I bet most of the population is insulin resistant and they don’t even know it. And unfortunately insulin resistance is probably at the core of every single decease. Understanding the effects of insulin is key in order to understand the effects that the standard diets have on us, not only now but especially in the long term.
Metabolism and Insulin
Insulin resistance is a metabolic disease. This mean your metabolism is not efficient or even broken.
Metabolism is the process of (a) breaking down food (but not only) to obtain energy and (b) the use of these compounds to rebuild tissues and cells. By saying that your metabolism is broken this means your cells don’t have the right building blocks to create energy, rebuild and heal. This is everything we need to thrive and be healthy basically.
Insulin is at the heart of regulating your metabolism and everything around it. As all hormones, insulin can be thought of as a messenger. From the blood stream, insulin is the messenger that communicates with the cells.
Think of insulin like the key to every cell. It signals to the cells that there are nutrients and energy floating in the blood and they should open the door and collect them. When you eat carbs (and to a lesser extend protein) blood sugar levels raise so the pancreas secretes insulin to distribute to the cells the sugar and bring the blood sugar levels down.
- Insulin is a hormone which acts as the key to every single cell and moves glucose (from carbs and protein) into the cells.
- Insulin controls the levels of the blood sugars and tries to keep them stable.
Breaking your metabolism
As with everything in life balance is very important. And your body always tries to keep the balance.
In this discussion our body always tries to keep the blood sugars stable throughout the day, which is crucial for having energy, focus and in the long-term to avoid diabetes, heart attacks and more.
However you overeat carbs, especially refined sugar, and/or eat 5-6 times a day you are sending continious signals that there is energy. And the body must deal with it. Every time you eat it must raise insulin to distribute what you eat. The problem begins when your cells get tired of this constant demand. Here is what happens next
- Your cells can’t use this much energy so they reject it. Excess energy is stored as in your fat cells (adipose tissue). You have now broken your metabolism and put on weight.
- Pancreas insists that the cells need to take-up the energy and it must keep the blood sugar level stable so it secretes more insulin. You now have high insulin levels in your blood.
- Over time, your cells will become increasingly more resistance to the insulin, resulting also in high blood sugar levels.
- Eventually, your pancreas becomes damaged, leading to decreased insulin production. At this point you are diabetic (Type2)
- Insulin resistance happens when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver do not respond to insulin and can’t take up glucose from your blood. As a result, your pancreas makes more insulin to help glucose enter your cells.⠀
- Insulin resistance (IR) is a problem of excess energy which overtime leads to imbalances and evetually diabetes.
Implications and symptoms
Insulin resistance is associated with obesity, high blood pressure, hyperglycaemia, PCOS, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease just to name a few. The main reasons are
- Every cell needs energy and nutrients to function and if they are insulin resistant they deprive themselves from these. This is the first in a mal-functioning body.
- Increase in inflammation : Fat cells also become insulin resistance when they cant grow any more and they start spilling fat back to blood stream and release cytokines which are inflammatory
The different stages of insulin resistance will also manifest with various symptoms like the below
- At the start you have cravings: When insulin cannot bring glucose into the cell, the cells become starved. Starving cells will crave sugar and carbohydrates as it’s your body’s preferred energy source (in a high carb diet).
- Weight gain: Insulin promotes fat storage, so the more insulin hanging around the more fat storage. At the same token it will be impossible to lose weight.
- Slow metabolism: Insulin resistance creates an inability of your body to properly convert the food that you eat into energy to fuel your cells.⠀
- Mood disturbances such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression & insomnia ⠀
Messed-up lipid profile: Insulin lowers HDL and raises triglycerides. Low HDL and high Triglycerides are an indication.
Hormonal issues: Insulin causes hormonal issues that can lead to infertility, acne, decreased testosterone, & facial hair ⠀
And the end you have premature aging and decease : High insulin resistance means higher levels of insulin, and this predisposes for diabetes, heart disease cancer and many aging dis-functions.
What can you do
Insulin resistance is essentially a symptom of the moder way of living. Too much food and too less movement. But is can be fixed. We have seen that over and over again and it is well researched.
But of all check if you are insulin resistant and create a baseline. These are my recommendations but please consult with your doctor.
- Fasting Insulin should be around 5mIU/L
- After 2-hours of doing a glucose tolerance test your blood sugar should be below 120 mg/dL. This test can be done at home.
- The HLD to Triglycerides ratio is >1
- HOMA-IR should be below 2.6
- BMI is within range for your gender and age.
If any of the above is a negative you have some sort of insulin resistance. What can you do you ask? Let’s see
- Start a low-carb, ketogenic lifestyle : Reduce refined carbs like white sugar, cookies, cakes, white breads and anything that is is not whole food. Consume plenty of vegetables.
- If you are insulin resistant, your body won’t be able to handle any amounts of carbs, so at the start you will need to reduce also fruits (sweet and non-sweet). You can re-introduce them later though! Check out the Nutrition Series 2 for more information.
- Reduce all vegatable oils. The topic here is quite complicated but processed oils (Linoleic Acid) contribute to insulin resistance but sending the wrong singals to our fat cells.
- Start intermittent fasting: Restricting your eating window (e.g in a 10-hour window) is quite easy and has great benefits to give your body a rest.
- Start moving around: Move or exercise on a daily basis. Find something you like and stick to it. Walking, swimming, zumba are all great options and will give the right signals to our cells. Personally I prefer resistance training, strength training and yoga as a healthy muscle mass helps with insulin sensitivity.
- Sleep: Sleeping 7-9 hours a night. Good quality sleep is essential to keep hunger hormones in check and thus insulin.
- Stress: Reducing stress is a must. Stress hormones such as cortisol increase blood sugar, amplify appetite and cause weight gain all which promote insulin resistance.
Preventing insulin resistance may be one of the most powerful ways to live a longer, healthier life.⠀⠀
- Insulin resistance is a metabolic disease of too much insulin driven by excess carbs, overeating or eating too frequently.
- Insulin resistance is in the background of gaining weight, cravings, mood issues and many more.
- Starting keto and intermittent fasting will greatly help, but you need to take a holistic view at your life. Prioritise yourself and your well-being.