Blood Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance
I don’t want to get ahead of myself and make assumptions you understand all this stuff. So, before we talk about how insulin impacts metabolic health biomarkers, let me set the stage about blood glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance.
By definition, glucose is a simple sugar which is an important energy source and a component of many carbohydrates. Many carbs such as white flour made products, baked potatoes, instant oatmeal, juices, corn, soft drinks, and dried fruits convert into energy quickly. They are considered high glycemic foods that will result in a quick spike in insulin as well.
Carbs aren’t the villain here, it’s about the types and choices. Choose carbs rich in dietary fiber, that is naturally occurring in foods, instead of synthetic fiber that’s added to processed foods, and you will keep not only your glucose levels balanced but also your microbiome, digestion, brain, and body happy.
Glucose, which is more commonly known as blood sugar, is our body’s main source of energy. The brain alone uses about 20% of glucose in the body. Keeping glucose levels balanced throughout the day is essential for health. This is a task a healthy liver will do for us, however, we are contributors to this process too.
Like just one of those projects in school. If you were like me, my grades mattered. I bet you’ve been in teams where one person took a huge load of work because that person cared more than most. The aggressive load of work one person puts in will last for so long. Eventually, that person’s performance will decrease, one or more projects she/he manages will suffer greatly.
The same happen to our bodies. The quality of foods we eat will dictate how hard the liver and all other parts in the body have to work to keep homeostasis. Eventually, the body gets depleted and performance decreases and if not taken care of, illnesses raise often from chronic inflammation.
When we eat, the body breaks down food and converts it into glucose. When we eat foods that raise glucose, the pancreas secrets the hormone insulin. The role insulin play in the body is far beyond blood glucose regulation. Insulin effects every cell in every tissue of the body. The effect really depends on the cell. Beautiful insulin receptors outside the surface of every cell bind to bind to insulin. They work like a lock. When the insulin as a lock binds to the cell in the form of a key, this bind opens a channel that allows glucose into the cell, decreasing the circulating glucose levels in the bloodstream, and ultimately magical activities happen. For example, when insulin binds to a liver cell, the liver makes fat among other functions. When insulin binds to a muscle cell, it enhances amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in muscle tissue.
It’s a beautiful thing when it works!!!!
The bottom line is no insulin, no life. In Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas isn’t producing insulin or producing little. People with this disease depend on insulin and without insulin, a person suffers Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) and can died quickly. Insulin prices continue to rise worldwide and in the US, which in 2012 the cost of insulin annually per person was of ~ $3,000 annually.
Can someone with Type 2 Diabetes become dependent on insulin as well? Unfortunately, yes. When blood sugar or blood glucose are left high (hyperglycemia) and uncontrolled for prolonged period of time, the pancreas can stop producing insulin and the person must treat with insulin or the pancreas is still producing insulin but cells become insulin resistant.
In a nutshell, insulin resistance is when cells respond poorly to insulin or cells stop responding to insulin.
Let’s assume our pancreas is still producing insulin. However, when cells aren’t responding properly, blood glucose stays high. That’s not something the body wants so the pancreas keeps secreting insulin because its role to take glucose from bloodstream to cells.
The cycle continues and now, both blood glucose and insulin are high. High levels of insulin are directly related to many health conditions and metabolic health.
Truly, what I want to implant into you mind is the following…
A person can show relatively adequate blood glucose levels and still have insulin resistance. We must pay attention to insulin levels in the body more than tracking glucose. That is especially true if you don’t track your glucose except during annual visits to your doctor for blood work.
A single measurement is of little value. Many things can impact that fasting glucose number. Stressful day, poor sleep, ate late, have been fasting for prolonged period, medications, exercise, muscle fatigue, insulin resistance, and the list goes on.
It’s fairly easy to measure our glucose levels, even from home with a glucometer or a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). And stay tuned because I will be sharing some fascinating data after I’ve experimented with a CGM for 14 days.
When it comes to insulin, the story is a little different. There is no home tool yet. We need blood draw. And unless you’ve been diagnosed with Diabetes, it is unlikely your doctor will run it for you. It seems like the medical community is still very focus on glucose.
I am going to give two empowering options here:
- Request your doctor to run your fasting insulin OR
- Do like I do, go to a lab to do it yourself. Recently, I paid U$34 to get mine done. Got it done within 15 minutes and had the result two days later. If you are located in the US, I will be glad to help ordering it from a lab.
Lastly, be aware that there is a difference between your results being within ‘normal ranges’ and ‘optimal levels’. You WANT to your insulin and any other biomarkers to fall within optimal ranges. I can help you with that as well.
Now that I’ve covered the basics with you, next episode of the Metabolic Health series, we will dive into how the dysregulation of one hormone can wreck your metabolic health measured by its key biomarkers mentioned in episode 54.
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Talk to you soon. Make it a great one.