Insulin Sensitivity is In

Insulin issues are the name of the 21st century disease game. At the current diagnosis rate, 1/3rd of all children will have Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is essentially accelerated aging due to increased oxidation from excess glucose in the blood; at this rate, we are priming a whole generation to lead a disease-riddled, expensive life. Not only does diabetes profoundly inhibit health, but it is also seriously expensive. Yearly, an individual will spend $13,700 and our country will spend $825 billion just to ameliorate the effects of a 99.99999% preventable disease (Harvard Chan School of Public Health, April 2016).

Insulin resistance is the precursor to Type 2 diabetes, and 25% of the non-diabetic population are unknowingly insulin resistant (and 25% will go on to develop full-blown Type 2 diabetes). We need insulin to tell our cells how to deliver glucose out of the bloodstream and into tissue so it can be utilized for energy. The conversion of food to energy is foundational to life; when the body loses the ability to do this task correctly, a domino effect of disease ensues. This is why insulin resistance (also known as Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X) and diabetes are always accompanied by co-morbidities: neuro-degeneration, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cancer, etc. The underlying biochemical defect of all these chronic degenerative diseases is all the same: decreased sensitivity to insulin signaling.

So why does our body stop responding to insulin? It’s a combination of things- mainly sugar, processed foods and trans fats (the two go hand-in-hand), stress, and lack of exercise. Obviously, there is a lot of this in the modern world, and some individuals are more susceptible than others. When insulin signaling gets disrupted and excess glucose remains in the blood instead of being transported to the appropriate places, our internal environment shifts to a disordered state. The pancreas will begin secreting larger amounts of insulin to overcome to the lack of insulin signaling. So now, there is more than enough insulin in the blood but the cells simply can’t get the message because of all the misplaced glucose.

All that glucose floating around in our blood stream eventually oxidizes, clunking up our vessels and jeopardizing circulation. Think crusty bread– the same reaction that forms crust on bread forms clunks in our blood: the sugar molecules of the bread react with the proteins in our blood to form clunky, gloopy Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) which are seriously bad news. They stress our body out, contributing to further inflammation and stress and screwing up blood flow.

There is great biochemical diversity among individuals, so some folks can maintain this hyperinsulinemic (“excessive insulin”) state for a while without developing diabetes, while others develop it immediately. Folks with Syndrome X will have a cluster of signs and symptoms: abdominal fat, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, depressed HDL (“good” cholesterol), cognitive decline, poor circulation, etc. With excess glucose in the blood, the body goes into an alarm state because it knows that glucose isn’t supposed to be there. The body’s alarm state is inflammation. It starts firing off inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers), tipping our bodies further and further in the direction of disorder and disease. It’s a vicious cycle and the one spinning the wheel is us. Our unfit lifestyle and dietary habits are fueling the diabetic fires.

When you tally all the potential pain and expense you’ll be sparing yourself by making some simple yet effective lifestyle modifications, the answer is easy: do it! You can reverse diabetes and Syndrome X- it will take time and effort, lots of vegetables, herbs, and exercise, but your renewed vigor and figure will outshine your longing for simple, refined sugars. When you start eliminating sugar and processed foods and then go back to them, you will be amazed by how sweet and non-nourishing they taste. We must shift our bodies back to states of efficient metabolism, smooth digestion, and clean elimination. It is our responsibility on earth to take care of our bodies.

There is a simple formula to re-sensitize our bodies to that ever-important chemical, insulin. You can follow these recommendations as closely or loosely as you’d like, depending on your degree of insulin resistance.

1. Eat vegetables, protein, with every meal. A typical day could look like this: eggs and greens for breakfast; berries and nuts for snack; sautéed vegetables and pesto with chicken/mushrooms/fish for lunch; an apple and cheese for snack; lentils and salmon for dinner; 70% or higher dark chocolate with a fat glob of coconut oil and sea salt for dessert.

2. Stay away from fruit juices, tropical, and dried fruits. Berries are the best fruit choices, as well as apples, plums, pears, and citrus fruits. Avoid all processed food and refined sugar. Avoid all breads and grains, especially white bread. After a while, you can start incorporating a bit of good quality, whole and ancient grain treats: sprouted grain bread, whole-wheat sourdough, oatmeal, and buckwheat are some fine examples.

3. The best plants to consume are pretty much all of them! Dark leafy greens, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc.), onions, zucchini, cucumber, squash, peppers, beans, peas, tomatoes, turnips, radishes, lettuce, avocados, asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes… Wow! there are so many wonderful vegetables to eat. It’s best to avoid white potatoes and corn. Starchy vegetables that are okay to eat include sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes.

