Role Of Insulin In Health and Disease

Insulin resistance -” A Plague Of Prosperity”

  • Do you have more fat around your belly than you’d like?
  • Do you have high blood pressure?
  • Do you have a family history of heart disease?
  • Do you have high levels of blood tryglycerides?
  • Do you retain water easily?
  • Do you have patches of darker colored skin or little bumps of skin(skin tags) at your neck,armpits ,or other areas?
  • Do you have a family member with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes?
  • Do you have polycystic ovarian syndrome(PCOS) or erectile dysfunction?

All these questions reveal some connections to insulin resistance. If you answered “yes” to one question,you likely have insulin resistance. If you answered”yes” to any two questions(or more) ,you most certainly have insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a reduced response to the hormone insulin by our cells.

Like most hormones,insulin is a protein that is manufactured in one part of the body,moves through our blood,and effects other parts of the body. Insulin is made in the pancreas,a small organ tucked beneath the stomach. Insulin’s most famous role is regulating our blood glucose levels.

When we eat food that increases blood glucose ,the pancreas releases insulin,which then “opens the doors” to escort glucose from the blood to various parts of the body,such as the brain,heart,muscles and fat tissue.Far beyond regulating our blood glucose,insulin has an effect on every cell in every tissue of the body- a pretty big audience!! Its heavy hand touches every cell.

The specific effect of insulin depends on the cell. For example,when insulin binds to a liver cell,the liver cell makes fat; When insulin binds to a muscle cell,the muscle cell makes new proteins. From the brain to the toes,insulin regulates how a cell uses energy,change its size,influences production of other hormones,and even determines whether cells live or die.

Because insulin is so central in controlling metabolic function in the body,it’s no surprise that insulin is a popular dance partner- everyone seems to want insulin’s attention.Including insulin itself.

Insulin and Heart Health:

Those with cardiovascular disease not identified with diabetes are simply undiagonosed. Where you find one, you find the other. Yes, the connection between insulin resistance and hypertension is strong,but that also means that as insulin resistance improves,patients generally see quick improvements in their blood pressure.

  • Salt and Water Retention-One of the way that insulin increases blood pressure is through its actions on the hormone ALDOSTERONE. Aldosterone has an important role in heart health. Aldosterone is released from the adrenal glands,which are located above the kidneys,and helps to regulate the balance of salt and water in your body. Sodium and chloride,the two parts of salt,are both critical electrolytes that enable all of our body’s cells to function properly. Aldosterone signals the kidneys to hold onto sodium and reabsorb into the blood so it is not expelled through your urine. Thus,if your adrenal glands release more aldosterone into the blood,your body will retain more sodium,and where sodium goes,so,too ,does water.This increases the amount of water in the blood,effectively raising the blood volume,and with it ,the pressure.

Insulin naturally increases aldosterone levels in the body. So if you have more insulin,as during insulin resistance,it effects your aldosterone abnormally ,raising your blood pressure.

  • Thicker blood vessels-Another way that high insulin leads to high blood pressure is by thickening blood vessel walls. Insulin is an anabolic hormone- it inherently signals cells to grow bigger. This is a healthy and natural response. However,when excess insulin is flowing through the blood,the signal is stronger than normal. As vessel wall cells grow,the endothelium thickens,and blood vessels begin to narrow,increasing the blood pressure.
  • Blood vessels can’t dilate– Insulin activates the production of NO(Nitric Oxide) in endothelial cells. When insulin flows through a series of blood vessels,it signals endothelial cells to produce NO,which makes the blood vessels dilate,boosting blood flow and use of nutrients and oxygen by various tissues. When aldosterone and endothelial growth are overactive with insulin resistance ,the problem with NO and insulin resistance is that insulin is less able to stimulate NO production in endothelial cells,due to which blood vessels can’t dilate and blood pressure stays elevated.
  • Narrow blood vessels-Role of our sympathetic nervous system is to regulate the body’s unconscious actions,including heart rate and heart contraction force,blood vessel size,sweat glands,and more.It typically referred to as the “fight or flight response”.Part of this response is to increase blood pressure. We often think of higher blood pressure as a bad thing,but when you’re fighting or fleeing for your survival,it is actually very helpful because it can increase the delivery of blood(with all its nutrients and oxygen) to various tissues throughout the body.

