When you think about hormones, for most, estrogen and testosterone come to mind, but understanding about the hormone Insulin , may be one of the most important hormones to get your head around, as it is often thought that unless you have diabetes you don’t need to worry about it. But nothing could be further from the truth, in fact most people have never have had their insulin levels tested, because, whilst most labs test for it, in Australia, it is not run as a standard test by GP’s. Yet high insulin levels effect our health negatively!
Yet high insulin levels have long claws when it comes to our health, testing your insulin levels is such a powerful way to understand where you sit in terms of your health, uncovering health risks, not only now, but also in the future, and not only, due to the risk of developing diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease and many cancers. And don’t be deceived, high insulin levels are not only seen in obese or overweight individuals, “skinny” individuals have hyperinsulienmia too!
What Does INSULIN Do?
Insulin is made by the pancreas (an organ that sits behind the stomach), and its role is to control your blood glucose levels (otherwise referred to as blood sugar levels). So when you eat, insulin is released into your blood stream it grabs onto the sugars from the meal you ate and escorts those sugars into the cells of your tissues. So in essence insulin controls blood levels of glucose from getting too high (seen in hyperglycemia – type II diabetes) or getting too low (hypoglycemia). If we can’t produce insulin, this results in type I diabetes (a condition which requires the individual to inject insulin into their blood stream).
When we produce too much insulin we are in danger of having hypoglycemic episodes (sweating, chills, clamminess, confusion, light-headedness, dizziness, shakiness, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, hunger). The role of balancing the correct amount of insulin becomes very important.
The New England Journal of Medicine in an article earlier this year describes it nicely:
…….Insulin binds to its receptor to activate intracellular signaling that regulates nutrient metabolism, growth, fluid homeostasis, blood-vessel tone, and other functions. When confronted with excess adiposity (fat), cells dampen insulin-receptor signaling to resist the effects of insulin. This impaired signaling elevates lipids (fat)…..
Insulin resistance occurs when insulin can no longer easily move from the blood into the cells, this can result in glucose accumulating in the blood stream (causing diabetes). The pancreas then produces more insulin to try to remove the increasing glucose out of the blood, the result – excess insulin in the blood (hyperinsulienmia)!
What Type Of Foods Trigger The Release Of INSULIN In The Blood?
Whilst all foods cause insulin to be released in the blood stream, some foods spike much higher levels of insulin to be released than others. These are foods which are high in carbohydrates (and have, what is known as a high glycemic index), such as sugars, soft drinks, grains – particularly white refined grains, such as breads/pastas/cakes/biscuits, alcohol, dried fruit, fruit juices, honey, agave and even fruit. Fibre helps reduce the glycemic index of these foods, so fruit does not spike insulin as high as fruit juice does, and wholemeal bread has a lower glycemic index to white bread. A study last year also demonstrated that partial sleep (less than 7 hours), even for one night increased insulin levels! Fasting also reduces insulin levels, read more on fasting and reducing stress levels does too!
Where Should my INSULIN levels be?
When we fast (don’t eat at all) our insulin levels are low, so the longer we fast the lower insulin levels become, this suggests that when we wake in the morning before eating, our insulin levels are at their lowest. So this is the best time to test your levels, in the morning before breakfast. Most Australian pathology labs have a reference range showing, that fasting insulin levels should sit under 10 mIU/L.
More On RISKS of HIGH INSULIN
There is the obvious risk that high insulin levels carry, such as diabetes, but there are many, less obvious risks. The Journal of Oncology in 2002 demonstrated that women in the early stages of breast cancer, with higher fasting insulin levels had poorer outcomes. Another study showed that fasting insulin levels predict fatal cardiovascular events more accurately than any other marker of glucose! Another showed a relationship between high insulin and endometrial cancer. June last year that there was an association demonstrated with hyperinsulinemia and papillary thyroid cancer. Another 2015 study concluded that independent of adiposity (weight), higher levels of insulin were significantly associated with increased risk of colorectal adenomas (precursor to colon cancer). So the evidence is out there with no dispute keeping your insulin levels within the healthy range is the way to go, if you want to reduce your risk of many diseases. Its a must in terms of screening tests not only for anyone with a chronic illness but anyone interested in prevention of disease.
TIPS To Reduce High Insulin Levels
Here are some helpful tips on how to reduce your insulin levels:
- Limit high glycemic foods in your diet (as above)
- Increase exercise
- Include higher fibre foods when eating foods that have a high glycemic index
- Include protein with high glycemic foods
- Include cinnamon into your diet eg cinnamon sticks with teas and/or cinnamon with fruit
- Sleep at least 7 hours a night
- Include stress management techniques, as stress increases the hormone cortisol, which in turn, increases glucose into the blood and then of course insulin!
- AJCN-glycemic load values
- CIRC-Hyperinsulinemia and Cardiovascular Disease
- NCBI-Significance of Basal Insulin Levels
- ASCOPUBS-Fasting Insulin and Outcome in Early-Stage Breast Cancer:
- Wiley online-sleep loss impairs fasting insulin sensitivity
- Science direct- change in fasting glucose and insulin
- NEJM-Insulin Resistance
- Wiley online-papillary thyroid cancer
- Science direct-insulin resistance and colorectal adenomas
- Atherosclerosis-Fasting insulin levels predict fatal cardiovascular
- Annual reviews-Obesity Epidemic on Cancer