The Blood Sugar Balancing Act
Posted On Mar 31, 2017
Insulin resistance is aging America, though a few simple solutions can halt it in its tracks. If you’re concerned about metabolic syndrome, learn the signs and ways to reverse it with a few simple lifestyle techniques.
There’s a danger in our midst, derailing the health of millions of Americans. No, it’s not cancer, nor is it heart disease. This condition precludes many chronic or degenerative diseases and ages us at a rapid rate. And here’s the kicker: Most of us are unaware that we suffer from it.
This culprit goes by many names—metabolic syndrome, Syndrome X, pre-diabetes, and insulin resistance. If you crave sugary foods or drinks, are overweight or “thick in the middle,” have a family history of diabetes, or have high-blood pressure, chances are you may be suffering from an insulin imbalance. According to The Blood Sugar Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman, insulin imbalance will affect one in two Americans by the year 2020, 90 percent of whom will go undiagnosed. What exactly is insulin resistance and how can we stop it?
Breaking Down Blood Sugar
To understand insulin resistance, we must first understand how insulin works. Insulin is a hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar, or glucose levels, in our bodies. It drives glucose to our cells, which we then use as energy. Insulin resistance stems from a diet that’s high in sugar and empty calories and low in nutrients (think: junk food and soft drinks), as well as processed carbohydrates like bread and pasta. This type of diet, which is typical of most Americans, results in peaks and valleys of blood sugar.
Over time, this roller-coaster ride of spiking and bottoming out of blood sugar causes your body to become numb to the effects of insulin, which means you need more insulin to balance your blood sugar. High insulin blood levels cause an avalanche of events that prematurely age you. These high levels prompt your body to produce chemicals that promote inflammation, which subsequently damage blood vessels. This also causes your liver to dump cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream, which puts you at risk for heart disease. As a result, your body loses muscle and gains fat—particularly in the waist area. (Many will notice themselves becoming “apple-shaped.”) Individuals with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk for conditions such as atherosclerosis, peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These events can also affect sex drive and infertility while increasing your risk of cancer, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Diagnosing Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome, or Syndrome X, is the term that researchers use to describe the combination of conditions that result from insulin resistance and increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions linked to inflammation. “Syndrome X combines obesity, hypertension, and high blood lipids with the common link being insulin resistance,” says Stephen Holt, M.D., author of Combat Syndrome X, Y, and Z. “Often, conventional medicine fails to link these conditions together, so they aren’t treated together. Individual components, when treated, are usually not successful.” Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of The Hormone Reset Diet, agrees. “Most doctors aren’t taught to recognize insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, and since there’s no one pharmaceutical fix, it often goes untreated.”
There are a few simple tests that your doctor can run to determine if you suffer from this constellation of symptoms, which are outlined below.
Medical Diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome
The presence of three or more of these factors indicates metabolic syndrome:
- Central or abdominal obesity measured by waist circumference
• Men: 40 inches or greater
• Women: 35 inches or greater
- Triglycerides greater than or equal to
150 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter of blood)
- HDL (good) cholesterol
• Men: less than 40 mg/dl
• Women: less than 50 mg/dl
- Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 mm/Hg (millimeters or mercury)
- Fasting glucose greater than to 100 mg/dl
(Criteria agreed upon by International Diabetes Federation; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association; World Heart Federation; International Atherosclerosis Society; International Association for the Study of Obesity)
Combatting Metabolic Syndrome
While this information may seem daunting, metabolic syndrome is ultimately a reversible condition, provided you’re willing to commit to lifestyle changes and work with your health-care professional.
Successful reversal of insulin resistance requires a combination of diet, exercise, lifestyle modification, and supplementation. If you suspect you have insulin resistance, or are being treated for more than one of the components of metabolic syndrome, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. Depending on your situation, the following lifestyle changes may alleviate the condition. Prescription medication may also be necessary.
