Novel Fiber Limits Sugar AbsorptionSeptember 2004
The public has awoken to the fact that high-glycemic carbohydrates promote weight gain by causing insulin to surge. In response to a wave of media publicity, “low-carb” diets have become enormously popular. Weight-loss books warning of insulin’s fat-inducing effects have sold millions of copies.
Anecdotal reports of people shedding huge amounts of body fat have caused dieters to avoid high-glycemic foods. Published scientific findings reveal that weight loss occurs in response to low-carb diets, but the average reduction in body fat has not been overly dramatic. Nevertheless, there are benefits to shedding (rather than gaining) fat pounds each year, along with enormous disease-preventing effects if excess insulin secretion is reduced.
This article examines the dangers of excess insulin, the role of insulin in promoting obesity, and a new dietary supplement that has been shown to reduce after-meal insulin release by 40%.
Why the Confusion Over Insulin?
As normal aging and poor diet deprive cells of insulin sensitivity, many people produce excess insulin to force serum glucose into cells. This excessive insulin production is a contributing cause to a host of degenerative disorders, including heart disease and cancer.
The most immediate and noticeable effect of excess insulin production is unwanted weight gain. Insulin drives fat into cells, prevents fat from being released from cells, and makes people chronically hungry. High insulin levels contribute not only to obesity, but also to the disease states associated with being overweight.
While insulin saves the lives of type I diabetics who are dependent on it, it becomes a “death hormone” to aging people who secrete too much insulin. Reducing excess serum insulin is thus a critical component of any weight-reduction and longevity program.
What Is Hyperinsulinemia?
In a normal person, one unit of insulin might be needed to help 10 mg of glucose go into a cell group. In hyperinsulinemia, ten units of insulin might be needed to get the same 10 mg of glucose into the cell group.1 Hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance create myriad problems, including elevated triglycerides, low HDL, type II diabetes, and obesity.
Figure 1 below shows the pathways to obesity and several degenerative diseases associated with insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.
Insulin and Age-Related Disease
High serum insulin is associated with the development of abdominal obesity and the many health problems induced by abdominal obesity, including atherosclerosis and impotence.14-20 Obesity is associated with excess insulin and reduced insulin sensitivity, both risk factors for type II diabetes.
Perhaps the simplest way to evaluate the toxic effects of excess insulin is by examining its effects on human mortality. One study showed that over a 10-year period, the risk of dying was almost twice as great for those with the highest levels of insulin compared to those with the lowest.21 The study authors stated that hyperinsulinemia is associated with increased all-cause and cardiovascular mortality independent of other risk factors.
Why Aging People Gain Weight
Poor diet, obesity, and aging result in excessive secretion of insulin, a factor in the development of type II diabetes. Suppressing the overproduction of insulin is a crucial component of a medically supervised weight-loss program.
A noticeable effect of surplus serum insulin is constant hunger, which results in a vicious cycle in which overeating causes more and more body fat to accumulate, which in turn causes even greater amounts of unwanted insulin to be secreted from the pancreas.25 We now know that hyperinsulinemia predicts diabetes mellitus.26 Even in children, serum insulin levels are far higher in obese than in non-obese children of the same age.
The effects of consuming high-glycemic foods and the subsequent hyperinsulinemia, hunger, and weight gain that occur are the subject of an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “The Glycemic Index.”27 The article’s authors summarized their position as follows:
“It is possible that the hunger incident to hyperinsulinemia may be a cause of overeating, and therefore, the obesity that so often precedes diabetes.”
Dangerous After-Meal Sugar Levels
People who have normal fasting glucose levels but whose average postprandial glucose level exceeds 200 mg/dL are three times more likely to suffer diabetic retinopathy than those who do not.29
Growing evidence indicates that severe spikes in postprandial blood sugar are a major problem for non-diabetics as well. The two primary mechanisms by which post-meal hyperglycemia causes such problems are formation of advanced glycation end products (the binding of glucose to body proteins) and increased production of free radicals that lead to severe arterial wall damage.30,31
To investigate the relationship between glucose metabolism and the severity of heart disease, one study measured how many coronary arteries were blocked in relation to postprandial glucose-insulin blood levels and other atherogenic risk factors. All of the men participating in the study had normal fasting glucose blood readings, but in response to a glucose challenge, demonstrated significantly different rates of glucose-insulin spikes. Men with the highest levels of post-load glucose, insulin, and other measurements of glycemic imbalance had the greatest number of blocked coronary arteries.32
These studies make it abundantly clear that blunting the after-meal increase in blood sugar is an important goal for those seeking optimal longevity.