Updated: Nov 9, 2020
I see many clients in my nutritional therapy clinic who have problems with hormones including insulin, which affects their ability to lose weight or manage their blood sugar levels. As part of the advice I provide as a registered nutrition practitioner to my nutritional therapy clients, is the explanation, or 'hypothesis' of what can potentially be happening. My client, armed with this nutritional scientific knowledge, finds it possible to understand what is going on that is specific to them. This then makes it much easier to have the motivation to change things. Knowledge is really very powerful. This article forms just one aspect of potentially many very complex nutritional and biochemical reactions that go on in the body in response not just to foods, but to your environment, your physical and emotional wellbeing and much more.
The story of insulin in nutrition is very complex. Insulin has numerous actions including transporting glucose into cells, storing glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells and controlling the release and storage of fat in fat cells. Insulin is also known as the fat storage hormone.
Carbohydrates, sugar and sugary foods are broken down in your digestive tract and glucose is released into your blood stream. When glucose enters the blood stream, in response, insulin is released from the pancreas and binds to receptors on a cell (usually a skeletal muscle or liver cell), allowing glucose into that cell. This process is complicated and relies on many biochemical reactions and nutrients to function properly.
With the continuous consumption of carbohydrates, sugar and sugary foods, your pancreas releases more and more insulin to remove the glucose and have the same effect. High insulin triggers bodily systems to convert surplus glucose into fat. This is a biological function that has been necessary for our survival. Professor Daniel Lieberman, an expert in evolutionary biology, says that sugar is a ‘deep, ancient craving’ and not really biologically adapted to our modern environment. We are wired to crave sugar in order to store it as energy in the form of fat. eg. gorging on sweet fruits in summer to see us through the scarce winter.
With todays highly palatable, processed and high sugar foods, we continually find ourselves with high
blood sugar and subsequently our bodies pancreas is constantly releasing insulin in response to removing the glucose from the blood stream. Excess glucose we can't possible use, no matter how much we exercise because our bodies are designed to be extremely efficient at conserving energy, is potentially stored as more and more fat. We eventually have stored up so much fuel that our body cells say ‘enough’ and have stopped listening, this is insulin resistance. Most people with constant sugar and carb intake become insulin resistant eventually but some become resistant quicker than others due to a genetic predisposition.
We now know that fat cells themselves can become metabolically active secreting various substances and hormones (including leptin, tumor necrosis factor, and others) which can interfere with insulin action. They also disrupt our natural ability to tell if we’ve had enough to eat.
Your body works very hard to keep your internal workings within set limits. This is known as homeostasis and insulin and glucose are tightly regulated as they are toxic to the body in high amounts. If the control breaks down then these substances go on to damage tissues and organs. When cells stop listening to insulin, it leads to permanently high levels of glucose, tissue and organ damage, weight gain that becomes very hard to lose, eventually leading to a diagnosis of diabetes type 2, cardiovascular problems and other chronic conditions.
Teresa is a nutritional therapist who graduated from the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM, UK and International) having gained her Diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition. Teresa creates personalised nutritional based plans designed to restore health and vitality by offering the very best possible nutritional advice and support. www.eatflourishlive.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @eatflourishlive or on Facebook.
References and resources
Carmichael, R.E., Wilkinson, K.A. & Craig, T.J. Insulin-dependent GLUT4 trafficking is not regulated by protein SUMOylation in L6 myocytes. Sci Rep 9, 6477 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-42574-3
This is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice and if you have any concerns please see your GP. Please email for more information about how nutritional therapy can help you.