And it’s not just about diabetes!

Most people talk about insulin as it relates to diabetes.

But did you know that your insulin plays a much larger role in your health?

It even is a factor in your efforts at weight loss!

So if you’ve been fighting the battle of the bulge or the skirmish of the sweet tooth, get ready to get educated on one of the most important hormones in your body—and how you can turn those cravings around!

What Most People Don’t Know Is…

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. It helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

  • Insulin Supports Muscle Growth

Insulin has been called the most anabolic or growth-promoting hormone in the body. It increases transport of amino acids into muscle cells, which is essential in building and maintaining lean muscle mass.  

In the non-athletic world, protecting lean mass is essential not only to health and disease prevention, but it directly correlates with that elusive metabolism that everyone claims they’ve lost!

  • Insulin Decreases Muscle Loss

Insulin reduces protein breakdown by keeping the body from making energy out of amino acids (a liver process called gluconeogenesis).

  • Insulin Antagonizes Cortisol

The stress hormone cortisol loves to protect you by raising blood pressure and blood sugar in stressful or anxious situations.  

However, when it’s out of control, it is considered one of the bad guys in the battle of the belly bulge.  

High cortisol levels have been linked with decreased insulin sensitivity in muscles and liver and increased insulin sensitivity in fat tissue. Cortisol is also a direct antagonist of insulin by increasing gluconeogenesis and the breakdown of proteins.   

  • Insulin Inhibits Fat-burning (lipolysis)

When our great-great-great grandfathers hunted and gathered across the land, they had periods of great eating and periods of great hunger.  As a protective mechanism, when food was present and therefore insulin was elevated, the body would focus on the storage of nutrients.

Insulin would inhibit the use of fat, as plenty of food was available via the mouth.  During times of hunger, insulin secretion would decrease, and the body was allowed access to fat stores for energy.  This same mechanism is still at play today even though we rarely (thankfully…) go hungry.

When insulin is elevated, particularly after a high glycemic meal, your body cannot, will not, under any circumstance, burn fat or use fat for energy.

Maybe part of our obesity problem?  You bet it is!

The Vicious Cycle

As I mentioned previously, insulin responds most quickly to high glycemic foods like sugar and simple carbohydrates.  

The longer insulin levels are elevated, the greater your body’s resistance to its effects. Since insulin prevents the breakdown of fats, you gain, only exacerbating the problem. So your hormones start yelling louder and louder, “HEY, LISTEN UP!” secreting more and more,  causing your hunger to rise—especially for those high glycemic sugars and carbs…

And then you are officially in the fat cycle.  

Since insulin prevents lipolysis or the breakdown of fat, you gain more fat, increasing insulin resistance, increasing insulin secretion, and now that cycle has come to a cliff, it’s about to go downhill.

So how do we break this vicious cycle? The best thing you can do is lose weight, but a crucial step in that process is controlling insulin and increasing your body’s sensitivity to it.

Increasing Insulin Sensitivity

The following tips and choices will create the right environment for fat burning— a decrease in insulin creation and an increase in insulin sensitivity.

  • Avoid certain foods

I tell people all the time that there is no such thing as a bad food, just bad diets.  

So when choosing your daily diet, with insulin in mind, avoid foods that are high in sugar, refined, processed, and liquid.  A number of people refer to these types of foods as high glycemic or impact carbs. I call them active carbohydrates (Learn more here about carbs and your health).

  • When you eat carbohydrates think: PFFV!

PFFV stands for Protein, Fat, Fiber and Vegetables. Any or all of these added to a carbohydrate burdened meal will slow the insulin response via a few different mechanisms.  In general, all of them will decrease the rate of absorption of the carbohydrate, thereby slowing insulin response.

  • Exercise

So powerful are the effects of exercise, that just one exercise session will increase insulin sensitivity and its long-term effect.  One session!

Though exercise will not directly cause changes in your weight, what a simple solution to the primary problem of insulin sensitivity.

  • Supplements

A few over-the-counter supplements are also of great benefit to increasing insulin sensitivity.  Omega-3 Fatty Acids top my list for increasing insulin sensitivity via supplements, with fish oil being the best way to get it.  Omega 3

It takes a good dose (10-12 grams/day), and you need to be sure to find a good reputable brand with the proper ratio of DHA/EPA.  

Alpha-Lipoic-Acid is of benefit as a powerful antioxidant as well as a modifier of insulin sensitivity.  A dose of 100 to 200 mg per carb-filled meal is adequate.

Low levels of dietary Magnesium have been associated with insulin resistance.  I suggest having your levels checked by your doctor if you are insulin resistant and/or start taking 500 mg/day and slowly increase from there.

Zinc is another supplement that could potentially help with insulin resistance. Zinc is important in insulin biosynthesis and secretion and is concentrated in the pancreas.

  • Sleep

No sleep = no weight loss. (Learn more here about sleep and how it affects your health) It’s been backed up by study after study. Sleep deprivation raises fasting blood sugars and alters cortisol production in healthy young adults.   There is also plenty of evidence that chronic sleep deprivation impacts insulin, insulin resistance, and weight gain. 

Sleep deprivation is associated with decreased concentrations of leptin (a hormone produced by fat that regulates fat mass and appetite) and increases in ghrelin, a gut hormone that increases appetite. (That’s why you get those midnight snack cravings.)  

If you have difficulty sleeping (true insomnia), visit with your doctor for some evaluation.  

In your walk towards insulin balance, I would encourage you to talk to your doctor about your eating and exercise program, and as you make headway, discuss alterations in your medication regimen.

I am hopeful that you now understand the implications, importance, consequences and solutions for that wonderful, yet potentially devastating hormone, insulin.

Listen to my RecoverMe Podcast Episode 1 to learn more about my proven approach to naturally healthy living.

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