I’ve been wanting to write a post about insulin resistance for some time now. It seems to be popping up everywhere you look, whether its contributing to heart disease, hypertension, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or the precursor to diabetes, insulin resistance is involved in a lot of disease processes that are rapidly increasing in America.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance occurs when the cells lose sensitivity to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows your cells to take in glucose, so when the cells become resistant, the glucose just keeps circulating around in the blood stream. Eventually the body stores it as fat. As the fat deposition continues, the fat cells begin to secrete inflammatory cytokines into the blood stream, which then circulate throughout the body. So your tissues, nerves, and blood vessels are not only being damaged by chronically elevated glucose levels, but the inflammation in your body increases and your immune system begins to attack healthy tissue. See how this could lead to all kinds of different problems?
What causes insulin resistance?
This is where things get a little bit complicated. There’s conflicting opinions about what exactly leads the cells to resist the very hormone that would nourish them. Some people think its an excessive intake of carbohydrates. I’ll admit, this theory seemed pretty solid to me for a while. Too much sugar in (carbohydrates break down to sugar), your cells get full, they start becoming resistant. Only problem is, this isn’t be the whole story. So, what is?
What is the body trying to accomplish?
I believe that we should always look at “disease” processes with the idea of trying to figure out what the body is trying to accomplish. Why would the cells turn away nutrients and squirrel them away as fat rather than utilizing them? I believe there’s a lot of validity in the theory put forth by Matt Stone that on some level, our cells are malnourished and storing fat is a mechanism to prolong survival in what is perceived by the body as an environment in which food is scarce. What if the food that you’re eating is incomplete, lacking in nutrients, vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function? Eventually, you’re going to reach a critical point where the cells are not able to work properly due to the lack of nutrients. On a cellular level, you’re malnourished, even if you have an abundance of food available to you. In order to keep you alive in this suboptimal environment, your body will store food for later reserves, and it will slow your metabolism in order to ration out the nutrients you do have. It’s survival, plain and simple.
What can you do about it?
This is where we come back to the cause. As Stone pointed out in his ebook RRARF! An introduction to 180 Degree Health, there are native peoples that live on a diet of up to 70% carbohydrate who have no incidence of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Are they genetic anomalies? No. Once these people adopted a western diet high in refined and processed carbohydrates, their rates of disease reached or even surpassed those of the modern nations. Clearly, they aren’t immune. The key must be in the kinds of carbohydrates that you eat. If you’re eating the carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains that have been soaked, sprouted, or fermented into sourdough, then you’re unlikely to develop the nutrient deficiencies that come with eating white sugar and white flour. These foods have been stripped of their nutrients, and they don’t give back to your body, they take from it. Your body knows its missing something, and you keep eating those same foods in an attempt to get the nutrition you need. That’s partly why it’s so much easier to binge on processed foods than it is on whole foods.
I know it can be hard with all the advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat, what’s the latest culprit for causing cancer, etc. A good rule of thumb to remember is that if it comes in a box or a bag, or isn’t something clearly recognizable as food produced by the earth, it probably isn’t the best choice. No one can eat perfectly all the time, but every choice you make to eat whole foods rather than processed foods will help you on the road to wellness.