weight gain, but five subsequent studies reported no association. Changes in leptin, ghrelin or insulin sensitivity, taken alone, are not sufficient to predict weight regain following weight loss in free-living humans. In future studies, it is important to include a combination of physiological, behavioral and environmental variables in order to identify subgroups at greatest risk of weight regain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Diet, Reducing*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Ghrelin / blood*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Leptin / blood*
  • Male
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss*


  • Biomarkers
  • Ghrelin
  • Insulin
  • Leptin