All About Insulin Resistance and Sensitivity
Like pretty much all hormones in the body, insulin is important. The lack of insulin or insulin resistance is what leads to diabetes. This is because insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels. Insulin produced by the pancreas signals your body’s cells to open up and absorb sugar from your blood stream. It helps prevent your blood sugar levels from getting either too high or too low.
The Insulin Process
The insulin process begins when you ingest carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. When the carbs are digested and absorbed by the bloodstream, your blood sugar level rises. In response, your pancreas produces insulin to attach to cells and “unlock” their cell walls to allow for the absorption of sugar from your bloodstream, which the cells then use for energy. Then, insulin helps store any excess sugar not absorbed by your cells. This excess is stored first in the liver and then elsewhere in the body. This stored sugar, called glycogen, is tapped into whenever your blood sugar levels get too low and you are not consuming new carbohydrates. If glycogen reserves are full and there is STILL an excess of sugar, it is stored as fat.
Now that we understand the insulin process, how does that help us? Glad you asked, me. Well, along with most processes in the body, the insulin process is responsive. This means that it responds differently depending on what and how often we eat. Depending on our diet, our bodies will adapt to what it experiences and this adaptation in particular can either be good (healthy) or bad (unhealthy). Allow me to explain.
If we are constantly eating a high carbohydrate diet, consisting of sources of carbs that have a high GI, we are constantly stressing the pancreas and signaling for it to produce insulin. If our bodies are constantly producing insulin, then our insulin levels will always be elevated, and what happens when our bodies receive the same stimulus for a prolonged period of time? Adaptation. Eventually, our bodies become adapted to the high levels of insulin, causing our bodies to develop insulin resistance. This means more insulin than normal is required to signal our cells to open up and consume the sugar in our blood. If less of our cells are available to open and consume the sugar, our blood sugar levels stays elevated and build up over time. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to diabetes. Insulin is not a hormone to ignore.
There is a silver lining, however. Because the insulin process is responsive to what we do, we have full control over it by controlling what we eat and the frequency of which we eat. In controlling what and how often we shove food in our gullets, we can increase our bodies insulin sensitivity. This is the opposite of insulin resistance. When your body is sensitive to insulin, it requires less insulin to signal our cells to open up and consume sugar in our blood. Our bodies can continue to be efficient machines able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. In general, achieving and maintaining insulin sensitivity is all about controlling your carbohydrate intake. Mostly by eating high GI foods around workouts and eating low GI foods and healthy fats pretty much the rest of the time. I’ll talk more about how to achieve insulin sensitivity in a future article.
Understanding blood sugar and insulin is very important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the modern age. We have so much access to processed, manufactured food, exotic foods from every corner of the world, and even access to seasonal plants that are not in season. The body evolved in the way it has based on the access of foods that our ancestors have. Now that we have overabundance, the new challenge is being mindful and smart of what and how we eat. This requires knowledge and know-how, so hopefully you learned a thing or two from this article.