Insulin Resistance (IR), a leading cause of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Diabetes, Obesity, Inflammation & More. Learn what causes IR and what you can do to both prevent & reverse it!
Good day everyone! Today’s topic, Insulin Resistance, a leading cause of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Diabetes, Obesity, Inflammation & More. Learn what causes it and what you can do to both prevent & reverse it! Now, for all you athletes out there and especially those of you training and competing in endurance events: Because carbohydrates make up the vast percentage of calories consumed for many of you, believe it or not, even though you may be fit, ripped and lean, you can still readily develop insulin resistance and the biggest danger is that because you do not look unhealthy, it can easily be missed! Its true! Although it seems like a paradox, the reality is for a certain number of athletes, the improved insulin sensitivity that typically results from exercise, simply is not enough to offset the massive amount of carbohydrates that they are consuming. Additionally, if these athletes have other risk factors that we will get into shortly, it is likely that they will develop insulin resistance! So, let’s get started:)
I want to begin with some basic definitions. First and foremost. Glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar and is one of the main fuel sources of the body. It is the key component to many carbohydrates. Carbohydrates or saccharides as they are also known are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. One thing you must understand is this: Ultimately, all carbohydrates are made up of sugars. All carbohydrates effect blood sugar with one exception. Fiber. Fiber is considered the roughage portion of plant-based foods that cannot be fully broken down by the human digestive system. Digestion is the process of breaking down the larger, macromolecules of food that we consume into their fundamental building blocks for use in the body.
Insulin resistance occurs when cells in your body do not respond well to insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and its job is to allow glucose from the blood stream, to enter into cells, either for the production of energy now or for the storage of energy later. Therefore, when someone has insulin resistance and their cells are not responding well to insulin, the cells cannot take in as much glucose as they normally would, given a certain amount of insulin secreted. This results in higher levels of blood glucose over time.
This is not good. Although glucose is a main source of fuel, taking in much more than you need is NOT healthy. Like so many other things in life, while some glucose is good, more is definitely NOT better. Think of it this way. Glucose for your body is like gasoline for your car. Let’s say you have a 10 gallon gas tank and run it close to empty. If you go to the gas station and put in about 10 gallons of gas, things are good. You can drive away, you’re happy, the gas station owner is happy. However, if you try to pump in 20 gallons of gas and spill 10 gallons all over the ground, now you have a problem, it becomes a hazmat situation because that excess gas on the ground Is damaging to the environment. Well, this is exactly what happens if you take in more glucose than you need.
The average person can store around 1-2 hours of glucose-based fuel in their bodies, depending on how well they are trained. Glucose that is to be stored is converted into glycogen where it is kept in our muscles and in our liver. If you do some exercise and burn off some of your glucose stores, you should be eating some sources of glucose to replenish your reserves. However, if you go overboard and take in far more than you need, it becomes dangerous. Normal glucose levels are handled well by the body, but high levels of glucose are inflammatory in nature and what’s worse is this: The same story applies to Insulin. High levels of insulin are also inflammatory in nature. So now you can begin to see the issue. If you are consuming so much sugar that your body is constantly secreting insulin to try and allow the cells to utilize the sugar, your cells can become less responsive to the insulin which is how one becomes insulin resistant. Now if you do not change your lifestyle, you can easily have two different substances capable of causing increased inflammation at dangerously high levels!
If you cannot get your cells to take in glucose, yet you continue eating carbohydrates your blood glucose levels will steadily increase which results in type II diabetes or previously called adult onset diabetes. This is how insulin resistance leads to diabetes. It is sad that the reason type II diabetes is no longer called adult-onset is because we have so many young children developing it! It used to take the average person decades of eating above average levels of sugar and carbohydrates to cause IR and eventually become diabetic, well now our food industry is so terrible that young children can get there in just a few years! Just one energy drink combined with one candy bar can easily provide more than a day’s worth of carbohydrates for the average, sadly, sedentary child. Many of these young children consume more sugar and refined carbohydrates in one year than their grandparents likely consumed over 10-15 years, its an absolute fact. 100 years ago, the average American consumed about 10 lbs of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes over 150 lbs of sugar per year. Now think about this. If your energy stores are fully topped off, yet you continue to consume sugar and carbs, what does your body do with that extra sugar? The answer: It primarily gets converted into triglycerides and is stored as body fat! Has our population gotten bigger as a whole in the last 100 years, absolutely.
So excessive sugar intake is by the main cause of IR but there is more to this story. Not all sugars are equal. Some sugars are worse than others. Fructose is potentially the worst one for three major reasons:
1. Fructose converts more readily into body fat, even if your glycogen stores are not yet topped off.
2. Fructose plays a much bigger role in developing Leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone produced by our fat cells that is supposed to inhibit hunger. Leptin should be keeping us from eating more if we do take on more body fat. So you can see the danger with Fructose, it builds body fat more readily and also can lead to leptin resistance which can ultimately lead us to being more hungry more often even after storing more body fat.
