Rein in insulin

sugar molecule knocking on the glucose doorThe body and especially the brain, needs sugar to ensure that you have the necessary energy to keep going.   But sugar is rather a big molecule, so it needs a little help to cross the cell membrane and get inside of the cell.

The sugar gets into the cells via a special “glucose gate”.  Under normal circumstances the gate is bolted closed.   The key which opens the gate is the molecule called insulin.

The insulin story

When you eat foods that containing carbohydrates (sugars).  The foods get digested and the resulting sugar molecules get released into your blood.

Special sensors, located in the pancreas,  detect that you have just eaten something and the sugar levels are rising.   It is not good for the sugar levels to be too high, because the sugar molecules will attach to proteins forming glycosalated proteins, which can cause damage if they accumulate.

A secial group of cells in the pancreas, called the Islets of Langerhans, respond by producing insulin.

pancreas producing insulin

The insulin then travels round your body and unbolts the glucose gates.  When insulin “turns” the key, the gate opens and the sugar molecules are able rush inside.

glucose gate open

Once inside the cell, the cell will either use the sugars to fuel the reactions in the body, or if you already have enough energy, it will store the sugar for later.   Depending on how much extra sugar there is, the sugar can be stored as glycogen (the human equivalent of “starch”) or as fat.

The amount of insulin released is proportional to the amount of carbohydrate / sugar you eat.

The more “sugar” you eat the more insulin is released. The more insulin released the more fat is stored.

The trouble begins when you are always eating carbohydrate so there is always lots of insulin.

Insulin in excess

Remember when you were a child and your mother would constantly be telling you to tidy your room, do this, do that …….. You probably got to a point where you knew she was talking to you, but you actually weren’t hearing her.  The same thing happens to the cells in your body.  They just get sick and tired of “listening” to the insulin so slowly but surely the stop listening and your become insulin resistant.

This sets up a vicious circle of events.  You eat more carbohydrate, the sugar levels go up, your pancreas produces insulin – nothing happens, so it produces more insulin. You produce a little too much insulin, so your sugar levels drop and you end up craving “sugar”.

sugar insulin vicious cycleThe extra insulin causes the extra sugars to be stored as fat, so high insulin levels (hyperinsulineamia) puts on the pounds.   You particularly get fatter around your belly.

High insulin levels contribute to health problems associated with the modern lifestyle including obesity, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and cancer and your pancreas may eventually “break” resulting in type II diabetes.

Rein in the insulin

Insulin sensitivity is vital to keep the metabolism in check and thus avoid metabolic disturbances associated with Syndrome X.

Since carbohydrate laden food, triggers the release of insulin – a simple way to keep insulin levels down is to limit the amount of carbohydrates consumed.

The ability of foods to spike sugar levels and therefore insulin levels vary.  Two factors influence the degree of sugar spike – the amount of a carbohydrate as well as the  carbohydrate package (how it is put together).   Foods that have a low glycemic index are foods that don’t cause such a big sugar spike and therefore don’t cause a big insulin spike.  High glycemic foods dump sugar quickly into the blood stream and so raise insulin levels.