You Can Stop the Glucose-Insulin Roller Coaster

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Three easy steps to reduce insulin exposure.

There are many metabolic pathways that can fuel the flames of inflammation in the body. Today we are talking about one of the most potent pathways – that involving how our body processes glucose and the resulting exposure of our cells to insulin. This is so important because it is a hidden contributor to inflammation and abnormal cell growth via IGF-1 that I see in every person I work with. Fixing this is a foundational step in reversing inflammation in the body. Here's the science - highly detailed information about advanced glycation end products and abnormal glycosylation for many illnesses is found in this article here.

First- a few definitions to get you started:

- Glucose is the result of carbohydrate breakdown.

- Carbohydrates are a macronutrient category that includes all the foods at the base of the American food pyramid foods such as bread, cereals and grains.

- Inflammation is the process whereby the immune system sets off a cascade of immune cells and responses to agents that are irritating, toxic, or otherwise not recognized as safe by the immune system. Glucose is recognized as safe in low levels and toxic in high levels.

- The immune system reacts to high levels of glucose in a way that causes cellular damage.

You may have heard of the glycemic index – this is a validated measuring tool that sorts different foods based on how quickly they cause blood sugar to rise. White bread is given a glycemic index of 75 for example, and pure sugar in the form of glucose is 100. That’s a high glycemic index. The lower the glycemic index, the slower blood glucose will rise.

Where does that glucose go?

After a high glycemic food is digested, there is generally a flood-gate effect; all the glucose enters the bloodstream at once. Too much glucose is damaging to the body. Think of someone with Type 1 diabetes where no insulin is produced to control that glucose release. Think of kids at any celebration where candy is involved. The effect on Type 1 Diabetics and children is very easy to spot. For anyone without Type 1 Diabetes it is not life threatening, but still causes damage. From eating the candy, running around, active (yes, even maybe getting hyperactive) as that glucose enters the bloodstream, and then grumpy or asleep within 30 minutes as insulin is released to move glucose out of bloodstream to be stored as fat. The effects inside the body are far worse. It sets off a cascade of reactions that result in the body becoming inflamed.

The large amount of glucose sets off alarm bells in the body. The pancreas goes right to work to protect, sending out insulin to trap that glucose and turn it into a storage form so it doesn’t do so much damage. The insulin is very good at doing this in the beginning, and will drop glucose levels quickly, causing a rapid change in glucose levels and also in how one feels. The resulting effect is fatigue, grumpiness, and in kids maybe a tantrum or falling asleep. We often have a bit of brain fog when we have low blood sugar after too much insulin is released. We can also get headaches, hangry, and generally feel meh…

This is the roller coaster: the glucose spike and subsequent insulin overshoot in the body, happening three meals a day, when one eats the standard American diet. It’s a completely preventable pattern that starts with too much insulin and then too little. If not reversed, will eventually lower the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin and cause a number of health problems, the most common and first of which is weight gain, progressing to obesity, then type 2 diabetes, followed by cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and different types of cancer.

Stop the roller coaster.

Stop these diseases from starting by controlling your insulin and reducing inflammation. Find a better way to eat because what you put in your mouth matters. Eating real food involves work that, when started in small relevant ways, adds up to preventing the above health conditions over your lifetime. This investment in prevention is far cheaper than the treatments and drugs needed to fix the above list of problems.

3 Easy Steps to a Solution:

1. Look at your food intake.

Make a record of what and when you eat in a week and evaluate where the food sources of a glucose spike are. Don’t be judgemental, just look for the foods that cause a spike. Then find a way to upgrade that to something better that doesn’t cause a spike. For example, if you are used to having a quesadilla or grilled cheese on a flour tortilla/white bread for lunch, aim for whole grain tortilla/bread and add some tomato slices and sliced cooked lean turkey or chicken. Put half a plate of salad greens on the side of that food and dress it with avocado, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. These additional upgrades will slow the release of glucose from the bread into your bloodstream and prevent as strong an insulin release from the pancreas.

2. Move that glucose to your muscle cells instead of your fat cells.

When you eat high-glycemic food, it quickly gets turned into storage in the form of fat regardless of the amount as a protective mechanism the body has in place to reduce the problems glucose causes. Prevent that by going for a brisk walk for 15 minutes after each meal. This little bit of exercise moves that glucose to muscles as fuel and will not get turned into fat, and there is not going to be a dip in glucose afterward because less insulin is released.

3. Eat fiber.

Fiber comes as a refined (i.e. Metamucil, Benefiber) or a non-refined (i.e. Ground Flax, Psyllium, Acacia) products. Fiber from whole grains offers better anti-oxidant and polyphenol protection for the good bacteria in the gut. In turn, these good bacteria use that fiber to produce B vitamins for the body. Fiber slows the glycemic index and is best thought of as a control on the flood-gate – so less glucose enters the circulation system at once. This also means less insulin is released from the pancreas. It also helps us to feel full longer and reduces our tendency to snack between meals. If you find yourself hungry two hours after eating, you did not have enough fiber and quite possibly not enough protein.

When you are ready (you have the 'why' behind your health goals) start with planning and preparation.

1. Plan a start date.

2. Determining the preparation and other things needed before you start.

3. Revising and improving as you go until you have it mastered.

4. Then move onto the next goal after giving yourself credit for doing so well with the first goal.

It is possible to make small meaningful changes to start low-glycemic food intake. It is possible to walk for 15 minutes after each meal to move that glucose to your muscles instead of fat. It is possible to eat fiber. It just takes planning, time and patience with yourself. The first step is to determine which of the above three match your health goals. Do you have the 'why' behind the goals? When you know this your motivation to change will remain high and your glucose and insulin spikes with level off to a more consistent curve across your day.

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