Insulin Resistance... WHY SHOULD YOU CARE???
While insulin resistance is a condition that is most commonly associated with type 2 diabetes, an increasing body of evidence is now shedding light on the fact that insulin resistance is a common thread that underlies many health conditions previously unassociated with blood sugar, including (but not limited to) heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, the metabolic syndrome, obesity and cancer.
What that means is simple: insulin resistance significantly increases your risk for the development of a collection of health conditions that can significantly reduce your quality of life and decrease your life expectancy.
Without insulin, cells in the liver, muscle, and fat have a difficult time vacuuming up glucose from the blood. These tissues are capable to vacuuming up only a small percentage (5-10%) of the glucose in circulation without the help of insulin. When insulin is present, the amount of glucose that can be transported into tissues significantly increases, allowing tissues to be properly fed, and keeping blood glucose concentrations in the normal range.
The pancreas is connected to the GI tract via the duodenum, which is where digestive enzymes and bicarbonate are secreted, but it's also connected to the rest of the body via blood vessels which are going to circulate back up to the liver for distribution throughout the entire body.
Insulin is a hormone that is released from the pancreas, specifically to help our body to manage blood sugar. That is perhaps its most important function, and it is specifically released from the pancreas when blood sugar is elevated. It's important to realize that we begin to secrete small amounts of insulin even when we think about eating, or especially when we maybe smell some delicious hot baked goods when we're walking around a store or a mall. The body begins preparation for digesting some type of carbohydrate right away, and levels of insulin are increased as you start to smell and then taste and then chew and swallow carbohydrate foods.
Insulin is critical, in particular, because it escorts sugar out of the blood and into our cells. Sugar is actually quite toxic in the blood, and the body seeks to have elevated blood sugar for as little time as possible. Once we chew and swallow and then digest and absorb the sugars from our carbohydrates, the glucose specifically from our diet goes right into the blood and is ready to be transported into our cells for energy. We don't get energy specifically from sugar just being in our blood. We absolutely have to get it into our individual trillions of cells in order to function.
When we have too much sugar in our blood, insulin will promote storage of that excess energy, and this is a really, really critical fact. The body does have the ability to store some limited amount of excess sugar as what is called glycogen, that is a polysaccharide. It's actually a polymer chain of glucose that the liver and actually our muscle cells can store for future use, but that is really quite limited. The body in aggregate cannot store more than about 2000 calories worth of glycogen.
All additional surplus sugar is necessarily converted into fat and stored and as a result, insulin plays a really critical traffic cop role in triggering the additional storage of fat in the body to save those sugars for the future. One of the biggest challenges with individuals, though, who promote secretion of a lot of insulin in their body is that because blood sugar, elevated blood sugar can be so harmful to the body. Insulin triggers a cessation of the use of fat as an energy source. That is, when insulin is elevated or when it spikes, we are not able to use fat for energy, because the body wants to prioritize making use of the sugars or the carbohydrates first. Not actually, as you might have heard, because it's a preferred energy source for the body. That's actually not true. It is because there is a survival priority for using that blood sugar and getting it out of the blood so that we don't have toxicity in our blood vessels as a result. Now theoretically, once insulin is secreted and it has done its job, which is to escort sugar into the cells, levels will fall and hopefully go back down to quite a low baseline level, because it's no longer necessary and assuming good healthy functioning, the sugars have moved out of the blood and are now in the cells. This is a simple overview of what insulin does and some of its key functions. There are a number of other ones, but regarding diabetes these are the most important ones.
Similarly, adding more and more insulin will not help. In fact, adding more and more insulin is going to hurt. Because if sugar is having a hard time getting into cells due to insulin resistance, adding more and more insulin is not going to reduce blood sugar, but what it is going to do is to promote more and more and more fat storage in the body. At the same time, while that insulin is present in our blood, those insulin resistant cells cannot get energy to run effectively. Not only because they can't access sugar, but because while insulin is high, we are blocked from using fat for fuel, this is a dynamic that many, many diabetics experience on a daily basis, unfortunately.
Insulin resistance, prediabetes, Type 2 Diabetes. Make the change to prevent or reverse them. Begin to reduce central body fat, improve sugar metabolism. Regular exercise and healthy eating habits will help prevent diabetes, reduce your risk of complications, and even help reverse it.