Interestingly,even in the absence of a perceived threat,insulin (because of resistance), turns sympathetic nervous system(fight or flight) on to such a degree that we experience an increase in blood pressure, that lasts as long as the insulin is elevated.

  • Unhealthy changes in blood lipids- Insulin selectively drives the production of LDL pattern B. LDL is more meaningful in predicting heart disease when it is categorized by size and density. There are two patterns- termed A and B. A refers to LDL molecules that is larger and less dense,and B refers to the LDL being smaller and denser.

To understand what does LDL pattern B do,let’s use an analogy. Imagine you are standing on a bridge above a river. In your left hand,you’re holding a beach ball(LDL A);in your right hand you’re holding a golf ball(LDL B).After you drop both balls into the water,what would happen? The buoyant,less dense beach ball would float along with the river,while the denser(golf ball) would drop to the bottom,bouncing along the riverbed.

LDL A and B likely act in a similar way in your blood vessels. LDL A float along and interact with the blood vessel wall less frequently than LDL B. LDL B when bumps into the blood vessel wall drop off its fats and cholesterol increasing the risk of cardiovascular complications ,eventually developing atherosclerotic plaque,reducing vessel diameter.

  • Inflammation-Insulin activates inflammation in insulin resistant people.First ,insulin resistance increases blood pressure,increasing the likelihood of blood vessel damage. Next,it increases lipid deposition in blood vessels walls. Finally, insulin resistance increases inflammation.

Insulin and Brain Health:

Insulin resistance may damage the cognitive system and lead to dementia states.It is a strong risk factor for major depressive order and brain fog. Insulin resistance have about the twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.The most insulin resistant people had the lowest rates of dopamine production in their brains.

Those who had insulin resistance were twice as likely to have a regular migraines. Insulin resistance might play an important role in the development of peripheral neuropathy-the burning,tingling sensation in the limbs,particularly the feet.In this instance,the nerve that controls the stomach,the vagus nerve,becomes damaged and thus is less able to induce stomach contractions and peristalsis.

A healthy brain requires healthy insulin sensitivity.

Insulin and Reproductive Health:

Insulin is absolutely necessary for normal reproduction. It wouldn’t be prudent to bring off spring into a dangerous or unhealthy situation,such as period of starvation.

The brain and sex glands ,known as gonads,interaction must happen to allow reproduction. Lack of insulin leads to changes in brain and gonads that decrease reproductive processes. Insulin resistance men and women are more likely to be infertile. Additionally,insulin resistant children are more likely to experience alterations in puberty.

Men with insulin resistance have an increased risk of erectile dysfunction and low sperm count. The higher insulin levels increase leptin levels and make it more likely that puberty will start early.

Insulin,the king of all metabolic hormones ,is a strong indicator of metabolic status in the body- and high insulin rings a warning bell. From the brain to the ovaries and testes,insulin either facilitates or frustrates reproduction. Normal insulin, reflecting good metabolic health,promotes normal fertility.

As different as fertility and cancer are,they do have one thing in common- they are both influenced by insulin.

Insulin and Cancer:

Cancer is a disease of cellular growth. Cancer cells seem to have a sweet tooth- they love glucose. And insulin resistance is a part of this equation because it pushes cancer cells to grow faster.

Women with the highest fasting insulin levels are those with the worst breast cancer outcomes. Like the breast,the prostate is a highly hormone sensitive,it will grow or shrink based on hormone signals.Men with a high degree of insulin resistance may be upwards of 250% more likely to develop prostate cancer.

