The levels of insulin in your blood may be the single most important chemical level to your health and wellness. Most are aware that insulin has something to do with regulating blood sugar, but what is less well known is that insulin has its fingers in almost every organ system in the body, and as the regulation and then levels of insulin in the blood get thrown off, its effects are generally detrimental, and in fact, most of the diseases of aging have direct relationships to the balance of this important chemical. The causes of insulin resistance lay mostly in dietary factors, and so does the remedy for insulin imbalance, or insulin resistance.
The primary purpose of insulin in the human body is to cause for the storage of excess nutrients. With the intake of sugar, when the body recognizes there to be more sugar in the blood stream than is needed for the current activity level insulin is released to initiate the storage. The first form of storage is glycogen storage in you liver and muscles, for the purpose of providing a quick boost of energy if needed. Evolutionarily this could be thought of as energy for fight or flight if you are about to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger. Glycogen stores fill quickly and then the body stores excess blood sugar as everyone’s favorite whipping boy, saturated fat. Backing up a little, excess sugar enters your blood stream through ingesting it in the diet. Now the biggest blast of blood-sugar comes from eating high-sugar foods, like your typical soft drinks and desserts; however any carbohydrates, even complex-carbohydrates elevate the blood sugar level and therefore cause for this storage process to be initiated. This of course then begs the question: Why on earth would you ever eat a high complex-carbohydrate, low-saturated fat diet? In essence this makes no sense as a high-complex carbohydrate diet would simply cause your body to make plenty of saturated fat on its own.
Insulin touches every corner of your body and here is only a partial breakdown of what it causes in the body:
-Storage of magnesium
-Retention of sodium
-Stimulates cell proliferation and division
-Stores sugar as fat
-Mediates blood lipids (i.e. Triglycerides)
-Helps control the manufacture of cholesterol
-Helps control sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
-Controls growth hormone
-Elevates plasma non-esterified free fatty acid concentrations
-Increases hepatic secretion of VLDL
As you can see insulin has some important functions in the human body and without it you wouldn’t be long for this world. However the key with insulin is to have a proper balance, and primarily to have only a small amount floating around in your blood stream at any one time.
Insulin resistance, also known as type 2 diabetes or adult onset diabetes is a growing problem in the U.S. In 2000, according to the World Health Organization, at least 171 million people worldwide suffered from diabetes, or 2.8% of the population. Its incidence is increasing rapidly, and it is estimated that by the year 2030, this number will almost double.
When sugar enters the blood stream insulin is released and signals your cells to store the sugar first as glycogen and then as fat. The mechanism for this is that there are specific receptor sites for insulin on the membrane of each cell. When a molecule of insulin touches the receptor a chain reaction takes place causing for the cell to perform whatever functions it does when in the presence of insulin. Cell membranes have a self-regulating mechanism called up- or down-regulation of receptors. This literally means that they either create more (up-regulation) or less receptors (down-regulation) for a specific chemical related to how much of it they are in contact with over time. In other words when a cell is constantly bombarded with a chemical it begins to down-regulate its receptors for that chemical and becomes less sensitive to it. This is similar to when you first enters a room with a strong smell, it is very noticeable, but after being in the room for some time your sense of smell accommodates (down-regulation) and you don’t notice it as much, but if you leave and then re-enter (up-regulation) you can then notice the smell strongly again. In the case of insulin resistance, the cells are down-regulating their insulin receptors, and therefore they are less responsive to it in the blood stream. However, even if the cells are resistant to the messages of insulin, you body still requires something to happen to the sugar floating in your blood, so your pancreas begins to secrete higher and higher amounts of insulin in order to achieve the same results. This is where the trouble really begins. An over abundance of insulin in the human body has numerous detrimental effects:
-Decreases the cellular uptake of vitamin C. (A blood sugar level of 120 reduces the phagocytic index by 75%. The phagocytic index is a measure of how rapidly an immune cell can destroy a virus, bacteria, or cancel cell.)
-Your cells become resistant to magnesium, which causes your blood vessels to constrict, which causes your blood pressure to rise.
-It raises triglyceride, and LDL levels
-It leads to coronary artery disease (CAD) by causing blood to clot to readily, the conversion of macrophages into foam cells, constriction of arteries, and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Not to mention the fact that it interferes with vitamin C uptake.
-It causes dyslipidemia i.e. Increased triglycerides, decreased HDL and increased LDL.
-Syndrome X (HBP, high cholesterol, Insulin resistance)
-Certain epithelial cell carcinomas (cancer)
-Cutaneous papillomas (skin tags)
-Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
-Male vertex balding
Now the Million dollar question: What do I do about insulin?
The answer in its simplest form is; stop eating sugar! O.K., O.K. I know for most people this solution sounds easier than it is. So what are some more “reasonable” steps one can take to reign in insulin levels?
The first distinction to make is identifying the primary sources of sugar in your diet.
Liquid Sugar Recently a report came out detailing that the average American diet consists of 1/3 calories form sugar! That means that 1 out of every 3 calories that you eat in a day has no positive nutritive value, and even more it can lead to many of the health challenges detailed above. Another detail reported in the report was that a large number of these calories from sugar come in liquid form, soda, juice, etc… And despite the commercials to the contrary, high fructose corn syrup in not good for you, at the least it is equal to regular sugar, and in reality there is evidence that it could be worse for your insulin levels.
White Flour Another important point to consider is that white flour is basically sugar. Much of it turns into simple sugar before it even hits your stomach. So In reality you can view any white flour the same as eating straight sugar, and compounding the issue, sugar usually accompanies white flour.
What about maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, raw sugar? In short, they are all still sugar and you r body still needs to deal with it when it enters your blood stream by releasing insulin. Yes, they do break down a little slower, so in that respect they don’t cause for as rapid of an insulin dump, but insulin has to be produced anyway.
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Supplements: Aside from reducing and or eliminating sugar in your diet, which is the most vital part, there are also some supplements that can help balance the effects of sugar in your blood. Again however, these are supplements, meaning they are meant to supplement healthy diet and behavior, not replace it.
–Cinnamon: research has shown that cinnamon can reduce blood sugar levels and lower blood cholesterol as well. Even 20 days after the cinnamon treatment had ended, the patients continued to see beneficial effects.
-Chromium: this can increase the ability of cells to burn fat rather than needing to burn sugar.
–Omega-3 oils: This can improve cellular circulation by making the membrane more fluid, thereby increasing receptor sensitivity.
Exercise: Research has shown that regular resistance training has been shown to be better than aerobic training in bringing down insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Insulin Resistance can be reversed: Studies of humans show that insulin resistance can be significantly improved and even reversed by simple yet extensive dietary changes, sometimes within only a few weeks.
There are over 50 essential nutrients for the human body, all of which can be successfully ingested without ever eating grains of sugars.