Coming soon on Happiness Series, we’ll be featuring videos with our nutrition & fitness contributor Kerri Gedert, about what foods are best to eat, how to shop smart & how to get the most out of your grocery store. Change your diet, change your life.
Insulin: It’s not just about getting skinny!
Happy (early) Spring, fellow Happiness seekers! No doubt that we are all at least thinking about tackling some Spring-Cleaning. Maybe you’ll purge your closet, make room for a car in the garage or find out what’s under your sofa cushions but more importantly, maybe you’ll take inventory of what’s in you fridge. I humbly submit that one of the most esteemed cleaning projects is this: renewing our bodies.
In my last blog, I began the low-glycemic (Low GI) proclamation, explaining a few of the basics behind following a Low GI lifestyle. As if staying in the almighty fat-burn mode isn’t motivation enough (remember, we are ALWAYS in either fat-burn or fat-store mode) then perhaps learning more about what diseases lurk around the sugar and carbs will motivate you to start paying serious attention. Burning fat all day long all while gearing your body up to prevent and fight disease sounds pretty appealing, right?
The idea that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie” is about as an antiquated an idea as putting butter on burns. (Curling iron got my neck last night, consequently, the burn reference.) I teach my clients about the “Character of Calories,” and this is one of the most important tenets: Insulin effect.
To review, insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. The more high-glycemic carbs we eat, the more insulin is required to shuttle the resulting blood sugar to its destinations. Remember, a certain amount of insulin is necessary to carry out basic metabolic actions, but too much insulin production is very, very bad news.
If you read my last blog or know anything about the carbohydrate-insulin connection, then you are already armed with the knowledge that insulin is responsible for feeding your fat cells when the amount of carbohydrates you’ve consumed exceeds your energy requirements. So you get that? That lots of high GI carbs = lots of insulin + increased fat production and storage. That’s pretty compelling math all by itself. However, the plot thickens substantially as we dig into the role that insulin plays in putting your body at serious risk for a multitude of diseases. Researchers and medical doctors have figured out that over-production of insulin in our bodies leads to “Insulin Resistance” and “Metabolic Syndrome.” Metabolic Syndrome, simply put, is a reference to all of the metabolic processes in our body that become devastated by Insulin Resistance. So what is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance (IR) is a condition in which the cells of the body become resistant to the effects of insulin, that is, the normal response to a given amount of insulin is reduced. As a result, higher levels of insulin are needed in order for insulin to have its effects.
We know that insulin’s main job is to escort sugar out of the blood and into muscle and fat cells. But sometimes those cells resist letting it in, especially the more we demand of our bodies to produce insulin by eating high GI carbs. So the pancreas, which makes insulin, tries to crank out even more. If it can’t, blood sugar climbs to dangerous levels and the result is Type II diabetes. More often, however, the pancreas does make more insulin. The extra hormone may restore blood sugar to normal, but it overwhelms the rest of the body. That spells trouble, because insulin is more than just a sugar-shuttle. It tells the kidneys, for example, to hold on to salt. And more salt means hypertension. It tells cancer cells to grow, and that can mean a tumor. Fortunately, doctors are starting to devise new ways to treat insulin resistance and “metabolic syndrome” with lifestyle changes which include eating a low-GI diet. They are still working out all the connections, but already they have a list of some of the leading insulin-related illnesses:
Cancer: Insulin stimulates cell growth, and unfortunately cancer cells have 6 to 10 times the number of insulin receptors–molecules that grab on to the hormone–as normal cells. So if extra hormone hits a pre-existing cancer cell, it makes a bad thing much, much worse. For cancer, insulin is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Colon, breast, endometrial, pancreatic, and prostate cancers seem especially responsive. Doctors think breast cancer cells may have very special kinds of receptors, fetal insulin receptors, that are ultra-sensitive to insulin. Insulin may also influence estrogen, another hormone that can trigger tumor growth. So if you turn on one hormone, you turn on the other.
Cardiovascular Disease: High levels of insulin in the blood damage the lining of arteries, increase bad blood fats such as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and clump blood cells together so they are more likely to block up vessels.
Ovary Disease: According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, polycystic ovary syndrome affects 1 in 10 women and is the leading cause of infertility in the United States. High levels of insulin trigger excess production of other hormones by the ovaries, disrupting regular egg growth and menstrual cycles, preventing pregnancy. Some of these overproduced hormones, or androgens, can also cause male-pattern hair growth on the face & other unpleasant appearance changes. Basically, says Mark Perloe, an Atlanta endocrinologist & polycystic ovary syndrome specialist, “insulin is driving the ovary crazy.”
Alzheimer’s: Cells in the brain’s memory and learning centers have a lot of insulin receptors. A quick spike in insulin improves memory and performance. Take insulin away, and brain function begins to decline. But paradoxically, more insulin in the blood–insulin resistance–means less in the brain. One leading theory: Insulin’s corrosive effects on blood vessel linings gums up tiny portals in the vessels that supply the brain, making it harder for the hormone to bring in sugar. Ultimately, this starves brain cells, which can set the stage for some cases of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. (ref: researcher Suzanne Craft, Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System.)
So, there you have it. It really isn’t just about fitting into your jeans. And even if you’re one of those people who can eat pasta, bagels and chips all day long and never gain a pound, you certainly are not immune to these other deleterious effects.
Next time, I’ll share another tool I teach my clients: “The Zig-Zag” which is all about how to recover from veering off of your low GI course. For now, GO-LOW! (GI, that is!)
Happy & Healthy Eating,
To find out more about Kerri & her delicious, tasty treats (all good-for-you, low glycemic) Poparubies, check out her site!
Filed Under: Blogs
About the Author: Kerri Gedert is a Food Scientist/Nutritional Food Product Designer who specializes in recreating traditionally decadent, indulgent (typically starch and sugar based) foods to be low in carbohydrates, gluten-free, sugar-free, high-in-fiber and protein, low-glycemic, comprehensively nutritiousand yes, delicious. Kerri currently resides in Denver, Colorado where she owns and runs Poparuba, her second of two companies she founded to create and market her gluten-free, low-carb, good-for-your pastry creations. Kerri also works as a Food Coach, helping people to understand food and their individual challenges with eating healthfully. Kerri’s goal is to educate, empower and inspire people to permanently change the way they think about, buy, prepare and consume food. Kerri is also a dedicated yogini and fitness fanatic. She is a true lover of food, wine, fitness and wellness, alike. Kerri believes food should be a source of happiness and energy. Kerri’s blog for Happiness Series, “Loving Life and… Food,” gives us great recipes, tips, and information about how to enjoy life, especially good food!