Insulin resistance is associated with increased risk of developing cancer in the lower part of the digestive tract,including the colon and rectum;it also makes colorectal cancer more lethal.

Insulin and Aging,the skin,Muscles,and Bones:

People with insulin resistance are much more likely to develop Aging, Skin tags,Psoriasis,Acne,Muscle loss,Joint problem,Fibromyalgia,reduced bone mass,Osteoarthritis,Gout problem.

Insulin- Kidney and Liver Health:

Insulin resistance increases the risk of kidney failure by 50%. High blood insulin increases the amount of blood calcium. Too much calcium can cause various problems,including affecting the heart;calcium also forms the most common type of kidney stone.

Liver is an insulin sensitive organ that plays a key role in the regulation of whole body energy homeostasis. Defective insulin signalling and development of insulin resistance in the liver can have major consequences on energy balance and metabolism. Insulin resistance may contribute liver damage and liver disease progression.

Life Style Factors Contributing Insulin Resistance:

  • Air pollution
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Petrochemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Sugar and artificial sweetners
  • Starvation
  • Sleep
  • Sedentary living

The Solution:

  • Get moving : Movements matters!Exercise is very helpful for improving insulin resistance. In fact,any kind of physical activity can help to combat insulin resistance because it removes glucose from the blood without involving insulin.
  • Eat smart: The most powerful but also the most difficult to change.Insulin levels start to climb around 5.30 am and begin falling within roughly two hours.With this perspective in mind,what we eat when we wake up may matter more than what we eat any other time of day.Eating an insulin spiking meal in the morning could add more fat to our frames compared with eating it in the evening.

It doesn’t matter how many grams of carbohydrates you’re eating if the food you choose have “good” carbs. A useful tool in deciding whether a carbohydrate is “good” or “bad” is by determining its glycemic load– a number that estimates how much a particular carbohydrate food will raise your blood glucose after you eat it.

Thus,it’s possible to consume a diet that has a higher amount of carbohydrates and still potentially prevent or improve insulin resistance if the carbohydrate is low GL(glycemic load). A GL of 20 and above is usually considered “high”,11 to 19 is “moderate” and 10 or below is “low”.

Fiber-rich vegetables and fruits are good examples of low GL carbohydrates; a diet high in fiber improves insulin sensitivity. Good fat and adequate protein is equally important in your diet.

Other benefits of controlling carbohydrates are- Heart health,Reproductive health,Neurological health,Parkinson’s disease,Migraine headaches,Heartburn,skin problems like acne and psoriasis,Aging….

  • Intermittent Fasting/Time Restricted Feeding: No doubt,fasting is a powerful tool,and as with any “power tools”you need to use it wisely and deliberately.A critical distinction must be made between fasting and starvation. Fasting can have unintended consequences if taken too far. It depends on constitution of the person fasting,how they define”fasting”(what are they drinking,how they are supplementing,etc.) and how they’re ensuring essential mineral intake. Also,how a person ends a fast matters greatly.

When it comes to insulin resistance,the food we eat may matter more than anything else. Our exercise and eating patterns will largely cause or cure insulin resistance. Of course,as powerful as they are,they’re also uncomfortable and require meaningful changes.

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have the safest way to health.” – Hippocrates.



Author: Gunjan Mishra

Holistic Wellness Coach ,Functional Medicine Practitioner, NLP and CBT Practioner, A Certified nutritionist from Stanford University(US), Diploma in health and fitness from Shaw Academy(UK), Advanced Diploma in Principles of Nutrition(UK), Personal Trainer (GFFI Academy, India), Advanced Diploma in Ultimate body Transformation(UK), Co-founder of Cosmic wellness centre.

One thought on “Role Of Insulin In Health and Disease”

  1. Very informative. Everyone needs to know about Insulin Resistance. Lot of health issues can be can be prevented. Thanks a lot for this very important write-up and sharing to all.

    Liked by 1 person

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