After writing the last newsletter article, I received many requests to expound on insulin resistance. Many expressed that their doctor indicated they were insulin resistant but other than knowing they should cut the sugar out of their diets they didn’t really have a clear understanding of what was occurring internally or exactly what insulin resistance is.
Before we delve into insulin resistance, it is important to understand how sugar and insulin work optimally in our body. When we eat, the food goes into our stomach where it is broken down into glucose. From there the glucose goes through the intestinal wall and enters your blood stream where it becomes blood sugar. This is what is measured when your doctor is checking for sugar in your blood panels. Our brain needs glucose (as well as other nutrients) and therefore a certain amount of sugar needs to be circulating in the blood stream. I am sure at some point we have all experienced that foggy headed, irritable low energy feeling that comes with skipping a meal or going to long without food. This happens because our brain is starving for its food. Glucose can’t get into the cell without some help and this is where insulin comes in. The insulin takes the glucose and puts it into the cells and continues to do that until the glucose levels come down and you don’t need the insulin any more. Theoretically, when the glucose levels go down, you will burn fat stores until the next meal.
It is when this system begins to overreact that insulin resistance starts to occur. By definition, insulin resistance is a condition in which normal amounts of insulin are inadequate to produce a normal response from fat, muscle and liver cells. It is important to realize that insulin resistance is not something that occurs because you have had a bad week and ingested a lot of sugar. Insulin resistance happens over a many years of sugar abuse. A statistic that I recently came across at a conference stopped me in my tracts.
According to the report issued by the US CDC 2011 and US Department of Human Services 2011, 77% of all Americans will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by the time they reach sixty-five years of age and it’s actually higher and earlier this year. How did this happen? A little history will help you understand how we got this way.
Back in the eighties, the government became concerned about the rising levels of heart disease occurring and it was believed that it was the association with saturated fats that was the culprit. A new public health policy was delivered and the surgeon general came out and said that fats were the problem and we now needed to eat a low fat diet. The problem was that low fat meant high carbohydrates. I know that many of you reading this are old enough to remember when we were told to eat pasta with vegetables, whole wheat bread, multigrain cereals, etc. For many people, this was sweet music to the ears, as most of us love our carbohydrates. Being dutiful citizens, we piled on the bread, pasta, cereals and all the carbohydrates we could think of. After all we wanted to be healthy and this is what we needed to do. A typical day would start off with cereal, juice and maybe a fruit followed by lunch that was a low fat turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread and then dinner would consist of some pasta dish and if you were really healthy you might put vegetables in it. All day long our glucose levels would go up high and then back down.
Unfortunately as a nation we are still eating excessively gross amounts of carbohydrates. The body is incredibly efficient and it can predict when you are going to have carbohydrates so as sugar begins to rise it releases too much insulin and the insulin does what it’s supposed to do. But now you have the excess insulin that is left is circulating in the blood stream. This is where the problem begins. Having extra insulin circulating in your blood stream causes three things to happen.
- Sugar Cravings – when you have the extra insulin in your system your body wants to use it so you get hungry for sugar.
- Reactive hypoglycemia -this is when your blood sugar drops low and you feel the symptoms we described earlier such as low energy, irritability, brain fog and fatigue.
- Can’t burn fat! The presence of extra insulin in your blood completely prevents you from burning fat. When you can’t access the fat for energy in between meals, you get tired, crave sugar, and generally eat something like a bagel or anything that you think will boost your energy and then the cycle continues. You do feel better in the moment, but the problem is that you have now released more insulin and the cycle begins again.
How many of you have gone on a diet and no matter what you do you just can’t seem to lose the weight? The likelihood that you have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome is very high.
So…what to do now? STOP TRIGGERING THE INSULIN!
You can start by:
- Reduce carbohydrates until sugar cravings and or fatigue go away (this is about 60 grams of carbs/day for most people). NOT including green vegetables such as beets or carrots
- Eat every three hours. Not big meals but consider nuts, cheese fruit, etc. This will help maintain a consistent blood sugar level and avoid the highs and lows.
- Increase intake of fat and protein and try to eat a little fat with everything.
- Never skip meals.
- Exercise – Interval training and weight lifting are best as opposed to hours of cardiovascular workouts.
- Avoid too much fruit, processed foods of any kind, and high fructose/corn syrup.
If you are diligent, you should start to see a change in a very short period of time. Next month, we will cover “Metabolic Syndrome,” which happens after your insulin resistance goes unchecked. This involves hormonal changes, increased triglycerides and cardiovascular disease.