3. Fructose appears to facilitate the conversion of purines into uric acid. Elevated levels of uric acid can cause a spike in free radicals produced which can damage our mitochondria which leads to reduced energy levels since the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell and is where our cellular energy is made. When the body’s energy levels are low, the body will generate hunger as it believes you just need to eat more to fulfill the energy demand. However, that is the least of the body’s problems if there are damaged mitochondria. Damaged mitochondria are now known to be a major factor in the development of cancer. That is the essence behind the metabolic theory of cancer. I strongly urge everyone listening to read “Tripping Over The Truth. How the Metabolic Theory of Cancer is overturning one of medicine’s most entrenched paradigms” by Travis Christofferson to lean more.
Now lets pivot and talk about some of the most common sources of fructose. Table sugar is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Most fruits are also composed of about 50% glucose and 50 fructose. Now for the biggie. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), the cheap, massed produced, by-product of our subsidized corn industry, is added to so many daily, common foods, to make them sweeter so you literally are more likely to become addicted and ultimately but more of those sweetened foods! HFCS is 55% Fructose, 45% Glucose. Think of soda, soda alone is a massive source of sugar and particularly fructose for so many people. Now, what is very important to know is this: The combination of vitamin C along with fiber seem to block fructose’s effects on uric acid production. This is why eating some fruits, like an orange is okay, but, if you just drink orange juice, you are not getting any fiber and that is why fruit juice is actually damaging to the body. Yes, I said, damaging to the body. How many of us start or at least started every day with a large glass of OJ? I know I did growing up. The sad reality is the science is clear on this one, drinking juice is not a good move. However, this does not stop the marketers and their TV commercials, online ads and clever sales displays trying to tell us otherwise. Remember, folks, in the end, like so many other food industries, they just want you to buy their stuff.
Now we have to dive deeper into the causes of IR. While the overconsumption of sugar, carbs and particularly fructose, is the major driver, there are other causes.
1. Having a poor Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. This creates increased inflammation which can interfere with insulin receptors on your cells. In general, Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature, while Omega 6 fatty acids are PRO-inflammatory in nature. Now inflammation itself is neither good nor bad. Inflammation is a key component in both our Immune system and our body’s healing & repair systems. However, just like glucose, while some inflammation is necessary, too much can be damaging. Excessive inflammation can result in healthy tissues being damaged which is why excessive inflammation is a main factor in all chronic diseases! In a perfect world our bodies would have an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of around 2:1. However, the average American has an Omega 6:3 ratio of around 25:1! How did it get this bad? By Overeating grains and especially vegetable oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and safflower oils. Grains and vegetable oils are rich in Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids, the best sources are wild caught cold water fatty fish and coconut oil. But wait, weren’t vegetable oils supposed to be good for us? Wrong. In the US we subsidize the growing of grains, including wheat, corn, soy, canola etc. therefore the advice to consume those industry’s oils is purely economical, sadly, no real science supports consuming those highly inflammatory oils.
The next cause of IR I want to mention is:
2. Consuming Trans Fatty Acids. Anytime you read a label and see “partially hydrogenated”, that product contain trans fats and those toxic fats greatly interfere with insulin receptors. Once again, think of how many people listened to the terrible advice of so many experts and bought margarine thinking they were doing something healthy. Now most people know that margarine is toxic! The so-called experts that promoted it for years, were paid off by the fake spread manufactures and sadly, the number of people sickened and even killed by this terrible lie is almost too many to count. In fact, a report by Dr. Walter Willett, of Harvard University estimates that trans fats could be responsible for 30,000 of the annual heart disease related deaths in the US alone!
The last cause of IR I want to talk about are Ceramindes.
3. Ceraminde exposure. Ceramides are fats that cause insulin resistance in the brain. The two most common sources of ceramides are alcohol and nitrosamines (nitrites and nitrates frequently found in white flour, processed cheese, most bacon and lunch meats)
Okay, so now you know the main causes of IR.
Overconsumption of sugars and carbohydrates
Having a Poor Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio
Trans Fats and
So: With causes of IR now known, Its time to make an Action plan of steps one can take to both prevent and reverse it!
