The modern diet contains a large amount of simple sugars. From bread, to donuts, to carbonated drinks, to chocolate, cookies and candy, everywhere you look, temptation abounds. The potential impact on health of diets rich in free sugars, particularly fructose, is of major concern. Does the sugar we take in have an impact on insulin resistance and obesity?
Sugar and Insulin resistance
Sugar has a bittersweet reputation when it comes to health. It occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is safe. Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants, and dairy foods contain protein and calcium.
Where does the problem with sugar come? – Added sugar, which is usually extracted or synthesized.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that consuming too much sugar can have a negative effect on our metabolic health. Regular sugar consumption produces a constant release of the hormone insulin. Over a period of time, excess insulin can lead to serious problems, such as the synthesis of triglycerides, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, type II diabetes, an increase in very low-density lipoprotein (the bad kind of cholesterol), and the accumulation of fat on all tissues.
Added sugar intake may contribute to and certainly does exacerbate insulin resistance. Added sugars cater to particularly energy-hungry but metabolically inefficient cells, including senescent cells, cancerous cells, and even quickly proliferating pathogenic bacteria in the gut.
There are several genetic and lifestyle factors that can contribute to how likely you are to develop insulin resistance. But even if you have a genetic risk, you can help yourself with regular exercise, a balanced diet, avoidance of added dietary sugars, healthy sleep patterns, and stress reduction activities.
Risk factors for insulin resistance and prediabetes include:
It is said that one in three Americans—including half of those age 60 and older— have insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, body fat, and liver start resisting or ignoring the signal of the hormone insulin when it signals to grab glucose out of the bloodstream and put it into our cells. Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the body’s main source of fuel. We get glucose from grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and drinks that bring break down into carbohydrates.
While genetics, aging, and ethnicity play roles in developing insulin sensitivity, the driving forces behind insulin resistance include excess body weight, too much belly fat, a lack of exercise, smoking, and even not getting enough sleep.
As insulin resistance develops, your body fights back by producing more insulin. Over months and years, the beta cells in your pancreas that are working so hard to make insulin get worn out and can no longer keep pace with the demand for more and more insulin. Then – years after insulin resistance silently began – your blood sugar may begin to rise and you may develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. You may also develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a growing problem associated with insulin resistance that boosts your risk for liver damage and heart disease.
Insulin resistance can be triggered by a combination of factors linked to weight, age, and genetics, being sedentary, and smoking.
– Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Insulin resistance can worsen the symptoms of PCOS, which can include irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and periods that cause pain.
– A large waist. Experts say the best way to tell whether you’re at risk for insulin resistance involves a tape measure and moment of truth in front of the bathroom mirror. A waist that measures 35 inches or more for women, 40 or more for men (31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men if you’re of Southeast Asian, Chinese or Japanese descent)increases the odds of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, a condition linked to insulin resistance.
– Additional signs of metabolic syndrome. According to the National Institutes of Health, in addition to a large waist, if you have three or more of the following, you likely have metabolic syndrome, which creates insulin resistance.
– Acanthosis nigricans: This skin condition can develop in people with insulin resistance. It involves dark patches forming on the groin, armpits, and the back of the neck.
The most common health condition related to Insulin Resistance is prediabetes and the resultant Type 2 Diabetes. Insulin resistance also doubles your risk for heart attack and stroke and triples the odds that your heart attack or ‘brain attack’ will be deadly.
Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are also linked with higher risk for cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, cervix, pancreas, prostate, and uterus.This is because the high insulin levels early in insulin resistance seem to fuel the growth of tumors and to suppress the body’s ability to protect itself by killing off malignant cells.
Furthermore, research has found a strong association between insulin resistance and memory function decline, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that yes, insulin resistance can be prevented and also reversed in some cases. Here is what you can do:
All the above can help improve your insulin sensitivity. It has been shown that combining changes to both diet and exercise has the most impact on insulin sensitivity.
In a fascinating University of New Mexico School of Medicine study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, overweight people who lost 10% of their weight through diet plus exercise saw insulin sensitivity improve by an impressive 80%. Those who lost the same amount of weight through diet alone got a 38% increase. And those who simply got more exercise, but didn’t lose much weight, saw almost no shift in their level of insulin resistance.
Intermittent fasting is another way in which you can reverse your insulin resistance. This is because it gives your body a break from insulin and glucose signaling pathways that promote cell proliferation and inflammation, and may help increase your insulin sensitivity.
There is an association between diets high in sugars (predominantly sucrose) and risk of disease, and experimental studies have shown that high intakes of fructose (over 100 g/d) can reduce insulin sensitivity. The mechanisms for such associations or effects have not been convincingly demonstrated.