Virtually all doctors agree that elevated insulin resistance is very bad for human health, being the root cause of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. So, if it is so bad, why do we all develop it in the first place? How can such a mal-adaptive process be so ubiquitous?
As of 2015, over 50% of the American population has diabetes or pre-diabetes. This stunning statistic means that there are more people in the United States with pre-diabetes or diabetes than without it. It’s the new normal. Why does it develop it so frequently? There must be some protective purpose to it since our bodies are not designed to fail. Humans have lived for millennia before the modern diabesity epidemic. How can insulin resistance be protective?
You can discover many things by taking a different perspective. The golden rule states “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A well-known quote says, “Before you judge me, walk a mile in my shoes”. In both cases, the key to success is change perspective. Invert (turn upside down) your perspective, and see how your horizons are immensely broadened. So let’s look at the development of insulin resistance from the opposite angle. Let’s not consider why insulin resistance is bad, but rather, why it is good.
When their father, Geoff, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 50, brothers Ian and Anthony Whitington were not hugely surprised, and for 10 years, they drifted along and watched from the sidelines.
“Dad had always been the ‘big man’,” says Anthony, 39. “As kids, we thought it was funny. Dad could drink more than anyone, he could eat more than anyone. It was his identity. That’s our dad and that’s what he does.”
“As we got older, of course we worried,” adds Ian, 37. “But everyone around us would say, ‘If he doesn’t want to change, you can’t change him. He has to do it himself.’” So nothing much was done – and Geoff joined the 3.5m adults in the UK who manage their diabetes with ever-greater doses of medication and regular check-ups.
“We were all resigned to our family roles,” says Anthony. “I was a busy financial adviser with four kids of my own. Ian was a busy cameraman with jobs all over the world. Dad was a funny fat guy who drank too much.”
I was writing another blog, on another matter, when someone sent me an email containing a petition signed by over two hundred Canadian doctors.
Re: Canada’s Food Guide Consultation
From: Group of concerned Canadian Physicians and Allied Health Care providers
For the past 35+ years, Canadians have been urged to follow the Canadian Dietary Guidelines. During this time, there has been a sharp increase in nutrition-related diseases, particularly obesity and diabetes.
We are especially concerned with the dramatic increase in the rates of childhood obesity and diabetes. In 1980, 15% of Canadian school-aged children were overweight or obese. Remarkably, this number more than doubled to 31% in 2011; 12% of children met the criteria for obesity in the same reporting period. This has resulted in a population with a high burden of disease, causing both individual suffering, and resulting in health care systems which are approaching their financial breaking points. The guidelines have not been based on the best and most current science, and significant change is needed.
What exactly is insulin resistance? One of insulin’s jobs is to help move glucose from the blood into the cells for energy. When blood glucose remains elevated despite normal or high levels of insulin, this is called insulin resistance. The cells are resisting insulin’s pleas to take up glucose. But why is this happening? What causes insulin resistance?
The current paradigm of understanding insulin resistance is the ‘lock and key’ model. The hormone insulin acts upon a cell surface receptor to do its job. The insulin receptor is like a lock keeping the gates to the cell closed. Insulin is like the proper key. When inserted, the gate opens to let glucose from the blood inside the cell for energy. Once you remove the key (insulin), the gate closes back up and blood glucose can no longer enter the cell.
During the phenomenon of insulin resistance, we imagine that the lock and key no longer fit together very well. The key (insulin) only partially opens the lock (receptor) and not very easily. Glucose cannot pass through the gate normally, and as a result, less gets into the cell. The blood glucose piles up outside the gate, becoming detectable as the clinical diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is made.
This past fall, Gary Taubes took his wife and two sons on a trip to a wildlife preserve in Sonoma County, California, the kind of place where guests learn firsthand about the species of the Serengeti. They slept in tents and spent the day among giraffes, zebras, antelope, and the like. One morning, Taubes and his boys awoke early. “It was 50 degrees out — freezing by our standards,” he recalls. “I took the kids to breakfast, and” — his face takes on a pained expression — “how can I not give them hot chocolate?”
For most parents, indulging the kids with some cocoa would pose no dilemma. But Taubes, one of America’s leading and most strident nutrition writers, is no ordinary father. His new book, The Case Against Sugar, seems destined to strike fear into the hearts of children everywhere. Taubes’ argument is simple: Sugar is likely poison, and it’s what is making our country fat. And not just fat but sick. So don’t eat it. Ever.
Hyperinsulinemia plays the dominant role in provoking obesity and fatty liver disease, but what causes it? Insulin is intimately related to our diet, so that was naturally the first place to look. Highly refined and processed carbohydrates, such as sugars, flour, bread, pasta, muffins, donuts, rice and potatoes are well known to raise blood glucose and insulin production. This became known as the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, and forms the rational basis for many of the low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet.
These are not new ideas, but very old ones. The first low carbohydrate diet dates all the way back to the mid 19th century. William Banting (1796–1878) published in 1863 the pamphlet Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which is often considered the world’s first diet book. Weighing 202 pounds (91.6 kilograms), Banting had been trying unsuccessfully to lose weight by eating less and exercising more. But, just as today’s dieters, he was unsuccessful.
If you’ve been reading the news, you probably know that eating delicious foods like butter and eggs is no longer thought to increase risk of heart attack or stroke. This post discusses new information has come to light suggesting Ancel Keys suppressed evidence that polyunsaturated fats are more harmful than trans fat!
For those of you who aren’t fully convinced that butter and eggs are healthy, I’ve devoted the first half of this article to highlighting why, when your doctor recommends that you swap out saturated fats in foods like butter and eggs for polyunsaturated fat in products like Smart Balance and packaged breakfast cereals, it’s largely thanks to Ancel Keys and his misleading, even dishonest, public statements.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Ancel Keys designed a series of highly influential experiments that changed the course of American dietary history. Before Keys, Americans enjoyed traditional foods like butter, eggs, and bacon without worrying about their health. After Keys made the cover of Time magazine on Jan 13, 1961, the American public was introduced to the idea that saturated fats were clogging their arteries, and that idea ultimately led to a sea change in the foods we eat. Real foods would increasingly replaced by processed, and the era of obesity and chronic disease would begin.