By James Walker CCS, STM, BioSig, Master Trainer
Insulin is such an important hormone in regulating our daily health, mood, weight, and body composition. It’s so important that it takes five other hormones to keep it in check or balanced. It’s no wonder that in my original Biosignature course maybe a third of the lecture centered on insulin and it’s function, affects on health, body composition, and modulators. Insulin and sugar are like accomplishes or weird best friends, that can be bad or good depending on the sensitivity and resistance of the relationship. In this Part, One of Four, I will explain insulin’s role and consequence when things go wrong. Since insulin is a hormone let’s first take a look at their definitions.
What Is a Hormone?
Hormone is a chemical made in the body that controls or regulates the function of an organ or cell or bodily process. Hormones are made by special glands, such as the adrenal, hypothalmus, ovaries, pancreas, parathyroid, pineal, pituitary, testes, thymus, and thyroid that make up the endocrine system. In addition, endocrine related organs or tissues like the kidney, liver, placenta, skin, small intestines, and stomach produce vital hormones as well. Hormones are necessary for every bodily function, such as digestion, metabolism, growth, reproduction, mood, nerve transmission, etc,
What Is Insulin?
Insulin is a protein hormone made by beta cells in the pancreas that monitors sugar/glucose levels in the blood, then transports and stores it, or builds up protein. It’s the only hormone that prevents high blood sugar. Whereas there are at least five hormones such as glucagon, cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and growth hormone (hgh), that help prevent low blood sugar. Insulin is the catalyst that bridges the relationship among these compounds.
Insulin works directly with the liver to help balance and control blood sugar levels and energy use. Insulin is necessary to sustain life, but too much and too often, and it can cause problems and wreck havoc on health. I will explain insulin’s role when things are ideal and the consequences when things go wrong.
The primary role of insulin is to transport or store sugar or glucose. During digestion carbs are converted to a usable sugar such as glucose and released in the blood. Insulin transports the glucose to the brain and muscle cells for fuel to think or exercise. Equally important, insulin transports glucose to the liver and stores it for emergencies, when blood glucose levels drop too low. The pancreas releases the hormone glucagon for the liver to do this. Both the muscles and liver can store glucose as glycogen in their cells for energy. Insulin will transport extra glucose to fat cells to be stored as fatty acids or triglycerides for energy as well. Besides having a role in fatty acid formation insulin can have a role in protein formation also. Excess liver glycogen will be converted to triglycerides and released back into the blood.
Insulin also stores magnesium in cells, which is essential for heart health and nearly 300 other metabolic functions, including cell energy production. So if cells become resistant to insulin magnesium can’t be stored in the required cell like the heart or muscles. Magnesium helps to relax heart artery walls and muscles, so without it those vessels constrict, blood pressure elevates, heartbeat disrupts, and arrhythmia results.
The proper response to insulin is to be insulin sensitive. Insulin sensitive means that the muscle cells accept glucose from insulin, stores it, and uses it as energy, thereby making room for additional glucose to continue the cycle. So the muscle receptors are sensitive or receptive to insulin’s effort to receive, store, and utilize glucose.
Insulin Resistance is when the muscle cells stop accepting sugar from insulin, they eventually become resistant to insulin’s efforts but the fat cells will accept the sugar in the form of converted fat. So the fat cells get bigger and you do to! Extra fat and triglycerides in the fat cells will produce more ldl (bad cholesterol). The pancreas keeps putting out insulin to lower the high blood sugar levels and the cycle continues, more fat cells, triglycerides, cholesterol, ldl, increased heart disease, exhausted pancreas, increased resistance, and type II diabetes.
As stated, when insulin can’t store glucose in the muscles or liver it circulates in the blood resulting in bad health by becoming fatty acids & triglycerides, causing insulin resistance, and fat gain. If this cycle continually repeats itself, over time the proper mechanisms began to erode, shut down, and stop working. This leads to additional health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, inflammatory diseases, type II diabetes, and increased cancer risk.
Another role that insulin plays is to help put and keep fat in fat cells. By doing this it will actually prevent fat burning. In addition, insulin prevents fat burning by inhibiting the amino acid carnitine, which is responsible for putting fatty acids into muscle cells. Once there, it can be used as energy through exercise. So by blocking carnitine, fat can’t be channeled from fat cells to muscle cells to be burned and eliminated. Consequently, by reducing insulin levels, fat can actually be released from fat cells, transferred into muscle cells, metabolized, and burned.
Similarly, if insulin levels become too high or too prevalent as a result of constant carb intake, high blood glucose levels ensue, triggering the production of cholesterol. Cholesterol may combine with triglycerides to form very low-density lipoproteins (vldl), which become low-density lipoproteins (ldl) or bad cholesterol. LDL becomes damaged thru oxidation or by glycation (attaching to sticky sugar), resulting in plaque formation. Prolong insulin circulation will also lead to artery wall thickness, growth, stiffness, and inflammation. All of which, enables plaque formation, restricts blood flow, and increases blood pressure.
Furthermore, increased insulin levels raise blood pressure by signaling the kidneys to retain extra salt. By retaining more salt the kidneys will have to retain more water as well, thereby increasing blood volume and blood pressure. High levels of insulin will eventually raise adrenaline levels, which will also raise heart rate and blood pressure.
In summary, insulin’s job to control blood glucose level is vital. Without insulin our bodies could not last very long, and would succumb to metabolic acidosis, coma, and eventual death. On the other hand, prolong insulin levels will result in increases in blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, fatty acids, fat cell saturation, ldl, ldl glycation, plaque, artery thickness, inflammation, blood pressure, hypertension, heart rate, heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cancer risks. By learning to control insulin you can greatly improve your health.
As a side-note fat consumption does not cause an increase in cholesterol production because fat doesn’t trigger an insulin response, only carbs do. Without excess blood insulin there is no catalyst for cholesterol, triglyceride, or ldl formation. So lower sugar consumption means lower cholesterol and triglyceride formation!
Next Part Two, Sugar, Friend Or Foe?
- BioSignature Modulation, 2010 & 2012, Charles Poliquin, Ms
- Living The Low Carg Life, Jonny Bowden, MA, CNS
- Protein Power, Michael Eades, MD; Mary Eades, MD
- The Schwarzbein Principle, Diana Schwarzbein, MD
- The Zone, Barry Sears, PHD
- The South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston, MD
- The Fat Flush Plan, Ann Louise Gittleman, MS, CNS
- Your Fat Can Make You Thin, Calvin Ezrin, MD; Kristin Caron, MA
- The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain, PHD
- Neanderthin: Eat Like A caveman, Ray Audette
- Physiology Of Exercise, Herbert A. DeVries, PHD
- Fitness and Strength Training, Jurgen Hartmann, PHD; Peter Klavora, PHD
- Essentials Of Strength and Conditioning, Thomas Baechle, EDD
- Bioenergetics, Michael Stone, PHD; Michael Conley, MS
- Noeuroendocrine Response To Resistance Exercise, William Kraemer, PHD