INSULIN resistance is a condition that arises from the body’s inability to efficiently burn food. When this happens, normal amounts of insulin are not enough to produce a normal insulin response. This condition is caused primarily by a diet high in refined carbohydrates such as cereals, soft drinks, doughnuts, muffins, bread and pasta and can lead to Syndrome X and eventually Type II Diabetes.
Syndrome X occurs when insulin resistance is combined with high levels of blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides), too much body fat and high blood pressure. Both conditions increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes along with other life-threatening diseases.
Controlling blood sugar levels is the first important step for those who are insulin resistant. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that diet plays a very important role with glucose and insulin as the main players. Glucose is a simple sugar, also known as blood sugar, which flows through the bloodstream as the main fuel for our body’s cells. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas and transports glucose from the blood into cells where it is burned as energy. Levels of glucose and insulin fluctuate a bit through the day and under ideal conditions move slowly within a limited range. However, if a person is insulin resistant, these levels move sharply up and down throughout the day. Keeping these levels stable, by choosing less refined carbohydrates and sugar-loaded foods, is the first step in controlling insulin resistance.
By producing insulin, the body is effectively protecting itself (tissues, brain and bloodstream) from excessive amounts of sugar. But why is sugar so bad? Well, apart from being sticky, when excess sugar meets proteins, the sugar gums up and sticks to the protein molecules. These proteins become what is called glycated, in other words they have become too large and sticky to pass through small blood vessels and capillaries which include the small vessels in the kidneys, eyes and feet – one of the reasons so many diabetics are at risk of kidney disease, eye problems and amputations of toes, feet and sometimes even the legs. These ‘sugar coated’ proteins also become toxic, damage the body and compromise the immune system.
Insulin resistance also makes weight loss very hard as another of its tasks is to get fat into the fat cells and keep it there. Therefore insulin actually prevents fat burning which is one of the reasons low-carbohydrate diets usually produce more weight loss than their calorie counting counterparts. Lowering insulin opens the pathways for fat cells to allow the body to release fat.
Another important issue is comfort food and carbohydrate addiction. These so-called ‘comfort foods’ tend to be high in starch or sugar and are ‘comforting’ because they bring about high serum (blood) levels of insulin and high brain levels of the amino acid L-tryptophan. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin which is the brain chemical involved in sensations of pleasure and satisfaction. When insulin levels are normal, tryptophan has to compete with other amino acids to enter the brain. In this situation only small amounts get in. When blood insulin levels are raised the competing amino acids get deposited into muscles and other tissues and tryptophan gets a free ride into the brain. The results are a short-lived sensation of reduced stress, decreased depression and diminished anxiety.
In short, the modern day diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates plays havoc with the body’s biochemical processes and leads to many diseases, including Type II Diabetes.