Insulin Sensitivity, What's all the Hype?
In the last few years, the medical community has begun to put insulin under the spotlight. New research is beginning to link insulin sensitivity as a direct indicator of overall health, fitness and risk for disease.
What is insulin?
When most of us hear the word “insulin,” we think about people living with diabetes. The fact is that insulin is not just a drug administered to diabetics. It is one of the most crucial hormones in the human body. This hormone is released by an organ called the pancreas, which is a small gland located behind your stomach. Insulin allows our body to utilize glucose (sugar) as energy in the body.
How does insulin work?
When we eat a meal, the nutrients are broken down by our digestive tract into what is known as carbohydrates. When the carbohydrates enter the small intestine, they are dissolved once again into molecules of sugar called glucose. The glucose is then absorbed through the intestinal walls and enters your bloodstream. When the blood starts to fill with sugar the body triggers a feedback loop in your brain that tells the pancreas to release insulin. The job of the insulin is to bind to these sugar molecules and transport them to cells throughout your body. Human cells rely on sugar to function properly. If the cells don't receive sugar for energy, they will die. The muscle tissue in your body demands a lot of sugar in order to operate at an optimal level. Many experts say it is best to eat the majority of your carbs after an intense workout. This is because the muscle tissues will use the sugar immediately to begin the recovery process. Once the muscles get their fill of sugar the remainder will be stored in the form of glycogen (chains of glucose) in the liver and muscle tissues. If the storage containers in the liver and muscle are full, any excess will be stored as fat.
What is insulin resistance and Type II diabetes?
We have heard repeatedly from our healthcare providers that sugar is the enemy. But wait, we just read that sugar is necessary to keep our cells alive, so how can it be an enemy? Well just like most things in life, too much of anything can be bad, and sugar is no different. When we consume a lot of sugary foods, the level of glucose in our blood continues to rise. This leads to more insulin pumped into the bloodstream. When the cells already have enough sugar to function and all the storage lockers are full, the cells begin to reject the offering becoming resistant to the hormone. The excess sugar will then be filtered by the kidneys and excreted through urine. Over time the cells require more insulin shuttles in order for them to allow sugar into their walls. This cycle is perpetuated by inactivity and sedentary lifestyle. Cells are smarter than us, they will not eat if they aren't hungry. Working out is what makes our cells ask for more food. If this resistance gets bad enough, it leads to type II diabetes. The cell walls no longer allow sugar into them so they begin to die. This is why untreated diabetes can lead to the amputation of toes,feet and legs.
What is insulin sensitivity?
The easiest way to think about insulin sensitivity is to consider it as the exact opposite of resistance and diabetes. The more insulin sensitive an individual is, the less shuttles it takes to supply the cells with their food. This occurs when the cells are always hungry. How do we keep the cells hungry? We continue to exercise and eat a diet that is low sugar. When we exercise, we first deplete the free-floating sugar in the blood, then the body starts to pull from the glycogen “storage lockers” that are found in the liver and muscle tissues. When all of the lockers are empty the body then metabolizes fat into sugar that the cells can utilize. Generally speaking, the more fit someone is, the higher their insulin sensitivity is.
Let us tie it all together with a metaphor.
Consider the human body as a colony of leaf cutter ants. I know, a strange concept but stick with me. The tunnels that the ants build underground are the blood vessels and the ants that live inside are cells. The leaf shards that are brought into the colony are sugar molecules and the worker ants that carry the leaves on their back are insulin hormone. The queen can be considered the brain and the pancreas can be compared to the generals that direct flow of traffic.
Now here we go!
Proper colony function:
- The queen notifies the generals that food in the form of leaves is entering the colony, just as the brain tells the pancreas to produce insulin when sugar enters the bloodstream.
- The generals tell the worker ants to go pick up the leaves, similar to when the pancreas releases insulin to shuttle the sugar to the cells.
- The worker ants carry the leaves throughout the colony, handing them off to other ants who store the leaves in chambers where it becomes fungus, which is their main food source. This can be compared to insulin binding to sugar and carrying it to the cells in need. The storage chambers are similar to glycogen found in the liver and muscle tissues.
A resistant colony:
- Now imagine if the worker ants continued to bring leaves into the colony without the queen's permission. The generals would be forced to tell the workers to deliver the food to the other ants. This is the same as the pancreas continuing to release insulin as blood sugar rises.
- Eventually the ants would not be able to accept any more leaves, so they block the tunnels into the storage lockers with dirt. The worker ants are trying to deliver but it now takes more of them to push through the dirt that is blocking the tunnels. This can be compared to the cells becoming resistant to insulin that is delivering sugar.
A sensitive colony:
- Imagine now that the queen chose her fastest and strongest workers to deliver leaves to the rest of the colony. At the same time the ants living in the colony open the tunnels to be wider so the delivery ants(insulin) can pass off the food without bumping into the walls. If this was the case, fewer ants could supply the colony with an adequate amount of nutrition for the entire colony. This is the same contempt as insulin sensitivity. It now takes less insulin to shuttle sugar at a faster rate.
The Voli Way
All of the products made by Voli are designed with insulin in consideration. They contain little to no added sugar. This means that the supplements can be consumed without spiking blood glucose levels. The company is also motivated to inspire movement. The more you move the hungrier your cells will become and the more effective the insulin shuttles will be!
- Brandon Johnson, DC