Insulin, Friend Or Foe?

Last modified on September 2nd, 2008

I read the headline for an article today that said a gene has been identified that increases someone’s chance to living to 100 years old by 300%. Without even reading the article or having any idea of the content, I already knew that the gene would somehow be involved with insulin signaling.

It turns out, I was 100% correct – you can read about it.

I spend every Sunday night reading the latest and greatest in medical research. And while 99% of medical research is redundant and not worth reading, the other 1% is rather fascinating, especially when you have enough pieces to put the larger puzzle together.

In terms of modern ailments, insulin is at the root cause of many of them. Obviously diabetes and insulin problems go hand in hand. With type-I diabetes, the body no longer has the ability to produce enough insulin to meet the body’s requirements. With type-II, the body can still product insulin, but the body no longer responds to the same amount of it (also known as insulin resistance). High levels of insulin in the blood (which occur with type II’s frequently) causes high blood pressure, arterial hardening, and places the body in a hormonal state where storing fat becomes easy, but burning fat because difficult if not impossible. It is estimated that approximately 25% of people nowadays are insulin resistant, and produce far more insulin than they should. Part of the reason is that the north american diet has shifted primarily towards unrefined carbohydrates, which cause massive insulin spikes. Other ailments where insulin is involved is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which results in fertility problems in females, and is also suspected to be involved in male pattern baldness in some capacity (bald people are more than 3x likely to have cardiovascular problems than someone without hair loss).

Most people would be surprised to learn that one of the most successful diets ever created consists of approximately 90% fat. If you don’t believe it, go ahead and eat cream cheese for three days and see how much you drop on the scale. A lot of that weight will be water, but some of it undoubtedly will be fat. You see, 100% of simple carbohydrates stimulate insulin, and approximately 50% of protein eventually metabolizes similarly to carbohydrates. Fat on the other hand has no effect on insulin. So when you deprive your body of carbs and protein you are essentially forcing your body to stop producing insulin, which in turn forces it to produce glucagon, which causes the body to burn fat.

People with high insulin levels generally have higher than normal high-blood pressure, central adiposity (they generally carry their weight around their belly) and generally gain weight easily. The other side of that coin is that they generally have an extremely hard time losing weight. The reason for this is that the insulin and glucagon don’t generally co-exist in the blood. When insulin is high, glucagon is typically low. Since insulin causes fat storage, and glucagon allows utilization of fat stores, it is hormonally impossible for the body to burn fat when insulin is high. So when deprived of energy, the body of someone with insulin resistance and high insulin levels will be hormonally forced to decompose muscular tissue instead of fat to meet the energy needs of the body. Which is why many overweight people have a hard time losing weight, even when exercising regularly.

Anyways, with regards to that article, insulin, while being necessary, leads to all kinds of nasty things in the body when levels are high.

7 responses to “Insulin, Friend Or Foe?”

  1. Jason says:

    What are your sources for the latest and greatest medical research? Would be interested in seeing the reading list.

  2. Duane Storey says:

    My main source of information comes from I have various reading subscriptions based on keywords such as “insulin resistance” and “hyperinsulinemia”..

  3. Kasia says:

    What? There’s a cream cheese diet out there that I didn’t know about? Oh happy day!

  4. Rosie says:

    My trainer follows this program and does “biosignature” testing. It’s fancy way of saying “fat test with calipers”. However, its claim is that wherever you store the most fast is where you’re high in a certain hormone. For me, mine was in my middle, showing signs of high cortisol and insulin. So now I am taking supplements to deal with my insulin levels!

  5. Duane Storey says:

    A common measure of insulin resistance is the waist to hip ratio. The higher that is, the more likely you are to have insulin problems.

    Cortisol is a stress hormone, and it’s released predominantly when you are stressed out. Caffeine also elevates cortisol. High cortisol leads to nervousness and elevated insulin levels. In fact, people who are chronic caffeine consumers can have fasting insulin levels up to 50% higher than baseline.

    What supplements are you taking? In terms of lowering insulin, the main two are chromium and cinnamon extract (you can swallow raw cinnamon for this effect, since saliva destroys the part that lowers insulin). Also, try giving up caffeine if you’re a heavy user.

  6. Duane Storey says:

    Err, I meant that you can’t swallow raw cinnamon for that.

  7. Raul says:

    Interesting research. I have diabetic uncles and my Grandpa died of diabetes so I’m all interested in insulin-related stuff. Thx for this Duane

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