Insulin Resistance

It is estimated that 50% of the adult population is pre-diabetic (i.e., insulin resistant). Diabetes itself has doubled since the 1970s.1These statistics clearly indicate that blood sugar imbalances are becoming a monumental health concern. Being overweight comes into play because it is the number one risk factor for developing pre-diabetes.

You may be asking yourself, “What is insulin resistance anyway”?  Well, insulin is an anabolic (growth) hormone that is produced by the pancreas. Its main job is to help shuttle glucose and other nutrients inside the cell to be used for energy. Glucose is essentially the fuel for the body, especially the brain. Without glucose, it is very difficult for the body to function properly. The body makes glucose by converting the foods eaten into sugar. When food is ingested, sugar is released into the bloodstream, which causes the pancreas to secrete insulin.

The problem is that most Americans eat too many foods that contain simple sugars on a regular basis. This practice causes continual spikes in blood sugar, and subsequently insulin, and on a regular basis. The more frequently that the body has to release insulin to control blood sugar levels, the less responsive cells become to insulin. It’s as if insulin is loud music; if it is blasting constantly, the cells simply shut more and more of it out to maintain balance. Insulin resistance takes place when the body’s cells turn off receptor sites and ignore insulin’s messages. When this happens, both insulin and blood glucose levels remain high, which can lead down the path to type 2 diabetes. 2

Do you have insulin resistance?

To see if insulin resistance is affecting you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you gain weight mostly around your mid-section?
  • Do you have high triglycerides and/or cholesterol?
  • Is your fasting glucose above 100?
  • Do you have sweet cravings that lead to energy crashes later in the day?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, insulin resistance could be preventing you from losing weight.

How insulin resistance leads to weight gain

Proper blood sugar regulation is imperative to your overall health and healthy weight loss. However, with insulin resistance, the body no longer takes sugar and other nutrients into the cells where they can be used for energy production. This causes more fat storage, especially around the midsection. It can also alter gene expression 3; this is one of the key areas of diabetic genetic research.

In addition, chronically elevated insulin causes chronic inflammation. Inflammation is first and foremost a protective response in the body, and is usually a beneficial process. However, when inflammation is chronic, it stresses the body and can promote high cortisol levels (to learn more about cortisol, see the section on Stress).4 Excessive cortisol production over prolonged periods of time can lead to the breakdown of muscle and increased fat storage around the abdomen. In addition, chronically high cortisol levels cause the release of blood sugar from muscle breakdown into the blood stream, further exacerbating to insulin resistance.

Once more, chronically elevated insulin lowers serotonin.  Serotonin is often called the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter (learn more about serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the Neurotransmitter Imbalance section).  Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and is found in foods high in protein. Individuals consuming large amounts of refined carbohydrates and/or inadequate amounts of protein can deplete their stores of tryptophan. This occurs because consuming refined carbohydrates regularly causes insulin levels to be chronically elevated, creating insulin resistance. Since insulin facilitates the entry of tryptophan into the brain, insulin resistance leads to less tryptophan in the brain, and consequently, less serotonin. This depletion often causes cravings, especially for sugar.5 This can start a vicious cycle where individuals ingest high amounts of sugar in an attempt to produce more of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin, only to cause further depletion and more cravings.

So what can you do about insulin resistance?

Following are some helpful tips to keep your blood sugar under control and insulin resistance at bay:

  1. Avoid refined carbohydrates – refrain from consuming anything that has sugar, white flour, or high fructose corn syrup.
  2. Avoid trans fats, also known as, hydrogenated oils – look for these ingredients on packaged food labels and don’t be misled by creative marketing (i.e., ‘0 gram s trans fats’); if hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils are listed on the label, the food contains trans-fats and should be avoided. Focus instead on using extra virgin, organic olive and coconut oil and products made with them as alternatives.
  3. Eat whole foods (as close to nature as possible) – choose whole foods that contain complex carbohydrates (i.e. higher fiber foods). These foods will produce a slow release of glucose into the blood stream.
  4. Eat complex carbohydrates (legumes, whole grains and vegetables) with a fat or protein – combine complex carbohydrates with a protein and/or fat to further help slow down the sugar release into the blood stream.
  5. Exercise on a regular basis – exercise is a non-insulin dependent way to clear blood glucose and get it into the cell where it can be used for energy.  The combination of aerobic, and more importantly, resistance training seems to help cells become more insulin sensitive.
  6. Use supplements to help control your blood sugar; you can find a protocol that has been very successful in our clinic here.

The list above provides a few suggestions, but there are many reasons why an individual may have insulin resistance.  If you suspect insulin resistance is an issue for you, remember that there are many steps that can be taken to naturally regulate your blood sugar that include diet, lifestyle changes and supplementation.  To learn more, contact Sheila Robertson at 608-274-7044 at extension 12 or obb@naturalpathhealthcenter.com.

References:

1.    Challem, Jack and Ron Hunninghake. Stop Prediabetes Now. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2007.

2.    United States. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Diabetes Information Clearing House. Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. Aug. 2006. 27 Dec. 2007 <http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/#5>.

3. Bland, Jeffery. Genetic Nutritioneering: How You Can Modify Inherited Traits and Live a Longer ,Healthier Life. Los Angeles: Keats Publishing, 1999.

4.    Schwarzbein, Diana and Marilyn Brown.  The Schwarzbein Principle II. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2002.

5.    Hanley, Jesse Lynn and Nancy Deville. Tired of Being Tired. NY: G.P. Putnam’s Son, 2001.