How to heal insulin resistance (Pt. 1)
Insulin is the hormone released by the pancreas that is key in blood sugar regulation. It acts as a gatekeeper to allow glucose and other nutrients inside the cell. This is insulin’s most important job when it is within healthy levels. However, when insulin is high for a long period of time a dangerous condition known as ‘insulin resistance’ develops. As we saw in our previous blog, the damage that excess insulin can do to the heart, proteins and fats in our body is significant enough to make us want to consider improving this condition.
One clue that tells us insulin resistance is developing is our cravings. Cravings for sugar are a sign that our body is using sugar for energy exclusively (1). Since sugar provides a limited amount of calories to run the body, this fuel source is short lived, which means that one would need to consume many meals a day to get energy. The problem with this is that the act of eating itself raises insulin. Also, because insulin removes excess sugar from the blood after every meal, the body goes from high sugar to low sugar, which will immediately create more sugar cravings in order to raise blood sugar again. This is known as the ‘high sugar low sugar roller coaster’. Both high sugar and low sugar are very stressing to the body. One way to reverse this is to change the body’s fuel source to fat.
In today’s blog we will talk about how to heal insulin resistance with a very specific way of eating known as ‘intermittent fasting’. We will also look at the ‘ketogenic diet’ because of its many benefits in assisting the regulation of sugars and thereby, helping in healing insulin resistance. We will revisit the alkaline diet and see how the ‘Heart and Body Extract’ can help.
Factors that increase insulin
In our previous blog we saw how a diet high in refined carbohydrates can raise insulin to dangerous levels. This is what is known as ‘glycemic index’ and it is probably something most everybody is familiar with. In today’s blog we are learning that the act of eating itself can increase insulin, because this hormone is released into the blood everytime we consume food, even foods that are low in the glycemic index. However, there is another aspect to take into account when it comes to insulin that is known as ‘insulin index’. This refers to all those foods that are not carbohydrates but also increase insulin significantly. These are:
- Low fat foods: lean meats, consuming egg whites without the yolk, protein without the fat
- Whey protein
- Certain food additives: MSG increases insulin by 300%
- Mixing fat with sugar or protein with sugar, like it is the case hamburger and bun, fries and carbonated drinks in the same meal
- Excessive protein, more than 3-6 oz per meal (2)
Side effects of high insulin
We have seen how high insulin can damage the body by affecting fat and protein. There are other side effects (3):
- Cardiac hypertrophy: The heart cells are damaged in such a way that the blood vessels deteriorate, increasing the workload of the heart.
- Thrombus (clot formation): Too much insulin targets the arteries of the heart, specially the wall of the heart, making it stiff.
- Lesions and plaquing in arteries: This can create obstructions that eventually will create a clot, stroke or heart attack.
- Fatty liver
- Alzheimer’s disease: excess insulin causes something called ‘amyloid plaquing’
- Metabolic syndrome
- Retina damage leading to macular degeneration
- Nerve damage leading to peripheral neuropathy
- Kidney damage
- Hunger, cravings, and malnutrition
Healthy insulin levels
One of the most significant problems with insulin resistance is that it reduces and even blocks nutrient absorption into the cells. This means that with high insulin, our cells are starving for nutrients, which increases cravings and hunger. The person will be consuming too many meals but never feel satiated, increasing insulin with every meal. The most logical way to reverse this would be to reduce the number of meals one consumes. How can this be done successfully if nutrients are being blocked from entering the cell? Studies have shown that the ketogenic diet is able to do this by healing insulin resistance (4) .
What is the ketogenic diet?
To answer this question we need to look at the different sources of energy the body uses (4):
- The aerobic system: Allows the body to use oxygen as energy. This system uses fats for fuel.
- The glycolytic pathway: Glycolysis is the process by which glucose is split to release energy (5). This pathway uses carbohydrates.
- Creatine phosphate: It is a molecule that acts as a reserve of energy that recycles adenosine triphosphate(ATP), the energy currency of the cell (6).
All this can be explained more simply by saying that the body uses either sugar (glucose) or fat as energy: either the glucose stored in our muscles and liver, known as ‘glycogen’, or the stored fat found in adipose tissue. In the presence of a small amount of glycogen (stored sugar) the body will prefer to use this as a source of energy rather than the stored fat. The problem with glucose is that it does not last long without having to consume more glucose from the diet. The ketogenic diet allows the body to switch from ‘sugar burning’ to ‘fat burning’ through a process known as ‘keto adaptation’. By this process the body will start making new mechanisms in the cells to obtain energy from fat exclusively. This process of keto adaptation takes a few days to occur, from 3 days to several weeks, depending on how long our body has been using sugar as fuel, our age, how fast our metabolism is, etc. Before we explain the diet in detail, we need to understand what the process of ketosis is.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is the state the body is under when it has adapted to getting energy from fat rather than glucose. For this conversion to happen, there is an absolute requirement: to starve the body of sugar (glucose). This is because in the presence of just a small amount of sugar, the body will always use this first for energy. However, removing sugars from the diet will force the body to adapt by looking for an alternative source of energy. The good news is that the body is able to store a lot more energy from fat. An average thin person has approximately 77,000 calories stored in adipose tissue.
