0 Comments | Apr 15, 2010

Insulin Addicts Anonymous

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This is the third in a four-part series on the physical fitness aspect of employee wellness. Part 1 discussed the ways you can support the willpower investment your employees make in themselves; Part 2 discussed the highest-return fitness program methodologies I’ve encountered.

We haven’t exactly minced words in the first two parts, but Part 3 is where it gets controversial. We’re going to talk about what you put in your mouth, and the impact it has on the baggage you carry on your rump and the gunk that flows through your veins.

I’m not a research physician. That means I lack the educational background to do the clinical research myself. But it also means I’m not beholden to a research grant fund source with an agenda, and I am completely free to search out the dissenting voices in the wilderness – which, throughout human history, have often turned out to be far more right than the masses.

These aren’t my conclusions. But I think they’re spot on. Google Dr. Barry Sears, a cancer drug delivery researcher, as a starting point to do your own digging.

It’s useful to explore conventional nutritional wisdom. The brightest minds in the medical research field accepted generous grants from the grain lobby to study the optimum diet proportions. Not surprisingly in a nation with the capacity to grow enough corn and wheat to feed approximately the entire world, give or take a continent or two, the lobby-funded research extolled the virtues of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. The trouble with the vast majority of the research conclusions that advocated this dietary approach is that almost none of them were empirical. Because of the political and economic motivations behind the process, contradictory study conclusions were buried, and the offending scientists marginalized. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but only after you look at who funded the vast majority of nutritional research in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

Over the years, we noticed that our low-fat, high-carbohydrate consumers became overweight and obese in epidemic numbers. We sampled their blood, and noted that obese people often have elevated blood cholesterol. Voila – clearly, these people were eating too high a percentage of fat in their diet, which was making them fat, right? Hence the dire warnings exhorting us to reduce the fat content in our diets. It sounds so beautifully symmetrical and simple – eating fat makes you fat. Doesn’t it?

Not so fast.

The Food Pyramid - How to Get Fat and Die Young

This is where you have to take a leap of faith away from conventional wisdom. Don’t be afraid. Conventional wisdom is always wrong. Always. The world is not flat. Matter is not solid. Coffee doesn’t stunt your growth. The sun does not revolve around the earth. The sun is also not stationary in space. Space is not a black blanket with holes punched in it. Magnetism and electricity are not witchcraft. Matter and energy are one. The biceps curl machine doesn’t get you in shape.

And a high-carbohydrate diet does not make you healthy. In fact, it turns out that the dietary proportions espoused by the American Dietetic Association are a perfect recipe for obesity, heart disease, and premature morbidity. How do we know? Look around. One of the fundamental principals of the universe is that you always get what you pay for. Our high-carbohydrate, highly-processed grain-based diet has been killing us for years.

How can I say that, when the blood tests for unhealthy people with coronary disease reveal high cholesterol levels?

Because blood cholesterol is a symptom, not a cause.

“Wait a minute. It isn’t about what you eat, but about how much. Obese people just eat too much.”

Also wrong. What your body does with the food you eat is a function of the hormonal response that food invokes, as well as the hormonal response your lifestyle elicits.

It doesn’t matter how many lipid (fat) molecules are floating around in your bloodstream. Those individual fat bundles pass easily through the cell walls of your fat cells. They do not accumulate inside your fat cells, except in the presence of insulin. You can have all the food fat in your bloodstream you want. Without insulin, your body will not bind those fat molecules together to form triglycerides, which are too large to pass through the walls of your fat cells. Without insulin in your bloodstream, you don’t store fat.

Without glucagon, the yang to insulin’s ying, triglycerides don’t break apart into their constituent lipids, passing easily OUT of fat cells and into the blood stream to be consumed as energy.

Among other vital functions, insulin tells the body to store fat because there’s plenty of blood sugar available for energy.

Among other vital functions, glucagon tells the body to release fat, and use it for energy, because there’s less blood sugar available for energy.

Insulin says “store fat.”

Glucagon says “release fat.”

Insulin also causes inflammation at microscopic and macroscopic scales in the body. Unchecked, inflammation causes cellular damage. Blood cholesterol is deployed to repair that cellular damage. Therefore, high blood cholesterol levels indicate high levels of systemic inflammation at the cellular level – symptomatic of chronic excess insulin. That’s absolutely critical to understand. Blood cholesterol does not cause disease, but is symptomatic of it.

What balances insulin’s pro-inflammatory chemical message? You guessed it. Glucagon.

It is important to realize that both processes are vital to survival. Without insulin, we die. Without glucagon, we die.

But here is the rub: we must make lifestyle choices that promote the appropriate balance of those hormonal responses. Otherwise, we become obese and suffer coronary disease and other inflammation-caused diseases (the list is surprisingly long and all-encompassing, including many forms of cancer).

I know – Get to the point, geek. We’re almost there.

Here’s the million dollar question: how do we balance insulin and glucagon levels appropriately? That question leads us to a more fundamental question: what influences our endocrine system to produce insulin or glucagon?

This is where the food pyramid’s dirty little secret becomes scandalously exposed.

Consuming carbohydrates causes our bodies to produce insulin.

Consuming protein causes our bodies to produce glucagon.

Consuming too many carbohydrates in proportion to protein causes our bodies to produce excess insulin. Excess insulin causes systemic maladies on an epidemic scale.

In our misguided effort to avoid fats, we have avoided the foods that have both fat and protein. At the same time, we have powered down breads and sugars like it was our job. After all, the experts said it’s good for us, right? And we have become epidemically overweight and diseased. What happened?

Simple. Our diet failed to balance our hormones. We became insulin addicts.

How do we fix it? How do we support a nutritional stance that supports our employees’ long-term physical health and fitness?

I’ll tell you in Part 4.