Pure and simple, the better you are at regulating insulin, the better life you will live. I’m not talking about destroying your body to the point where you have to check your blood sugar 3x/day and regulate the spikes with an extra injection of insulin. Even if you’re a type 1 diabetic with an insulin pump, your choices can have a dramatic effect on the amount and frequency of usage.
If I’m speaking at an event and the topic of insulin arises, which it most likely will, people are quick to blurt out, ‘it regulates sugar.’ Yes, you are correct but this just scratches the surface to how insulin will impact your life, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
Yes, it is true that insulin reacts to elevations in blood sugar. As blood sugar levels rise, this is a signal to your nervous system that you have more energy than is needed at this point in time. You can either drastically increase your energy demands by sprinting and doing box jumps or you can rely on insulin to store it for later.
Your body will first store it in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. If you added up all the stored energy in your liver and muscles, it may last you 24 hours. This is why exercise alone, though fantastic for brain development and nervous system regulation, often fails as a weight loss strategy for many people. Someone is looking to burn off that spare tire. Unless you plan on exercising non-stop for 24 hours, you may not get past the stored energy in your liver and muscles to touch the stuff around your midsection.
What kills your 6 pack dreams even more is that you reward yourself for all that hard work you just accomplished. You know better than to eat garbage. Instead you go for the ‘healthy’ low fat, low calorie goods. In reality, you just ate a 1/2 cup of sugar, which gets redeposited back into your liver and muscles. Since you didn’t use ALL your stored liver and muscle glycogen during exercise and just consumed more sugar than you burned off, you added another layer of insulation for the winter.
The stored energy that targets the butt, gut, and thighs isn’t glycogen, it’s stored in the form triglycerides. You’ve seen these on your lab work. Because it’s fat, I’m sure your well intentioned cardiologist told you to eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates and low fat. “If we need to eliminate fat, than we have to lower our fat intake.” The only thing that cardiologist did was keep himself in business with advice that resembles assisted suicide. Since ‘diet and exercise’ didn’t work for you, then you have no hope other than taking drugs. Sound familiar?
The storage of excess energy is more than just insulin being released by the pancreas. All your cells have receptors that listen for insulin. The problem is that insulin is really annoying. You have a ton of energy floating around the blood and you want to crank it up and use. Insulin is like the ‘no no’ police with their ‘no no’ police whistle. Those blood energy levels start creeping up and ‘TWEET,’ the whistle gets blown.
At first, the receptors listen to the whistle because they associate it with danger. Everyone stops and listens. The problem is that repeated whistle blows get really annoying and because there hasn’t been any fatalities, they sound like chronic false alarms. After a while, the receptors shut down, willfully disrespecting insulin’s warnings.
The pancreas sends out even more troops to sound the insulin alarm. Now the whole system is in panic mode. The nervous system sees the panic and sends your physiology into a fight or flight reaction. Cortisol is dumped into the system, which ironically shunts more sugar into the system. “If there is an emergency, I’m going to air on the side of caution and make sure there’s enough energy to escape the treat.’
Immune System Failure
Besides the fact that your body is in fight or flight and the last thing on your mind is fighting a cold when you have to fight a potential mugging, your body disregulates vitamin C. Biochemically, glucose (sugar) and vitamin C are virtually identical. Vitamin C is made directly from glucose and use the same cell receptor.
Why do people get sick during the holidays? It’s the ravenous consumption of sugar. What is the typical solution or perceived prevention? Consume enormous amounts of vitamin C. You have both competing for the same entry point into the cell. Whatever had more in the area wins. In theory that strategy could work to feed your immune system.
The reality is that all that sugar consumption (wheat especially) will kick insulin into gear and we’re back to the cycle of police whistles. Your immune system has no shot at utilizing vitamin C. Ditch the excess Vitamin C but more importantly, ditch the low fat, high sugar foods. My wife was looking for an almond flour cookie recipe the other day. It boasted that it only had 3 ingredients and was gluten free. The recipe was almond flour, SUGAR, and peanut butter. I don’t care if it’s raw, cane, or organic. It’s still sugar and it’s going to wreck your insulin regulation.
I always thought it was rather ironic that sports drink try and solve electrolyte imbalances by dumping loads of sugar down your throat. A role of insulin is to store magnesium. What’s the major role of magnesium? It relaxes muscles. Calcium makes your muscles contract, magnesium makes them relax.
This lack of muscle relaxation is more than Restless Leg Syndrome. Your blood vessels and heart are all muscles. If your blood vessels are chronically contracted, this is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure. Add a heart muscle that can’t relax and you’re just looking for sudden cardiac arrest.
You want electrolytes so you have more energy, right? Magnesium is a co-factor in all cellular energy producing reactions. If you’re not using magnesium, then you aren’t producing energy.
