Eager to move past coronavirus?
Maybe you should consider a more likely risk, but one over which you have greater influence … insulin resistance.
Fortunately, as I write, ‘only’ 1,157 New Zealanders have confirmed cases of Covid-19 … about 0.023% of our population. On the other hand, according to the Journal of Diabetes Complications, an estimated 32% of people have insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes, which afflicts over 250,000 New Zealanders.
What the heck is insulin resistance? How do you know if you have it? And what can you do about it if you do?
In my last article I talked about whether sugar was a friend or foe. It turns out that it isn’t our best friend and can make us fat and unwell. Let’s explore the relation between glucose and insulin and why sugar makes us fat.
Carbohydrates (sugar, sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, pastries, honey, maple sugar, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, pumpkin and corn) are turned into glucose by our body. Glucose is then transported via our blood system to the cells, where it is used as fuel. If you are eating too many carbohydrates and other sugary foods, your blood sugar levels will rise and if it isn’t needed, it gets stored as fat.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by our pancreas and moves the glucose out of your blood. The body doesn’t like it when your glucose levels become too high, since too much sugar in the blood can damage your blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease. Insulin will move glucose to the muscles and the liver to be stored as glycogen. These stores can be called on when you need a fast source of energy if you haven’t eaten for a while.
So why does this hormone cause issues for some people?
Our muscle and liver cells don’t have infinite storage space and our body will look to fat cells for storage, since they have an unlimited capacity to expand. The more frequently your blood sugar rises the more often insulin is released. The more insulin you produce, the more sugar you dump as fat. It is a fat-storing hormone.
The bad news is that high insulin levels don’t only encourage your body to convert food into fat, but it also prevents the body’s breakdown of stored fat. Once you put on weight it becomes difficult to shift because your insulin levels are permanently high.
If you don’t have a good diet and have a tendency to snack and binge on sugary foods, drink a lot of coffee or smoke, each time you have a ‘hit’ of sugar, caffeine or a cigarette, you blood sugar will increase. This leads to insulin resistance.
If this happens all the time, your insulin will be trying to move your glucose into your cells. It will be continually knocking on the doors of your cells to open up. If they are full, they can’t open up, but they also get tired of the same old message and become ‘deaf’ to it. As such, your body needs to produce higher levels of insulin to be heard. The end result is that you become insensitive to your own insulin.
Say hello to insulin resistance and potentially diabetes. Diabetes occurs when you’ve become so insulin resistant that your poor pancreas becomes exhausted and cannot produce enough insulin.
Just for the record, around 25% of those who are slim can also have insulin resistance and end up with type II diabetes. The reason for this is that thin people may be ‘skinny’ fat. This refers to a slender body type with small amounts of visible fat, but tending instead to have high visceral fat. This type of fat accumulates around their organs instead of under their skin. They may not look fat, but they have lots of fat in the wrong places.
If you change your diet and start eating well and your weight still does not shift, insulin needs to be addressed, together with stress. Stress interferes with our digestive system and increases the release of cortisol, which lays down visceral fat.
Signs that your blood glucose or insulin response needs some tender loving care:
- You have cravings for sugar and other carbohydrates.
- If you don’t eat regularly you get the shakes and feel irritable.
- You eat processed foods.
- You have low muscle mass.
- You are stressed.
- You feel like you run out of energy if you don’t eat carbohydrates regularly.
- You have skin tags.
- Most days you start your day with caffeine and end it with an alcoholic beverage.
- You have a fatty liver.
- You have high cholesterol.
What can you do about it?
- Get tested by your doctor.
- Look at replacing your packet foods with natural and real foods.
- Eliminate sugar and replace with fresh fruit or very small amounts of honey and pure maple syrup.
- Stick to two fruits a day.
- Limit alcohol for special occasions since it spikes your glucose levels and results in a rapid elevation of insulin. If you drink, make sure you have it with a meal.
- Eat smaller meals more regularly, which will stop you eating because you are ravenous and will reduce cravings.
- Eat healthy fats with each meal.
- Resistance exercise is a must for all those dealing with insulin issues. Exercise increases the sensitivity of skeletal muscle to insulin. When this takes place, your pancreas can make less insulin, so your insulin levels will decrease.
- Diaphragmatic breathing and certain types of exercise can lower cortisol, your chronic stress hormone.
- Look at getting appropriate supplement support for your liver and adrenals from a qualified practitioner.
- Address nutritional deficiencies.
See also: Sugar … Friend or Foe?