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Insulin...what the heck is that?

You might have heard of it before- insulin. But what is it?

Insulin is an incredibly important hormone produced by the pancreas. Its main function is to alert our body to high blood sugar levels in the blood, and to thus let the sugar into our cells and out of the circulatory system.

Think of insulin like the Fedex guy. He comes to the house, rings your doorbell to let you know you have a package, alerting you to then bring said package into your home. In this scenario, your home is a cell in the body and the package is sugar. Therefore, insulin acts as a messenger to your body's cells that there is sugar outside, and to let it inside the cell. Without it, our cells would starve.

What happens in insulin resistance? Well if we use the same scenario, imagine the Fedex guy is ringing your doorbell non-stop because you have so many packages. Rather than go away, they keep ringing the doorbell more and more to try and alert you to your increasing amount of packages. After a while you might just get used the sound of the doorbell- becoming desensitized to the noise. You stop opening the door, and packages start piling up. Fedex decides to just send more service people thinking maybe this will help- for a while it does but again you eventually start to just ignore the constant ringing of the doorbell. That's what happens when our blood sugars are raised constantly- our cells become desensitized to the action of insulin and stop opening their membrane to sugar.

Increased levels of sugar in our blood can't stay there- it spills over into other places, such as our urine. Sugar is also a pretty large molecule. It bounces around and damages our blood vessels and nerves, increasing the risk for kidney failure, blindness, stroke, and loss of feeling/impaired healing leading to possible amputation. Interestingly, insulin stimulates the production fat and cholesterol as well, as this is the body saying we have energy coming in- use it or store it. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see people with diabetes also be over weight or have high cholesterol levels.

It's important to try and keep insulin levels steady and try and minimize sudden crashes or increases. We can do this by sticking to low glycemic index foods, which are digested slower leading to a slower rise in insulin.

Living in a sweet sweet world

We can't live without insulin. Period. But there needs to be a balance. Over time, the American diet has gone up in things like sugar, salt, and ultra processed foods. We have evolved to take the easy way out, to go for the convenience. So I propose a de-evolution. Lets get back to the basics- eat whole foods (look at a food and actually know what it is/made of), enjoy our treats but keep them treats, and eat mindfully. Personally, I really like Dr. Mark Hyman's Pegan lifestyle. It's a mix of vegan + paleo: most of your plate should be an array of colorful produce, have meat not as the main attraction but the side dish, add in some healthy fat, and include complex carbohydrates moderately.

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