Insulin is a hormone and people with insulin resistance usually have excessively high levels of this hormone. Insulin resistance is commonly associated with a raised risk of obesity, heart attacks, cancer and other serious diseases.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is the hormone secreted by the ‘beta cells’ in the pancreas after you have eaten. Insulin enables the glucose from your food to enter your cells to provide energy and allow the cells to do their work.
If insulin is not doing its job properly, less glucose will be burnt for energy and more of it will be converted into fat.
Some of the fat is stored around your body and some of it accumulates in your liver. Having too much fat in your liver is a common warning sign of elevated insulin.
The important point for us all is that the human body has been designed to function using a specific level of insulin. When that insulin level rises, consequences develop.
People with too much insulin in their bloodstream are said to have a condition that has various terms including: insulin resistance, syndrome X, metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes.
Insulin Resistance – ‘Hyperinsulinemia’
Hyperinsulinemia is the medical term used to describe higher than normal levels of insulin in the blood stream. This is a condition that is not diabetes but can be a precursor to type-2 diabetes.
Increased amounts of insulin in the blood stream are often an indication that our body is resisting at the cellular level to the use of insulin. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“When the cells are resistant to the insulin in the body, the pancreas begins to secrete more insulin in an effort to move sugar from the blood stream into the cells. As the insulin resistance grows, the pancreas is no longer able to keep up with the requirements and the blood sugar rises, which is the beginning of type-2 diabetes.”
Increased Insulin & ‘Metabolic Syndrome’
Another consequence of increased amounts of insulin in our blood stream is a combination of symptoms termed ‘metabolic syndrome’. According to the American Heart Association:
“Metabolic syndrome is characterised by a group of risk factors that includes insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure and a predisposition to high cholesterol, increased risk of blood clotting and increased inflammation in the body. If you have metabolic syndrome, you have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes.”
Insulin & Prostate Cancer
A study in September 2009 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Bethesda) found that elevated insulin levels were also linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer. The researchers measured the relationship of serum insulin and glucose to the development of prostate cancer and found a strong association between leaner men who were not physically active and who had high insulin levels with the development of prostate cancer.
Insulin & Breast Cancer
In 2009 Albert Einstein College of Medicine published their research “High Insulin Levels Raise Risk of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women” which linked higher levels of insulin in the body with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Although a link between obesity and breast cancer had already been determined, scientists had believed that the causative factor was the increased levels of estrogen in obese women. This research study identified the role of increased amounts of insulin, also commonly found in obese women, to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in tissue cultures. This means that women who are obese could be at higher risk, not only because of the increased estrogen their bodies produce but also because of the increased amount of insulin secreted.
Assessing Your Insulin Level
Due to modern diets and lifestyles many of us produce more insulin in our pancreas than our body should. This is a problem because if our blood insulin levels have been high for years, the cells of our body start to ignore the insulin. Thus the insulin becomes less and less effective at its important job in your body – getting glucose inside your cells so you can burn it for energy.
There is a blood test that can measure your fasting insulin, but this test is not always reliable and many doctors are not willing to order the test. Assessing whether your insulin levels are too high is so important because it can allow you to make some ‘lifestyle’ changes now – and avoid some serious health problems in the future.
Symptoms of Chronically Elevated Insulin Levels
There are plenty of ‘signs’ and symptoms indicating a chronic elevation of insulin levels; here are some common ones:
- High blood pressure
- A ‘fatty liver’ (as previously described)
- Abdominal obesity – As the waist grows larger, insulin becomes increasingly ineffective in our body
- Hunger and cravings for sugar or carbohydrate rich foods – People with high blood insulin are hungry and frequently ‘crave’ carbs
- Elevated blood sugar – A fasting blood sugar level test will indicates insulin resistance problems
- ‘Acanthosis Nigrans’ – The development of brownish and dry areas of skin particularly around the neck
- Fluid retention – Insulin resistance can cause your kidneys to hang on to sodium and water, therefore you will look more puffy
- Poor Skin – Insulin resistance can promote higher levels of the male hormone testosterone and ongoing symptoms such as acne, large facial pores and greasy skin can occur
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Scalp hair loss in women to the front and sides
Ways to Lower Excess Insulin Levels
Here are some practical suggestions to maintain good insulin levels and help reduce excess insulin levels:
Liver Health: A healthy liver is very important for blood sugar control. This is because the liver can store glucose and fat, and also produce glucose and fat. People with a healthy liver have a good metabolic rate and don’t gain weight as easily. People with a fatty liver have a liver that is doing the opposite of what it should be doing – it is very busy making fat.
A healthy liver also helps to control your blood sugar level. For example if you have not eaten for several hours your liver is supposed to release some stored glucose into your bloodstream to give you energy and keep hunger at bay. People with a sluggish liver struggle with this and they often feel excessively hungry, weak or irritable if they have gone several hours without food. It makes sticking to a diet extremely difficult!
Exercise: Exercising regularly helps to make your muscle cells more sensitive to insulin, therefore helping to lower blood insulin levels. When you exercise, your muscles burn the sugar in your bloodstream and use it for energy. Therefore doing some exercise each day is a great way to keep your blood sugar healthy. It is especially important for diabetics.
Natural Nutrients and Minerals:
There are certain mineral supplements and natural nutrient supplements that may help to make insulin more effective in your body. Primarily we would suggest the mineral supplements Chromium and Magnesium. In addition research into the natural nutrients Gymnema Sylvestre, Aloe Vera Juice and Bitter Melon all suggest they are beneficial in supporting good insulin levels.
Chromium: The mineral Chromium provides a role in the maintenance of normal blood glucose concentrations. Chromium is reputed to reduce sugar cravings and it does this by helping to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day. Chromium deficiency is common because not many foods are a good source of this mineral. Also when you eat sugar or high carbohydrate foods, it flushes chromium out of your body through your urine.
When looking at Chromium supplements or multi-minerals we would suggest ‘Chromium GTF’ – GTF stands for Glucose Tolerance Factor and GTF is now being recognised as important in carbohydrate metabolism.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an essential mineral – nearly 70% of the body’s supply is located in the bones. Magnesium is involved in many essential metabolic processes including the release of energy from glucose and normal nerve function. Magnesium is easily depleted from our diet by food processing, cooking and food refining techniques.
People who take blood pressure medication or diuretics are typically low in magnesium. Magnesium can help to relax our nervous system and can make us feel less stressed. Biofood Magnesium is an excellent choice as a wholefood magnesium and Magnesium Citrate is the best of the non-food form forms of magnesium and also available as a food supplement. As a citrate it is readily absorbed into the bloodstream via the citric acid cycle.
Natural Nutrients and Herbs: Consider natural nutrients to increase the sensitivity of your cells to insulin – for example Gymnema (a herb from Sri Lanka), Aloe Vera Juice and Bitter Melon. All of these substances may improve the ability of glucose to enter your cells and give you energy, thereby reducing hunger and cravings.
As mentioned in this article you can have a blood test to measure your levels of insulin. If you are concerned obviously you can speak to your doctor or a suitable qualified practitioner. Alternately please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. I can also put you in touch with a nutritional practitioner in your area.
Links below to relevant Cytoplan Supplements: