Hormone Health Series: Insulin
Insulin may be the most important hormone when it comes to overall health. If your insulin isn’t doing its job correctly, the first thing that happens is you develop pre-diabetes, then full-blown diabetes. After diabetes comes circulation issues, then heart complications, and then death. Insulin is a hormone that controls our hunger, weight, and mood. Insulin helps us metabolize firstly carbohydrates, secondly protein, and lastly fat. Having stable insulin will result in improved energy, sleep, mood, and memory. Let’s go over some principles that will help improve your insulin response. But first let’s talk about the hormone itself and how it functions.
Insulin carries carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from our blood into our cells. When we eat, our stomach breaks down food into tiny particles that are absorbed into the blood. The blood then carries the nutrients we have consumed from our food, then insulin transfers those nutrients from our blood into the cells. Insulin is what transfers the nutrients from the blood into the cells. The problem begins when we eat too many refined carbohydrates or too much fat or even worse, both at the same time. A good example of this is pizza or pastries. The immediate sugars cause our insulin to spike as a response to lot of sugar coming in. The problem here is that the body often releases too much insulin and overcompensates. When there is more insulin than there is sugar, insulin clears the sugars from the blood rapidly and leaves almost no sugar remaining in the blood. We always want to have a little sugar in the blood, but little to no sugar causes us to feel tired and lethargic. For that reason you often feel sleepy after a fatty, sugary meal. The problem with fat is that it clogs up the cells that receive the nutrients. When the nutrients aren’t able to transfer from the blood into the cell, they remain in the blood where they thicken the blood, which causes the cascade of problems.
So we have differentiated between two terms. HYPOglycemia which means the sugars moved too rapidly from the blood to the cells causing us to have a less than ideal amount of sugar remaining in the blood. HYPERglycemia is the result of sugars remaining in the blood, not able to enter into the cell. So how can you prevent this from happening and keeping a healthy blood glucose level?
1.Exercise. Moving around keeps our insulin and cells communicating efficiently. Our cells react to insulin more efficiently when we are working out and then signal to our pancreas that more insulin is not necessary. In turn, our pancreas excretes less insulin, meaning less complications and healthy cells.
2.Eating high fiber, whole food carbohydrates. We know that fiber and water reduce the “insulin spike.” Rather than a rapid release of insulin like with refined carbohydrates, fiber and water slow down the process of sugars getting into the body. This way there is a stable release of insulin when we eat, then our insulin normalizes ~2 hours after we eat. Refined sugars in candies, pastas, doughnuts, etc. will negatively effect your insulin response.
3.Avoiding foods high in saturated fats. Foods like meat, dairy, and eggs are high in saturated fats. These fats have the ability to accumulate in our cells. Studies have shown that reducing saturated fat in the diet not only reduces your risk of heart disease, but also your risk for diabetes.
4.Intermittent fasting. This tip is especially helpful for those who are overweight. When insulin is excreted, we are not able to burn fat. Seeing that insulin is excreted when we eat, no matter what we eat, it is best to wait 3-4 hours between meals before eating again so that the insulin in your system can clear and you can burn fat between meals and during the night. I also suggest a 12-16 hour fast overnight to really get some fat burning going.
If you are already diabetic, especially type 1 diabetic, consult with your phyisician before implementing these tips. If you’re still free of insulin resistance (diabetes), take advantage and apply these tips to avoid diet related complications in the future. You’re welcome to refer to the post Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Explained, which I wrote earlier if you would like clarification on how diabetes happens.