Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels within the body. Diabetes is the most well known condition involving insulin; however, insulin resistance is a more common condition affecting 25 to 30 percent of all Americans. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type II diabetes.
Normally, insulin facilitates the use of blood sugar by the body. When we consume too many foods that convert easily into sugar such as refined carbohydrates, our body has to make lots of insulin to utilize that sugar. Over time, our bodies quit responding to the insulin, we have to make more and more to get our cells to respond, and we end up with excess insulin in our blood.
Excess insulin is very dangerous to our health, particularly our cardiovascular health. Excess insulin increases salt and water retention leading to high blood pressure and excess weight. Insulin also aggravates high blood pressure by increasing the responsiveness of the arteries to the effects of adrenaline (stress). High insulin levels affect neurotransmitters resulting in sleep disorders. Excess insulin is directly involved with cardiovascular health in that it creates atherosclerotic plaque. Insulin is the primary contributor to both high levels of triglycerides and low levels of good HDL cholesterol. Insulin also provokes the liver into producing more LDL cholesterol.
Even if we do not develop diabetes, insulin resistance is extremely harmful. When our bodies resist insulin, our blood sugar tends to be too high. High blood sugar damages our kidneys, eyes, nerves and skin.
Insulin metabolism comes partly from our genetic makeup and partly from our lifestyle. The main signs of insulin resistance include weight gain around the midriff, tiredness, irritability, poor mental function and inability to lose weight. Another sign is creases in the earlobes which indicate problems with carbohydrate metabolism that lead to arterial plaqueing.
Many of the popular diets address insulin resistance by restricting carbohydrate intake. These diets include Atkins, Sugar Busters, South Beach, Fat Flush and Suzanne Summers. While these are all good diets, some of these are more balanced than others. The more balanced the diet, the greater chance of long term success.
My favorite supplement that helps lower blood sugar and increase the body’s responsiveness to insulin is a multi-vitamin called Glucobalance. Other supplements that help lower blood sugar are fiber, gymnema, and juniper berries. Certain fats lower insulin resistance. These include omega 3 oils DHA and EPA, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Minerals that decrease insulin resistance are chromium, magnesium, potassium, vanadium and zinc. Other supplements that improve insulin metabolism include l-carnitine, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, B vitamins biotin and inositol, and vitamins A, D and E. .
Regular exercise greatly benefits insulin metabolism. Both aerobic (walking) and isotonic (weight lifting) exercises will reduce insulin resistance.
Hopefully, after reading this, you will understand the connection between a diet high in refined carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease. If you are at risk, please take some action to bring your health into balance.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.