What is Insulin?
What is insulin? I think everyone of us knows the word, knows that it impacts our health, and may believe it to be a negative thing.
While it certainly has major impacts on our health, insulin is not a bad thing. Without it we would be dead, unable to get glucose into our body's cells. A master hormone secreted by the pancreas, insulin plays a major role in our body's energy production, protein use, and is the single hormone that lowers our blood sugar.
As you can see above, the presence of insulin protects protein stores and allows us to use fat as an energy source. It plays a huge role in storage and use of energy. Insulin is also important in protein synthesis-the repair and building of muscular tissue.
So, why the bad rap for insulin? Most likely because it is closely related to glucose, and it is elevated glucose levels that are related to diabetes. In fact, elevated blood sugar levels cause insulin to work overtime, secreting more and more insulin to try and get the glucose out of our blood and into cells. This eventually leads to the inability to secrete insulin, becoming insulin dependent-a key factor in diabetes.
Elevated glucose, not insulin, is the bad guy. What else can elevate blood glucose?
Notice that two of these are related to stress. Cortisol and epinephrine elevate glucose levels regardless of the stress (physical, mental, chemical, environmental). Glucagon is a necessary hormone as it keeps our blood glucose levels where they need to be while we sleep, and growth hormone is important for cellular growth and metabolism.
Our goal is to actually remain sensitive to insulin, to need smaller, not larger amounts to help with our glucose metabolism. Simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, frequent snacking, and stress are related to elevated glucose levels. Control these while eating a diet rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates and you can begin to improve your insulin sensitivity.