Exercise improves insulin sensitivity by reducing abdominal body fat and helps your body metabolize sugar more efficiently. Dr. Gottfried recommends “burst” or interval training, either cardio- or weight-based. “Some forms of exercise can actually raise stress hormones, which raises blood sugar.”
Lose Weight. Just losing 10 percent of your body weight can lower your blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Eat Like a Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein like fish, and healthy fats. Our experts agree that ditching white sugar and artificial sweeteners is a must. Also look for hidden sources of sugar—often found in salad dressings, tomato sauces, and condiments. Watching carbohydrate intake is crucial in combatting insulin resistance, as high-carb or extremely low-carb diets can make insulin resistance worse. Aim for 25-49 grams of carbohydrates per day, focusing on those that are high-fiber and have a low glycemic index, meaning they raise blood sugar slowly. Dr. Gottfried recommends eating one pound of vegetables a day and making sure your plate is 20 percent protein and 80 percent vegetables.
Ban Smoking and Alcohol Snuff out cigarettes and nix alcohol, as they both impact every organ system in the body, especially if you have any of the medical conditions associated with metabolic syndrome. Dr. Holt warns that insulin resistance is a “loaded gun,” and factors like smoking and excessive alcohol can pull the trigger, leading to full blown diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.
Prescription Medications. Oral prescription medications for controlling blood sugar increase insulin sensitivity. Metformin is the most popular and best tolerated. Metformin also reduces cholesterol levels and assists in weight loss. Other drugs that increase insulin sensitivity include thiazolidinediones, or TZDs, such as Avandia or Actos. These lower blood pressure and lipid values in addition to their effect on blood sugar. Unfortunately, these medications could have potentially severe side effects including liver toxicity, and can impact kidney function.
Detoxification Strategies. Insulin resistance and diabetes have been linked to environmental toxin exposure. Toxins can slow metabolism, contributing to weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes. These toxins include heavy metals, bisphenol A, and pesticides. Detoxification strategies can include oral supplements like DMSA (a chelating agent); supplementation with n-acetyl cysteine, B vitamins, and trace minerals; cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower); infrared sauna; and IV chelation using glutathione.
Chromium is a trace mineral that works side by side with insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. Most Americans receive less than half the daily recommended amount of chromium. Chromium improves blood sugar stabilization, cholesterol, and insulin levels.
DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone involved in metabolism that decreases with age. Low levels of DHEA are a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. DHEA can improve insulin sensitivity, which leads to fat loss.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant that affects blood sugar levels and other associated conditions of metabolic syndrome such as heart, vascular, and kidney disease by reducing fat accumulation in the blood. Alpha lipoic acid has been used for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy in Germany for decades.
Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant that stabilizes blood-sugar levels, lowers blood pressure, and improves vascular oxidative stress. People with high blood sugar are often deficient in CoQ10.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) lower blood pressure and triglycerides as well as improve glucose metabolism and lower C-reactive protein levels, a marker for inflammation.
Berberine has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat gastrointestinal distress. Berberine has been shown in clinical studies to work as an insulin sensitizer and is just as effective as Metformin in controlling blood sugar. Berberine also has a lowering effect on total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Cinnamon extract lowers blood sugar levels as well as reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Cinnamon is also a strong antioxidant.
Green Coffee Extract contains special substances known as polyphenols. In particular, chlorogenic and caffeic acid have been shown in human studies to improve blood sugar levels and decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Coffee extracts are also free radical scavengers, which fight inflammation.
Fight the Resistance
Insulin resistance does not have to be the end of the world. At the end of the day, we need to become in tune with our bodies and recognize when things don’t feel or seem right. By knowing the signs of insulin resistance and how they relate to metabolic syndrome, you can become an advocate for yourself or someone you love. Combatting insulin imbalance—before it spirals out of your control and into the realm of more serious health conditions—is the key to maintaining healthy longevity. With a few simple changes, it’s possible no matter your current lifestyle.