Ironically, magnesium is vital for the production of insulin. If you have high insulin levels, you lose magnesium. This creates even more insulin resistance and you’re left with high blood pressure and heart rate, elevated triglycerides, a decreased immune system, and one foot in the grave.
What about potassium? Potassium follows sugar. If your cells are listening to insulin, potassium gets absorbed. If you are insulin resistant, potassium remains in the blood. This can leave you feeling irritable, crampy with diarrhea and heart abnormalities.
But Gatorade can’t be bad. All your super hero athletes drink it. They wouldn’t drink it if it didn’t work, right?
Aging and Cancer
What we have been talking about prior to this puts insulin in the role as an anabolic hormone. Insulin has duel roles. It’s also a mitogenic hormone. Remember high school biology with mitosis? One cell becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8, etc? Insulin plays a great role in this function.
The problem is that when insulin is out of control and not well regulated, it will target tissues that don’t become insulin resistant. Fat cells are the least insulin resistant. Don’t think of the fatty areas in the mid section. Breast tissue is very fatty and therefore not very resistant to insulin’s cell dividing effects.
Brain tissue is very fatty and therefore not very insulin resistant. This is why brain ailments like Alzheimer’s are being called Type 3 diabetes.
Genetically, your body has a program for about 120 years worth of cell divisions. It’s your lifestyle that determines how quickly those cell divisions happen. The faster the cell divisions happen, the quicker you age. Insulin and insulin resistant aren’t the problem, they are merely the effect of lots of decisions that shift a body away from purity and sufficiency.
Insulin sensitivity (how well your body listens to insulin and how often it has to) will affect thyroid conversion, bone density, cholesterol levels, blood clotting, hormone regulation, artery linings, PCOS and virtually every function in your body. Insulin is found in every single celled organism and is often used as the determining factor for quality and quantity of life.
From what I have seen with patients through the past 10 years in practice, I think it’s safe to say we can judge quality and quantity of health of the individual based on insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance isn’t just happening in the over weight. I’ve often seen it in ‘skinny fat’ people too. These are people that show up great on a BMI chart but have little muscle tone and a high percentage of body fat for their size and shape.
Must Do Testing
Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) is a must do test you should ask your doctor to run. You can even get home kits to track your HbA1C levels. Traditionally, it’s used for assessing diabetes. The implications of this test give amazing insight into the rest of your body and what ails you in addition to your risk of diabetes or insulin resistance.
HbA1C is the short hand for Glycosylated Hemoglobin. In other words, it’s measuring the amount of hemoglobin that is attached to a sugar or a process called glycation. You’ve heard of oxidation and free radicals; you should put glycation right up there on the familiar list, it’s just as damaging. If there is an elevated HbA1C value, it means you have a high percentage of glycation happening (lots of sugars and proteins shacking up) and lots of damage occurring in your body.
Why would sugars and proteins get it on? There’s no place else for the sugar to go. There’s no room at the liver and muscles’ inn. You aren’t burning it fast enough or are just consuming too much of it. It’s not being deposited and stored fast enough in fatty areas. Proteins are the last resort.
In this case, it’s the protein hemoglobin. There are other glycosylated proteins. Most often this sugar is from your carb consumption. This is why I’m a fan of a paleo style diet since it eliminates grains. Wheat spikes your blood sugar higher than a Snickers and M&Ms combined. Don’t just trade wheat for other high glycemic ingredients often found in your processed ‘gluten-free’ aisle.
It could also mean your adrenals are on constant go mode. Your nervous system is on constant alert waiting to put fires out. Cortisol, released by the adrenal glands, frees up stored sugar and deposits it into your blood stream for instant energy to escape a perceived attack. You may have loads of emotional and mental stress contributing to this excess Cortisol. Maybe you’re a caffeine addict. This performance enhancing drug does the same thing as that emotional stress. It fires the adrenals.
The other major problem is that HbA1C isn’t just an indicator of illness, it’s a contributor. When a protein and a sugar hook up, they are called Advanced Glycosylated Endproducts (A.G.E.s). Not-so-ironic A.G.E.s make you age fast. They are like razor blades slicing and dicing through your arteries and veins, leaving a wake of damage in their dust. The more damage, the more inflammation. The more inflammation, the more your nervous system signals danger and you shift over to being in a fight or flight predominant state. This all leads to cells dying off faster than programmed.
New cells get formed to replace the ones that were killed off but unless you drastically change your environment (your eating patterns, movement routine, social settings, and mental/emotional/spiritual practices), it’s like sending in pop warner football players to try and tackle Marshawn Lynch. They don’t stand a chance.
If you’re concerned about your hormones, you need to address this hormone, Insulin, before playing symptom chaser with hot flashes and erectile dysfunction. Need your kid to perform better in school? Assess insulin. Worried about cancer? Assess insulin. Fretting over dementia? Assess insulin. Need help? You know how to contact me.