#1 Is the most important. Reduce your sugar intake, reduce all carbohydrates! As a general rule, the average person, who is not regularly exercising, often does well with around 100 grams of carbohydrates per day. Again, this is just an average, it can vary widely from person to person, but it can serve as a starting point for many. Because excessive sugar/carb intake is the number one driver of IR, you cannot ignore this step. Now there will always be companies out there trying to pitch the next miracle drug, promising a fix, but at what cost, save yourself from needless side effects and address the underlying cause! For those that are ready to make a change now and are ready to do whatever it takes I highly recommend looking into the Whole 30 Food Plan. The Whole 30 way of eating, eliminates all grains, added sugars and dairy. Yes, that can be very difficult to do over the long term, however, those that do it see great results, not only in terms of improved insulin sensitivity, most people report weight loss, decreases sugar cravings and increased energy. Now for those that just can’t handle all of the rules and strict nature of following the plan word for word, here is a much more tolerable way. Start by making 2-3 Whole 30 dinners per week. Over time try to advance to following the plan 2 or 3 entire days per week and go from there. Another great option is looking into the Paleo diet. The Paleo diet eliminates grains, refined sugars and dairy products. It is less stringent than the whole 30 and is a preferred plan for a lot of the world’s top athletes. For additional information I highly suggest the books, “It Starts with Food. Discover the Whole 30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways” by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig, “The Primal Blueprint” By Mark Sisson and for athletes, “The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutrition Formula for Peak Athletic Performance” by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel. Another simple step to take is by incorporating intermittent fasting into your routine, either daily or even just a few times per week. This can be done by simply extending the time between when you eat dinner and when you eat breakfast the following day. Research suggests that health benefits, including improved insulin resistance can begin to be seen with a break of eating of just 14 hours. So if you have dinner at 7pm, try not to have breakfast until 9am the next morning. If you can go longer before eating breakfast, great! If not, no worries! Intermittent fasting has suddenly become very trendy and there are so called intermittent experts popping up everywhere you turn and most are convinced that their way of doing it is best. As always, there will likely never be a hard set, perfect amount of time for intermittent fasting because we are all unique individuals, with subtle variations in biochemistry, genetics, thoughts, emotions and more. There will never be another YOU and therefore in the end, we you just need to find what works best for YOU.
#2 Balance your Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. How do you know what your ratio is? You must get the tested. The good news is testing is easy, there are many labs that offer an in-home test kit which only requires a drop of blood from a finger stick, similar to what a diabetic does to check their blood sugar. For those in my area, reach out to us at the office and we can get you set up with a test kit. If your ratio is off, you must reduce your consumption of vegetable oils and grains and increase your Omega 3 consumption, often Omega 3 supplements can be helpful in these cases.
#3 Eliminate consumption of Trans Fats, there is no shortcut on this one either folks, these are toxic, damaging oils. Read your food labels and toss out anything with the words, “partially hydrogenated”.
#4 Exercise: Both strength training and cardiovascular exercise have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. The good news here is that you do not need to go overboard. Strength training 2 times per week and aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week can be very effective. As mentioned at the start of this conversation, for those that love endurance events, as I do, just be mindful of how much carbohydrate you are consuming.
#5 Reduce Ceraminde consumption by limiting alcohol, limiting processed meats and processed white flour.
#6 Consider training your body to thrive off of Ketones which are an alternative fuel source for the body. This can be achieved by following a ketogenic diet. Supplementing directly with ketones and or Medium Chain Triglycerides, known as MCTs (which break down into ketones in our muscles) at specific times can help your body use this alternative fuel source. Fueling off of ketones reduces the need and often reduces the craving for carbs which can lead to less intake which leads to less insulin secretion which can help to improve a cells response to insulin over time.
Please note, there can be significant side effects when trying to convert to a ketogenic diet, particularly in those with pre-existing medical conditions so please do so only under the close supervision of a qualified health professional
So there you have it, today we covered what insulin resistance is. What causes it and what we can do to both prevent and reverse it. I want to close with a few moments about why I chose to record this episode today which is December 12th 2020. As I mentioned at the onset of today’s talk, Insulin Resistance is the leading cause behind the Top Three Pre-existing Conditions that put people at risk for COVID-19 complications. We know that over 99% of all people infected with COVID-19 will fully recover. So, what happens to those that don’t survive? It is not like they get a different virus than the 99+% of people that survive.
What is it that people who are obese, diabetic and have heart disease have in common that puts them at most risk from dying from COVID-19? They all have a condition driven by excessive inflammation! If a person has higher levels of inflammation in their body and the get COVID-19, often their body’s immune system can go over board and that results in the “Cytokine Storm” which ultimately results in death. Cytokines are substances secreted by certain immune system cells. Sadly, their immune system over-reacts and this results in damage to their own lung tissues! The medical world has known about the cytokine storm very early into the pandemic! Yet time and time again you hear, stay home, social distance, wear masks, but where is the talk about simple steps we can all do to improve our health now! Where is the talk about simple steps to improve our immune system function now! Well, all of the action steps discussed here have research behind them to support improvements in health and reducing excessive inflammation! Just think, where we would be as a nation, as a world if we all focused on what we can do to improve not only our immune systems but our overall health! So with that said, if you found this information to be helpful please share it with anyone you think may benefit from it!
Until next time. Have a great day!
Ironman European Champion, Ironman 70.3 Champion, 6th place finisher / first American finisher at the recent 2020 PTO Championships: Professional Triathlete Skye Moench!
Ironman Course Record Holder, 10X Champion & Recent 2nd place finisher of the 2020 PTO Championships: Professional Triathlete Dr. Matt Hanson!
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