Insulin is a hormone that has profound effects on metabolism. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, and store it as glycogen in the liver and muscle. It also stops the use of fat as an energy source.
Insulin is produced in the pancreas. Protein and glucose in the blood from digested food stimulates the release of this important hormone.
Scientists have developed a large body of knowledge about insulin since its discovery in the 19thcentury. It is very complex and proper insulin functioning depends on nearly countless factors. Simply, though, low insulin levels are associated with diabetes – the improper metabolism of sugar.
Excess insulin is associated with a condition referred to as syndrome X, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, Reaven’s syndrome, and CHAOS (Australia). It is a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some studies estimate the incidence in the USA to be up to 25% of the population.
The obvious impact of syndrome X is the dramatic increase in visceral fat – located inside the abdominal cavity, packed in between internal organs and torso, as opposed to subcutaneous fat, which is found underneath the skin, and intramuscular fat, which is found interspersed in skeletal muscle. Fat in the lower body, as in thighs and buttocks, is subcutaneous, whereas fat in the abdomen is mostly visceral.
Prolonged stress can be an underlying cause of metabolic syndrome by upsetting the hormonal balance. Stress causes the adrenal glands to make extra cortisol and, in turn, levels of circulating glucose rise. The extra circulating insulin stimulates the release of insulin. This promotes the formation of fat in the viscera.
Hormone balance, diet, and exercise are important in preventing and controlling insulin resistance. Highly processed foods – fast foods, packaged sweets, canned goods, dried meals, canned soups, etc – enter our bodies and actually fuel the imbalances and are a cause of additional stress. The combination of stress, insulin release, hormone imbalance sets us up for a cycle of disorder that is difficult to break.
It takes effort to control insulin resistance. It is worth it, though. When insulin and stress are shaping our lives, we are at increased risk for diabetes, coronary heart disease, accelerated aging, obesity, abnormal cholesterol balance, and a host of conditions associated with sex hormone imbalance; loss of libido, dryness, hair loss, wrinkles, erectile dysfunction, and all of the symptoms associated with menopause.
The first line in treatment is a change of lifestyle (i.e., caloric restriction and physical activity). Generally, the individual disorders that comprise the metabolic syndrome are treated separately and drugs often play a popular role in treatment.
Too many people already take too many drugs. Using a drug to attend to a problem that is caused by a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits is bad medicine. It is the most popular approach, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best.