Understanding Insulin Resistance Carbohydrate Metabolism and Type 2 Diabetes : Eat To Beat Diabetes

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Understanding Insulin Resistance Carbohydrate Metabolism and Type 2 Diabetes

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About Insulin

As we said previously, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes is an inability to properly metabolise foods containing starch and sugars, such as bread, cereals, fruit and pasta. These carbohydrate foods break down to simple sugars, mainly glucose, which enters our bloodstream. This rise in blood glucose then triggers the release of insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. And here is where many of us encounter major problems.


One of insulin’s main functions is to help glucose get into our muscles. Insulin moves glucose into muscle cells, where it is either used immediately for energy or stored as glycogen, which can be broken down to glucose as needed. This is what we want to happen.


To illustrate this process working the way it should, think of someone you know who eats what he or she likes without gaining weight. In this person, the blood glucose level (BGL) rises after eating carbohydrate, and the right amount of insulin is released in response. Glucose enters muscle cells, and the blood glucose level goes back down. The muscles use this glucose for fuel, so the person has lots of energy and doesn’t gain weight. (This may have even been you when you were younger.)


However, this process doesn’t work efficiently in someone with type 2 diabetes. In most cases, insulin is still released by the pancreas when the blood glucose level rises, but there is a problem getting the glucose into the muscle cells quickly. It’s as though there is a barrier at the muscle that prevents the glucose from getting in.


Ideally, glucose should be taken up by the muscles and cleared out of the blood quickly when all is working well. But when this doesn’t happen promptly and the blood glucose level stays elevated, the pancreas releases more insulin in an attempt to force the glucose into muscles. The body’s attempt at controlling blood glucose levels in this way may work for a short time but unfortunately comes at a high price if it continues.


One of the most common undesirable effects of this situation is weight gain. Glucose that can’t get into muscles to be burnt for energy goes to the liver and is converted into fat for storage. And much of this fat ends up around the abdomen. Equally undesirable is the low energy and lethargy many people with high insulin levels experience.


Here we have an interesting paradox. Insulin’s function is to lower blood glucose levels, but too much can cause the muscles to shut down further, resulting in even higher glucose levels. In this state muscles are said to be insulin resistant. They could equally be described as glucose resistant. As muscles become increasingly less able to take up glucose from the blood, we can get into a spiral of increased insulin production, more resistant muscles, and higher blood glucose levels. Eventually type 2 is diagnosed when blood glucose levels exceed a certain threshold, however the process has usually been going on for many years before this point is reached.


It’s a seemingly complex situation, but one that can be improved with the right approach.


Jennifer and Franziska

Understanding Insulin Resistance Carbohydrate Metabolism and Type 2 Diabetes