When I bring up the topic of insulin, many people who have some familiarity with this important hormone figure that it doesn’t apply to them. People often think that insulin is something that people with diabetes take, but isn’t all that important for the rest of the population.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking can be a little off the mark.

For those who don’t know, insulin is like a messenger that is released from the pancreas. This messenger, once released, tells our body’s cells to increase their glucose uptake and slows the release of glucose from our liver. That means, if we have a meal that is high in carbohydrates, which breaks down into sugar, our body will release insulin to help prevent our blood sugar from getting too high.

By moving glucose from our blood stream and into our cells, it prevents the damage that can come from long term elevations in blood sugar that are well documented. Things like kidney disease, nerve damage, eye damage, and dementia.

Getting back to the original point, this mechanism occurs in every one of us each time we have a meal with refined carbohydrates or processed sugars. If we continue to eat this way on a consistent basis, our body will have to release high amounts of insulin over and over again, in an attempt to keep things at normal levels. This occurs even if we DON’T have diabetes.

Multiple problems begin to arise when we have these continuous insulin surges. Just like the boy who cried wolf, our cells stop responding to insulin when it is signaling to them all the time. The cells become less sensitive or INSULIN RESISTANT. This means that even though our insulin messenger is being released into the blood, the cells are essentially not paying attention anymore because they have heard the “wolf cry” so many times before.

To compensate, our pancreas begins to release MORE insulin in an effort to get the message across. Now, instead of speaking with cells and telling them to do their job, the pancreas is SHOUTING at them. This will work on a short term basis, but does not fix the problem and will eventually make the insulin resistance WORSE.

This sort of process can occur with people who are working long hours and not getting enough exercise or the person who is hardly eating and is relying on coffee and bagels just to get through their busy day. The point is, people who do not have even and steady blood sugar throughout the day can create a scenario where insulin spikes in response to high blood glucose and creates a negative cascade of physiology.

When insulin spikes, it begins to draws other systems into this unfortunate wind-up of symptoms. It promotes the enzyme uric acid synthase, which increases uric acid levels and gives people chronic, achy, widespread pain. It changes the function of the transporters that carry protein across our brain barrier and eventually become neurotransmitters. This can cause unstable emotional states and may be a component of depression and neurodegeneration. It starts converting glucose into fats, which increases our body’s fat stores, may lead to fatty liver, and increases our “bad” cholesterol. The increase in overall sugar load damages our arteries, gut, nerves, and brain.

We often call unstable blood sugar “the root of all evil” because as a basic fuel for all of our body’s cells, when it’s not being properly utilized, many systems may go awry. A simple analogy is to try driving you car without any gas. It simply doesn’t work.

The good news is that by following a diet that limits processed foods, sugars, and high carbohydrates, and focuses on eating fresh vegetables and fruit, clean proteins, wild caught fish, and healthy fats, these problems can be rectified and reversed. The body has a great ability to adapt and heal, but it needs to be provided the basic building blocks for it to do so.

-Dr. B

Note: This information is designed for educational purposes only and should not be used in any other manner. It is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice.