Is insulin resistance wrecking your heart? (Pt. 1)
High insulin is becoming a major health problem in our modern day, and one that has major implications for the heart. Our diet, high in refined and heavily processed foods is adding a heavy load of sugar that the body is not able to handle.
According to Dr. Douillard, DC, CAP,“The over-production of insulin is the underlying epidemic of our time, and most doctors rarely test for it.” He estimates 50% of the American population is overweight, one-third obese, another third with pre-diabetes, and 10 percent with type II diabetes. Dr.John Douillard calls insulin ‘the silent killer’ because insulin will quietly creep up into dangerous levels. Not only is excess insulin in the blood linked to weight gain and blood sugar issues, new research is linking it to a variety of cancers. In one study, a high-sugar, insulin-provoking diet increased the risk of breast cancer by 36-41 percent. Another study showed that obese women with the higher percentage of belly and hip fat had a 70 % increased risk of pancreatic cancer. In yet another study involving the evaluations of routine colonoscopies, the patients with the highest insulin levels had a 17-42 % increased risk of a cancerous growth in the colon. (5)
What is more, high insulin is related to heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Elevated levels of insulin over a period of time leads to a condition known as ‘insulin resistance’.
In our previous blog we saw how the sodium-potassium pump is present in every cell in the body and the electrical current generated by it is used for so many functions: sugar metabolism, fat metabolism, cell growth and division, and the response to hormones like insulin. In today’s blog we will look at how blood sugar and insulin can become dis regulated in what is known as ‘insulin resistance’. We will look at this health challenge in depth and learn what we can do about it.
The role of the pancreas
To help us understand insulin, we need to first look at the organ that produces and makes this important hormone known as insulin.
The pancreas is a very essential organ that has several key roles in the body: it makes enzymes, bicarbonate and it produces several hormones. One of these hormones is insulin, which is triggered by food. Every time we eat a meal, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood in order to remove this glucose from the blood. The faster a food turns into sugar, the faster the pancreas is triggered to release insulin. This means that some foods will stimulate insulin faster than others. Once this glucose is removed from the blood, it is stored in muscle and liver cells to be used for quick energy. (1)
Removing sugar from the blood quickly after a meal is very important to our health because glucose that is circulating in the blood causes a great deal of damage. The main reason being that this glucose is toxic to our cells. Glucose that is not properly removed and stored inside cells will start accumulating in the blood and start sticking itself to the protein and fatty tissue in our body,impairing their function.This process, ironically called AGEs (advanced glycation end products ) (2) is responsible for the inflammation that can go on in our bodies silently for decades. It can literally turn the protein in our body, like our arteries, into ‘caramelized goo’unable to function properly. If you have ever heated up sugar in your kitchen, you can begin to imagine your own body turning into something like it.
The shocking truth about high insulin
AGEs affect nearly every type of cell and molecule in the body and are thought to be one factor in aging and some age-related chronic diseases.They are believed to be the cause of the vascular complications of diabetes, and kidney disease. In the context of cardiovascular disease, AGEs can induce “crosslinking of collagen which can cause vascular stiffening and entrapment of low-density lipoprotein particles (LDL) in the artery walls.” AGEs can also cause glycation of LDL which can promote its oxidation. Oxidized LDL then is one of the major factors in the development of atherosclerosis. Finally, AGEs can cause oxidative stress as well as activation of inflammatory pathways in our heart’s endothelial cells. (3)
Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo MS, DC, CCN, DACBN refers to this dangerous accumulation of glucose in the blood as‘glycosylation of hemoglobin, which she explains is a fancy way of saying your red blood cells get ‘sticky and stiff’. This process damages the lining of our blood vessels , the endothelium, causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. She further explains that this will also damage the nerves on the periphery of the body, the hands and feet, the back of the retina and the ears. In this sense, high insulin for a prolonged period of time can cause peripheral neuropathy in hands and feet, blindness and loss of hearing. All of which will start as a impairment of blood circulation. In her research, Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo has discovered that just a slight increase in blood sugar levels, a reading above 120 mg/dl, can start damage to these areas.
Something alarming about this number is how it is being used to diagnose disease. A diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes is not given until a person has a fasting blood sugar of 120. This number, according to her, means that blood sugar has been elevated for a long enough period to cause damage to our proteins and fatty tissue.
In her opinion, a fasting blood sugar level should be around 75-89 mg/dl. This is the amount of sugar circulating in the blood after a person has been fasting for 10-12 hours. Ideally, this should be our normal blood sugar levels when we wake up in the morning. She explains that after eating a meal our blood sugar spikes but then the body should be able to bring it down by the action of insulin within 2 hours. (4)
This amount of sugar is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of sugar in the whole blood volume, which is around 1 gallon plus 1/3 of a gallon. Our present diet adds around 31 teaspoons of sugar a day. That is a lot of sugar that has to be processed by insulin, and because it cannot be properly metabolized, the extra sugar is stored in the liver as toxic waste.
