The human body is a remarkable machine that has developed a number of functions to keep us alive and reproducing. In order to facilitate these functions, the body has certain chemical messengers called hormones which tell cells in the body how to behave. Insulin is a vital messenger hormone, facilitating energy production and energy storage. If insulin is not working correctly, the body behaves maladaptively to compensate for the failure of insulin.
Experts estimate that 25 to 30% of Americans suffer with insulin resistance. The results of this insulin resistance can be devastating. In addition to weight gain, the disorder is also associated with high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and an increased risk of cancer. If left unchecked, insulin resistance is a risk factor for heart disease and, of course, type 2 diabetes. To combat insulin resistance, you must understand a little more about the key role that insulin plays in the body’s physiology.
When you eat, your digestive system breaks down food into the simple sugar, glucose, which is the body’s chief form of energy. The glucose is then transported by the bloodstream to the cells of the body. Insulin plays a key role in the transport of glucose into the cells. In fact, insulin’s main role is to get glucose into the cells so that the body can process the glucose into energy.
In the case of insulin resistance, the body’s cells don’t respond to the insulin and glucose is left in the blood stream. The pancreas in return detects the elevated glucose in the blood stream and pumps out more insulin, but since the cells have essentially shut their doors to glucose, the additional insulin really doesn’t do any good. Many individuals with insulin resistance have elevated levels of both insulin and glucose.
Unfortunately, every time these people eat, their glucose levels rise, the pancreas puts out more insulin but their blood glucose levels don’t subside. Eventually in time, the pancreatic cells output of insulin fails from the fatigue of constantly producing insulin which eventually leads to their complete shutdown and type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance develops in response to a diet that is high in carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates like bread, cakes, cookies, candy and other highly processed foods. Peoples whose diets consist of highly processed refined foods will experience frequent large spikes in blood glucose levels and sharp spikes in insulin levels. These constant spikes of insulin, over time, make the cells less responsive to the effects of insulin leading to cellular insulin resistance.
Symptoms of Insulin Resistance:
Confusion (brain fog)
Constipation alternating with loose stools
Skin discoloration behind the neck
Weight Gain and Fat Storage
How does insulin resistance contribute to weight gain?
First, insulin is also known as the hormone of storage. When someone has insulin resistance, because their cells are not able to absorb the glucose that enters the bloodstream, blood glucose levels remain high. As a consequence, the body attempts to remain in glucose balance by signaling the liver to convert the blood sugar into fat. The fat is then stored in the body, especially in the belly and buttocks. Insulin also causes the liver to store more glucose as glycogen in the liver itself. The liver can get sick from storing too much glycogen.
Because glucose cannot enter the cells, the body’s cells are now hungry for glucose that they can’t absorb and they also fail to create energy which leads to feelings of exhaustion. To make a bad situation worse, the body now craves carbs for quick energy to combat the exhaustion. More carbohydrates get consumed which leads to higher levels of blood glucose and more insulin being released which leads to more fat being created. As more fat is created in relation to muscle, the body becomes less able to burn fat and has more difficulty losing weight. In addition, insulin resistance also disrupts the body’s ability to convert tryptophan into neurotransmitters like serotonin, which are involved in curbing one’s appetite and food cravings.
If you believe that you may have insulin resistance, you need to talk with your doctor to see how to reverse the cascade of detrimental health consequences that start with insulin resistance.
Alvin Antony, MD
Writer/ Blogger / Health Advocate