When the body is fat adapted, it makes something known as ‘ketone bodies’, these are a by-product of fat burning that the body can use for energy.
How are ketones created in the body?
When the body is without a source of glucose from the diet for 10-12 hours , the amount of insulin released goes down (11). Insulin then opens up the gates in the cells for fats to flood in, either from the adipose tissue or from the fat consumed through the diet. Once fats get in the blood stream, they travel through the body, go to the liver and there they get converted into energy or ketones. Ketones are used by the brain as a source of energy.
This process of keto adaptation can be measured with strips that change color according to how many ketone bodies the body is producing. It can also be measured more accurately through breath with a special device (12).
Keto adaptation can take from 3 days to 2-6 weeks, depending on how long our body has been burning sugar fuel.
Ketones are the preferred source of energy for the body, so we could say that our bodies are made to run on fat, especially our brain. Our ancestors consumed a lot more fat and much less processed carbohydrates. The benefits of ketosis are many, one of these benefits is that during ketosis the body protects its own protein, just the opposite of high insulin. Because of this the body will start building muscle, will also protect other proteins in the body like tendons, joints, hair, nails, skin, etc.
Something else that is significant is that with ketosis the body will be able to get rid of fluid retention. This means there will be increased urination, which can cause a loss of electrolytes. Replenishing these with green leafy vegetables is very important.
Ketones vs. glucose
The benefits of using fat as fuel are many:
- Fat burning and weight loss, because the body will use its stored fat as energy.
- Longer and more stable energy.
- Better brain performance and cognitive function, more focus and concentration, better mood and memory. The opposite happens when the brain runs on glucose: poor memory and concentration, brain fog, irritability, even depression.
- Reversal of insulin resistance. The reason why ketosis is able to heal insulin resistance is because fat provides a lot of energy thereby the need for frequent meals is removed. What is more, fat does not trigger the hormone insulin, like sugar does. This in itself, is the main reason why the ketogenic diet is so appropriate for insulin resistance and diabetics. Fat is neutral when it comes to hormones.
- Fat stabilizes blood sugar because it does not raise blood sugar.
- Ketosis preserves muscle glycogen more than eating sugar from the diet (which is used up quickly). Studies have shown that during ketosis 75% of muscle glycogen is reabsorbed without having to consume extra carbohydrates. The body will actually collect the glycogen it needs to restore the carbohydrates naturally and keep muscle function. What is more, the body is able to ‘turn off’ its desire to even use that stored glycogen. This is impressive in itself, because it means there is no need to consume glucose from the diet. And this is exactly what we are looking for to heal insulin resistance. The implications for heart health are very significant too because of the fact that the heart is a muscle that requires a constant supply of energy. This means the heart could run on fat energy longer without having to increase insulin.
Ketosis and intermittent fasting
Ketosis allows the body to do ‘intermittent fasting’. Fasting gives the body the opportunity to regenerate itself by concentrating on repair rather than having to work hard to digest food.
Benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduction in the risk of diabetes
- Reduction in the risk of certain cancers
- Cell protection, especially for neurons
- Longer life span
- Fasting allows the digestive system to take a break and heal
- Hormonally, intermittent fasting triggers the release of ‘human growth hormone’ (HGH). In fact, intermittent fasting is considered to be the most powerful stimulant to HGH, it increases it by 1,300% in women and up to 2,000 % in men.
- Because it improves insulin resistance, intermittent fasting also increases nutrient absorption, reducing the need to eat frequent meals.
- Ketosis allows the body to preserve muscle and protein better. High insulin, as we saw, destroys the protein and fats in the body. The great news about this is that the heart is a muscle, making it a great diet for the heart.
- Autophagy: This is intermitent fasting’s more impressive benefit. Autophagy is a condition by which the body starts to recycle old and damaged proteins, and cells. The body is then able to get these worn out pieces of a cell and recycle them by turning them into new amino acids the body can use to build new tissue. Autophagy also cleans up old microbes, bacteria, candida, yeast, mold, viruses, etc. This could be said to be the ultimate antiaging effect of intermittent fasting, and one that improves immune function greatly. For the body to get into autophagy it takes around 18 hours of fasting. Because the ketogenic diet reduces hunger greatly and nutrient absorption, it is the best and safest way to do fasting. What is more, ketosis provides an amazing amount of energy because it produces ketones. Both intermittent fasting and ketosis produce ketones, therefore, practicing both the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting doubles the amount of ketones made by the body.
The term ‘autophagy’ is a relatively new term, it was coined in 1963 by a Belgian biochemist. The autophagy genes were identified in the 1990’s and in 2016 a Japanese researcher was awarded the Nobel prize for his discoveries on autophagy.
There is a precaution to be taken into account when doing intermittent fasting, and that is to implement fasting slowly. Only when the body has fully adapted to fat burning and the person has built up nutrient reserves can the body fast safely (14). In this sense, one can start fasting for 12 hours and then slowly increase the number of hours.