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Insulin Resistance: When Things Go Awry

Authors: Jack Challem, Burton Berkson, M.D., Ph.D., Melissa Diane Smith
Excerpt from: Syndrome X

Consider what happens when you eat highly refined carbohydrates, such as a breakfast bar or doughnut with a cup of sugar-laden coffee, a sandwich on a thick baguette, a bowl of pasta or a couple of slices of pizza, a can of cola, or a convenient microwave dinner.

You overdose on highly refined, rapidly digested carbohydrates and sugars-all of which are quickly converted to glucose. Because large amounts of glucose are toxic to the kidneys and other organs, the pancreas responds by releasing large amounts of insulin to lower the glucose levels. The insulin moves glucose into cells, where it is either burned for energy or stored as fat (triglyceride in adipose cells).

In some people, the pancreas can compensate for a number of years by secreting more and more insulin. These people will appear to be “normoglycemic”- that is, will maintain normal glucose levels and not become overtly diabetic.

In time, though, the body’s ability to deal with all this glucose wears out. When people keep consuming large quantities of refined carbohydrates and sugars year after year, skeletal muscle cells (that is, the muscles that wrap around your bones and where most glucose/insulin activity occurs) start to become overwhelmed by all of the insulin, and they start to respond to the insulin much more sluggishly.

Meanwhile, the pancreas keeps receiving signals that glucose levels are high, so it further ratchets up insulin production. The more insulin that’s released, the less effective it becomes, and the more resistant to insulin the body’s cells become.

Aggravating the situation, insulin also promotes the formations of fat, technically known as lipogenesis. In other words, the more insulin a person secretes, the more likely he or she will gain weight!

Without regular physical activity (which burns glucose and lowers insulin levels), insulin keeps increasing the ratio of fat cells to muscle cells. With more fat cells and fewer muscle cells, the body loses still more of its ability to efficiently burn up glucose. Ultimately, both glucose and insulin levels remain elevated–a virtual prescription for Syndrome X, diabetes, and heart disease.