4. Eat good fats with every meal. Omega 3s – essential for good health and lacking in the modern diet- shift bodies back to un-inflamed states. When we get our body to an un-inflamed state, it will begin to heal itself. Fish oils, walnuts, flaxseed oil, olive oil, and coconut oil are all good sources. Animal fat/butter are okay to eat in small quantities for they have many Omega 6s, which can shift our body back to inflamed states. Some body types, typically prone to constipation, are able to handle large amounts of good fats and need it for smooth digestion. For others, a modest amount of fat will do.

5. AVOID PROCESSED FOODS and TRANS FATS. Even if a processed food doesn’t have sugar, it is still playing a major role in perpetuating insulin resistance and inflammation. The more packaging and indiscernible ingredients, the more processed the food. Processed foods and trans-fats go hand and hand. Humans created trans-fats so they could turn liquid fat into a solid for transporting and processing purposes. Our bodies haven’t quite figured out how to process this new chemically structured fat. Therefore, it doesn’t get processed and just sits in the blood stream causing clunkiness and oxidation. Oxidized fats in the blood is a ticking time bomb for blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, etc. Sometimes, in a pinch you might have to rely on packaged food to fuel you. But feed your cells the right way! Instead, choose nuts, seeds, beef jerky, or a piece of fruit for a quick snack.

6. Get a good quality probiotic and eat fermented foods. Every aspect of our being is dictated by the bacteria in our gut (Salina Nelson, 2016). The bulk of our immunity and neurotransmitters is maintained and manufactured by our gut bacteria. They unlock crucial vitamins and minerals and make nutrients available to us. Gut dysbiosis – an unhealthy bacterial state in our tummies- effects our whole body. Gut dysbiosis, which largely results from lack of vegetables (they eat fiber), excessive sugar, trans-fats, and processed foods, is marked by inflammation. Remember: when our bodies shifts to the alarmed state of inflammation, everything malfunctions. Dr. Ohhira probiotics are a great choice. Stay away from cheap probiotics at convenient stores and those that need refrigeration (probiotics should be shelf stable).

7. Exercise. Move every day. Don’t sit down so much. Little subtle movements add up: use the stairs; bend at the knees rather the hips when you pick something up; take a 30 minute walk after dinner; do ten pushups during your bathroom break (and then wash your hands and smell your pits); stretch. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, lubricates hungry joints, and facilitates circulation so that life-giving blood can travel to all the places it needs to go. Exercise reduces stress, too. Stress hormones cause inflammation. Are you seeing

8. Don’t eat past 8 PM. It is a bad health habit to go to bed on a full tummy. Digestion takes a lot of energy. Even though we are sleeping, our bodies are still working if we have to digest food and alcohol while we sleep. Night-time is time for our detoxifying organs to do rejuvenation and maintenance work. If you are starving, a small snack is fine.

9. HERBS and MINERALs. While food and lifestyle habits are foundational, herbs and minerals help wake up our cells to insulin signaling and help us efficiently utilize the fuel we are ingesting. Here are some common herbs and minerals known to improve insulin sensitivity and sugar handling:

-Bitter melon, Momordica charantia

-True cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum

-America Ginseng, Panax quinquefolius

-Turmeric, Curcuma longa

-Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum

-Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra

-Blueberry leaf, Vaccinium ssp.

-Mulberry leaf, Morus ssp.

-Any bitter herb (Milk thistle, Artichoke, Gentian, Wormwood)

-Moringa, Moringa oleifera

-Chromium

 

Supplements like Vitanica’s Metabolic Manager and Natura’s IG Sensitizer are reliable and easy ways to incorporate these herbs into your life. Cooking with cinnamon, turmeric, and fenugreek and making strong herbal infusions of blueberry and mulberry leaves are more involved ways to remedy your life.

Any adaptogenic herb is great to take daily. Adaptogenic herbs strengthen our body’s complex reactions to stress. They are safe to take daily and come in many different forms. Find the one that works with your body. I like Reishi (Ganoderma spp.) and Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum).

 

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Like Julia Child says, “Everything in moderation, even moderation”. Treat sweets and breads like a once a week treat. Your appreciation and enjoyment of them will enhance greatly.

 

References

Salina Nelson, personal interview, May 2017.

Textbook of Functional Medicine

Preventing Diabetes, Harvard Chan School of Public Health, April 2016.