Dr. Lori Horan Soule, ND, LAc

Soule Health Care

3526 SW Corbett

Portland OR, 97239


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Newsletter Archive

Could your weight problem be coming from insulin resistance

September 29, 2011

I often have new patients come to my office with weight gain as one of their primary concerns, but not likely their most pressing health issue. Consider Fran, who is a fairly typical case. Her doctor had given her a statin drug for high cholesterol and another medication for high blood pressure. He told her that her problems were caused by her obesity, and that she should go onto a low-calorie, low-fat diet to lose weight.

For several months she had tried very diligently to lose weight, by limiting her calories and exercising daily. After eating less and exercising more, she'd lost only a few pounds and was very frustrated. Her cholesterol and blood pressure were lower, most likely due to the medications, but she didn't feel quite like herself on the medications, and wanted to know if there were any vitamins or herbs that would control her cholesterol and blood pressure any better.

Fran had a family history of Type 2 Diabetes. She thought that because her blood sugar was normal, that diabetes wasn't her problem. The doctor who'd prescribed the medications hadn't checked her for insulin resistance or told her about “Syndrome X”. I explained to her that her high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even her weight were probably secondary problems, and her primary problem was very likely a case of undiagnosed insulin resistance. When her test results came back positive for insulin resistance, we were able to customize her treatment plan and saw some great progress.

Insulin resistance is an ever-increasing condition in the U.S. It has both a genetic and an environmental component. (It is estimated that 90 million Americans are genetically predisposed to this condition.) If you have these genetics, and you eat refined sugar or processed carbohydrates, your pancreas responds by making an overly large quantity of insulin to help clear the excess sugar from the blood stream. People with a genetic predisposition towards insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes also have an extra burden in terms of diet: simply eating too many simple carbohydrates overall can lead to insulin resistance.

If you've inherited the genetics for insulin resistance, and this pattern happens over and over again, your cells that receive insulin become resistant to repeated exposures. Because of this resistance, your pancreas is forced to make more and more insulin to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Those higher levels of insulin work for a while, but then the receiver cells become even more resistant, so your pancreas must make even more insulin, and the “more insulin/more resistance/even more insulin/even more resistance” spiral continues until the insulin simply can't overcome the resistance at all. At that point, the blood sugar can't be regulated, and Type 2 Diabetes is the result.

While insulin is on the way up, it causes other problems as well. High insulin can cause your liver's production of LDL (bad) cholesterol to increase and its production of HDL(good) cholesterol to decrease. It can also prompt the kidneys to retain sodium, and the adrenal glands to secrete too much adrenalin, resulting in higher and higher blood pressure. Insulin also increases the inflammatory mediators known as prostaglandins, which can lead to a thickening of blood vessel walls and resulting coronary artery disease, and increased stroke risk. Most noticeably, the combination of refined sugar and carbohydrate consumption combined with excess insulin secretion causes increased synthesis of triglycerides (the fat inside body cells,) resulting in obesity.

In mainstream medicine when Type 2 Diabetes ultimately shows up, they prescribe yet another medication to “control” blood sugar, adding it to the diet of antihypertensive and lipid-lowering patent medications most likely already prescribed.

How we treat insulin resistance naturally is done in a few simple steps. For Fran, we started her program by diagnosing her insulin resistance. It is done in the same way as the glucose tolerance test, which is the standard test used to diagnose diabetes. If your test shows you do have insulin resistance, it means you are at an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes is always preceded by insulin resistance. There is no reason for Type 2 diabetes to sneak up on anyone. It can always be predicted by a positive insulin resistance test.

Eliminating all refined sugars is priority number one. Humans are designed to digest and metabolize whole, natural foods, not refined foods. This was probably the hardest step for Fran. When she realized that refined sugars included high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, and enriched flour, she realized that the produce department and the meat and fish department were the safest places to shop. She learned to eat a moderate-protein, low-carb diet to regulate her blood sugar swings to avoid the release of excess insulin.

Finally, Fran took supplements daily to reduce insulin resistance. Good glucose balancing formulas are available at Center for Traditional Medicine, such as Ultraglycemex and Vanatrace. She also added 30 minutes more of aerobic exercise to her program three times per week. After 6 months of treating insulin resistance, Fran lost 40 pounds, and was able to go off her high blood pressure and statin medication entirely.

If any of the following criteria apply to you--high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high blood pressure, overweight, a personal history of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), a family history of Type 2 Diabetes, or any combination of these--you may have insulin resistance. The more of these problems you have, or your family has, the more likely it is that you have insulin resistance. The great news is the treatment for insulin resistance also treats your blood pressure, your cholesterol, and your hard-to-lose extra weight by treating their cause. Call Dr. Horan to evaluate your insulin status today.

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