HYPERINSULINEMIA(Insulin and Insulin Resistance )
Insulin is an important hormone that controls many processes in the body.It is a hormone secreted by an organ called the pancreas.
Its main role is to regulate the amount of nutrients circulating in the bloodstream.
However, problems with this hormone are at the heart of many modern health conditions.
Sometimes our cells stop responding to insulin like they are supposed to.This condition is termed insulin resistance, and is incredibly common.The good news is that insulin resistance can be dramatically improved with simple lifestyle measures..
Although insulin is mostly implicated in blood sugar management, it also affects fat and protein metabolism.
When we eat a meal that contains carbohydrates, the amount of blood sugar in the bloodstream increases.
This is sensed by the cells in the pancreas, which then release insulin into the blood.
Then insulin travels around the bloodstream, telling the body’s cells that they should pick up sugar from the blood.
This leads to reduced amounts of sugar in the blood, and puts it where it is intended to go, into the cells for use or storage.
However, due to various reasons (discussed below), sometimes the cells stop responding to the insulin like they are supposed to.
In other words, they become “resistant” to the insulin.
When this happens, the pancreas start producing even more insulin to bring the blood sugar levels down. This leads to high insulin levels in the blood, termed hyperinsulinemia.
This may continue to develop for a long time. The cells become increasingly more insulin resistant, and both insulin and blood sugar levels go up.
Eventually, the pancreas may not be able to keep up anymore and the cells in the pancreas may become damaged.
This leads to decreased insulin production, so now there are low amounts of insulin and cells that don’t respond to the little insulin that is available. This can lead to skyrocketing blood sugar levels.
When blood sugar levels exceed a certain threshold, a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is made. In fact, this is a simplified version of how type 2 diabetes develops.
Insulin resistance is the main cause of this common disease that affects about 9% of people worldwide.
Resistance vs Sensitivity
Insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity are two sides of the same coin.
If you are insulin resistant, then you have low insulin sensitivity. Conversely, if you are insulin sensitive then you have low insulin resistance.
Being insulin resistant is a bad thing, while being insulin sensitive is good.
What Causes Insulin Resistance?
There are many potential causes and contributors to insulin resistance.
One of the main ones is believed to be increased amount of fats in the blood.Numerous studies show that high amounts of free fatty acids in the blood cause cells, such as muscle cells, to stop responding properly to insulin This may be partly caused by fats and fatty acid metabolites building up inside muscle cells, termed intramyocellular fat. This disrupts the signalling pathways needed for insulin to work
The main cause of elevated free fatty acids is eating too many calories and carrying excess body fat. In fact, overeating, weight gain and obesity are all strongly associated with insulin resistance.
Having increased visceral fat, the dangerous belly fat that builds up around the organs, seems to be very important.
This type of fat may release lots of free fatty acids into the blood, and can even release inflammatory hormones that drive insulin resistance (.
However, normal weight or thin people can also be insulin resistant, it is just much more common among those who are overweight.
There are several other potential causes of insulin resistance:
•Fructose: A high intake of fructose (from added sugar, not fruit) has been linked to insulin resistance in both rats and humans.
•Inflammation: Increased oxidative stress and inflammation in the body may lead to insulin resistance .
•Inactivity: Physical activity increases insulin sensitivity, and being inactive causes insulin resistance.
•Omega-3: Eating omega-3 fatty acids can in many cases reduce insulin resistance. They can also lower blood triglycerides, which are often high in insulin resistant people
•Gut microbiota: There is evidence that a disruption in the bacterial environment in the gut can cause inflammation that exacerbates insulin resistance and other metabolic problems (.
There are also various genetic and social factors, and blacks, Hispanics and Asians are at particularly high risk.
This list is not definitive. There are many other factors that may affect insulin resistance/sensitivity.
Kris Gunnars, BSc