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Insulin Resistance & blood sugar control

Do you feel exhausted all the time? Are you overweight? Or just have too much fat around your mid-riff? Do have serious blood sugar imbalances, or have elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels?

Even if just one or two of these points resonate with you, it is highly likely that you need to address your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Your bodies preferred fuel source is glucose which it needs for energy just as your car needs petrol. Glucose is released from your food and then is carried in the blood (that’s why it’s referred to as “blood sugar”) to the cells where it’s converted into energy. The main source of glucose is from carbohydrate based foods: - vegetables, grains, sugars and fruits, but for the glucose to be able to enter the cells, it requires a transport mechanism, this is where insulin comes in to play.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and its purpose is too “unlock” the cells and facilitate the transport of glucose into the cells where it can be converted into energy. As we eat a meal, our blood sugar levels rise, however, carbohydrate based foods raise blood sugar levels significantly more than protein or fat and the type of carbohydrate we eat has even more significance. Overly processed carbohydrate foods such as cakes, biscuits, pizza, white bread and pasta, together with fizzy drinks and alcohol cause a far more rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Wholegrain breads, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables provide a more slow and sustained release, in the main because of the fibre content still present.

If the body is continuously exposed to high levels of blood sugar from eating these overly processed types of carbohydrates, then the pancreas has to compensate by secreting excessive levels of insulin to be able to move all this excess sugar/glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells. The body can cope with this state of excess for a period of time, but certainly not indefinitely and the consequence if continued is that the insulin receptors on the cells start to become quite literally deaf to the call of this extra insulin, and the “unlocking” process of allowing sugar into the cells to form energy becomes blunted – this is a condition called insulin resistance, and eventually if left unchecked will lead to full blown diabetes.  It doesn’t stop there, insulin resistance is part of a health spectrum (also referred to as syndrome X or metabolic syndrome) that includes many all too common health conditions:-

  • High blood triglycerides (fats)
  • Increased abdominal fat and obesity
  • Increased hunger / sugar cravings
  • Low/high blood sugar
  • Poor circulation to extremities
  • Skin tags
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • High blood pressure

It’s the sugar not the fat
Our primitive hunter-gatherer ancestors ate enormous quantities of meat when they could capture it. In between times they gathered and ate nuts, berries, and seeds every day; these carbohydrates helped to keep a balanced blood sugar level, because they were absorbed into the digestive tract and metabolised (broken down) slowly. In contrast, foods we consume today are predominately refined carbohydrates  - in the form of sugar, white rice and pasta, bagels, pizza, chips, fast-food style hamburgers, hotdogs, fizzy drinks and  biscuits which are devoid of nutrients , high in sugar and metabolised quickly resulting in a high blood sugar peak and corresponding high insulin secretion. As I’ve discussed previously, constantly high levels of sugar eventually leads to excessive insulin levels, insulin resistance and all its associated health complaints.

Disturbingly, the average child in the UK consumes more than 35 teaspoons of sugar a day!  How is this possible? High sugar foods are termed anything with more than 15g (3tsp) per 100g.1 tsp is equivalent to 5g. So let’s look at an average day for many children in the UK.

Breakfast

Lunch

Tea

1x 30g bowl of cornflakes + 125ml semi-skimmed milk contains 31g = 6 teaspoons of sugar

1 glass of orange juice contains 25g = 5 teaspoons of sugar

2 x slices of thick white bread sandwich contains 38g = 7 teaspoons of sugar

1 x regular bag crisps contains 13g = 5 teaspoons of sugar

1 x fruit corner yoghurt contains 23g = 5 teaspoons of sugar

3 x “omega 3” fish fingers contain 18g = 3 teaspoons of sugar

1x servings (100g) oven chips contains 28g = 5 teaspoons of sugar

1x tablespoon of ketchup contains 5g= 1 teaspoon of sugar

All equates to whopping 37 teaspoons of sugar, and many adults I see are eating in a similar vein. Put like this, it is truly shocking — no wonder we are facing an obesity epidemic and so many of us are sick, overweight & tired! We evolved in a world without supermarkets, convenience stores, or fast food restaurants. Even as little as 30 years ago we had limited access to refined foods or such an excess of calories -  it appears in this short space of time we have become so disconnected from wholesome good quality food and seemingly the desire to eat nutritious food.

Why am I gaining this fat around the middle?
Body fat is connective tissue composed of fat cells called adipocytes. Its main role is to store energy (in the form of triglycerides) yet it also protects and insulates the body. Being overweight therefore does not depend on body weight but on the amount of body fat.

Now here is the important bit – when insulin levels become excessive and the cells become resistant to its call, glucose isn’t getting into the cells to be converted into energy. The body is always looking for a source of energy so it has a  backup plan and starts to breakdown fat stores and release free fatty acids into the blood stream as an alternative source of fuel for the cells to use. This sounds a good thing - fat being broken down doesn’t it? Well, short term- yes it is, in fact, fat supplies most of the energy during a long distance run for example. However, when in a situation where the system has reached a point of insulin resistance, you are in a continual forward feeding cycle of both excess sugar in the blood stream and now high levels of fatty acids are being deposited there too, and you’re NOT running a marathon to use all this fuel up. The net result is weight gain and an unhealthy blood fat profile with rising LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Is there a test?
The only way to know for sure is to take a test that measures insulin, something that GP’s don’t routinely do; they will tend to measure just blood glucose.

Functional tests that I use at Nutritional Values to aid treatment protocols in this area are:-
Metabolic syndrome test (includes fasting insulin and a full blood fat/lipid profile)
Adrenal Stress Profile

The whole picture
At Nutritional Values I use the Functional Medicine model to assess your health. This means seeking to identify interactions between different systems in the body through comprehensive case history taking, your presenting signs and symptoms and on occasion functional laboratory testing. The goal is to identify and address the triggers and underlying causes of your health problems, that often then cause imbalances in body systems, rather than simply focusing on symptoms.

To book an appointment or speak to Tanya click here.

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