The ‘feedback loop’ mechanism
Once this glucose has been removed from the blood, insulin acts like a key that unlocks the receptors in our cells so that this glucose can pass the cell membrane and be stored properly inside liver and muscle cells. Inside the cell, this sugar can be converted into energy. When the cell is filled with glucose there is a signal that goes from the cell back up to the pancreas and tells the pancreas to turn off the production of insulin. This is an on-off mechanism called ‘feedback loop’which acts as a communication between the cells and the pancreas and is very important for the regulation of blood sugar in the body. However, this feedback mechanism can start to malfunction, in this case the pancreas will continue to send insulin even though it is not needed.This will cause a dangerous spike in insulin in the blood.
When we have too much sugar for a long period of time,the receptor in the liver that is supposed to receive insulin becomes blocked. This is what is known as ‘insulin resistance’. It is called ‘resistance’ because the cells in the liver start ignoring this insulin, so the glucose cannot get into the cell. There is no feedback loop to the pancreas either, which causes the pancreas to keep pumping insulin. This rises the insulin in the blood even higher, because the body is still trying to send insulin to drive nutrients into the cell, but because the receptor is blocked this is not happening. The result is high levels of insulin in the blood and low inside the cell, so the person has both the symptoms of high insulin and low insulin at the same time. A person with high insulin has 5 to 7 time more insulin than a normal person, this is known as prediabetes. However, all this insulin is not working because it is not bringing the sugar in the blood down, it is not feeding the cells either and it is going into storage as belly fat, causing fatty liver.
When someone has insulin resistance they are going to be deficient in many nutrients, like the major vitamins. Because the B vitamins are needed to protect the myelin of the nerves, deficiencies in this family of vitamins can cause peripheral neuropathy.
Without insulin other nutrients cannot make it inside the cell either , like protein (amino acids). This is why diabetics have loss of muscle, with general muscle weakness and inability to build muscle. They also experience loss of collagen, joint and disc issues, etc.
Potassium, one of the most important electrolytes for heart health won’t go into the cell either when insulin resistance is present. Low potassium will cause:
- High pulse rate
- High blood pressure
- Poor sleep, because potassium relaxes the body
- Muscle cramps
- Kidney stones
- Edema (swelling in the feet)
So what is insulin resistance? It is the body’s own defense mechanism against excess sugar. Because excess glucose is considered toxic, the body tries to stop its absorption by blocking the receptors that take it into the cells.
Roles of insulin
Insulin has several important roles:
- Its main role is to remove sugar from the bloodstream after a meal and feed this fuel to the cell
- Insulin then stores sugar in the liver, muscles, kidneys, white blood cells, etc. This stored sugar is called ‘glycogen’ and it is a long string of glucose molecules. Glycogen is one of the two main energy reserves in the body. But the body can only store a tiny amount of this energy that equals 1,700 calories. This is why there is another source of energy available as an energy reserve: fat. Fat reserves constitute 70,000 calories in an non-obese person.
In the case of obesity, insulin converts excess sugar and carbohydrates into fatty deposits in the liver. This is not a desirable situation because the extra fat in the liver can ultimately lead to cirrhosis. This sugar can also be stored as extra fat in the area around the stomach.
- Insulin is a detoxifier hormone
- Insulin is like a key that opens the cell to allow the cell to have fuel, to regulate blood sugar, and to allow amino acids and other nutrients in. It goes into our cells by first removing the sugar from the blood. It also allows the transport of potassium and magnesium into the cell.
- Insulin is also a growth hormone. This means that it increases cellular division rates (often without normal DNA gene regulation) and the growth of fat cells, most notably belly and hip fat. (5)
- In 1973 Dr. Richard D. Moore proved that insulin increases the pH inside muscle cells . Together with other doctors, he proved that this effect of insulin is due to the to the stimulation of the sodium-acid exchange pump mechanism causing it to move more acid out of the cell, thus increasing the pH inside the cell. They also proved that this increase in pH is probably the main means by which insulin stimulates glycolysis, the first step in the metabolism of glucose once it enters the cell. (6)
Symptoms of insulin resistance
- Fatigue after meals
- Craving for sugar and carbohydrates
- Excessive urination, due to the body trying to dilute high sugar concentration
- Brain fog and memory problems
- Hypoglycemia,low blood sugar: can cause dizziness, fatigue and irritability. Inability to go without food for a short period of time.
- Hyperglycemia, high blood sugar
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Kidney disease (7)