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Insulin and Obesity – Living the Low Carb Life

Author: Jonny Bowden, MA, CN, CNS
Source:  Living the Low Carb Life: Chosing the Diet that’s Right for You: from Atkins to the Zone  (Sterling 2004)

The connection between a high-sugar diet, high levels of insulin and becoming over weight or obese should be painfully obvious by now. The more sugar, i.e., carbohydrates-you take in, the more sugar you need to store and the more your insulin levels rise. The more your insulin levels rise, the less fat you burn and the more sugar you store in fat cells, along with those extra triglycerides that the liver made from excess sugar. The more you store the fatter you get. The fatter you get, the more insulin-resistant you become.

When there are consistently high levels of insulin floating around, the body will put out more cortisol and adrenaline (the “breakdown” hormones) to counteract the “building up” effects of insulin and attempt to bring the body back into balance. Cortisol in part breaks down muscle, further reducing your metabolic rate. Too much adrenaline can eventually lead to even more insulin as insulin will eventually be secreted to combat the effects of too much adrenaline! The interaction of insulin and cortisol/adrenaline is the particular aspect of low-carbohydrate dieting central to the metabolic healing work of Diana Schwarzbein, who feels that this kind of constant imbalance-often brought on by yo-yo dieting, high levels of stress and a diet high in sugar—ultimately damages the metabolism.

Even if you don’t remember the basic biochemistry discussed here, tattoo the following inside your eyelids: insulin is the fat-storage hormone. It is also the hunger hormone When it finally does its job of lowering blood sugar it causes blood  sugar to go really low, setting you up for a cycle of craving (and eating) more high-carb foods. Result: higher blood sugar, more insulin, and more fat storage as the cycle continues.

How Does a Low-Carb Diet Help You Lose Weight?

When you eat a lower-carb diet, you stimulate less insulin but you also stimulate more glucagon, its sister hormone, which responds more to protein (remember that neither hormone is stimulated by fat). Glucagon liberates the fat from storage sites and gets it ready to burn for energy. Meanwhile, since you no longer have elevated levels of insulin, you are not suppressing carnitine, which, you may remember, is the compound in the body responsible for escorting fat into the central furnaces of the cells, where it can be burned for fuel.

Mr. Bowden is a board certified nutritionist and can be reached at