Firstly let’s have a look at what insulin is and what it does. This has taken a fair few hours of research so I hope you guys like this one. Insulin is probably something that you’ve heard of but not really understood. And there is nothing wrong with that. I educate a lot of personal trainers about insulin because they don’t really know how it works either. I want to make this as easy to understand and relevant to you as blokes as possible.

I’m going to take you through what it is, how your body makes it, what it’s used for and then health conditions if you don’t manage it and then how to start getting it back under control.

Insulin, the Anabolic Hormone

There you go, answer number one completed. Insulin is a hormone produced by the Beta cells of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that sits just under and slightly behind your stomach. It also releases digestive enzymes that help with breaking down the food you eat.

Insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body, meaning that it helps to build things up. As a result of being so anabolic it also is highly inflammatory. Think of it almost like nuclear energy, all the time its working well it’s amazing. Once it goes wrong the explosion that follows is bad news. Insulin has several different functions depending on what type tissue cells it’s interacting with.

The tissue might be brain, fat, muscle, liver or bone. Each type of tissue has different types of cells and insulin will react and behave differently with each of them.

The Insulin Recipe

In order for your body to make insulin in needs a few things. Namely adequate water, zinc, calcium and protein levels. Cefalu WT. Insulin resistance: cellular and clinical concepts. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2001;226:13–26.

Your body is a seriously smart machine, it will prioritise its jobs based on the resources available. If you’re not drinking enough water, it will sort the jobs that water is needed for in terms of priority of survival. If you’re not drinking enough water, there won’t be enough to do all the jobs that water is needed for like.

  • Keeping cells filled with water and flexible to do their job
  • Keeping the blood thin and moist, I saw in a study once that a 0.5% drop in hydration leads to thickening of the blood and increased blood pressure.
  • Helps with digestion and breakdown of food, protein in particular
  • Keeps your brain in its pool of water
  • Digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals
  • Helps to provide the fluid and lubrication of joints

And the list goes on of what water is involved with, zinc is involved in over 200 functions in the body. It’s heavily involved with production and moderation of hormones. Calcium as most of you know is vital for bone health but also plays a huge role in chemical reactions around the body. Particularly those involved with muscle contractions, blood clotting, regulating heart rate and fluid balance within cells.

Protein as you know is involved with muscle building and repair. But it does a lot of other jobs as well. Things like regulating liver function, helping grow skin, hair and nails, it gives the cells in your body their structure and support systems and many more.

As you can see any deficiency in any of these nutrient will mean a down regulation in insulin production.

It’s Role In The Body

The short and simple version of this is as follows. Insulin is a hormone in the body that transports glucose (sugar) from the blood stream into cells of the liver, muscles and fat tissue. Once insulin has taken glucose into the different cell types. The nucleus of the cell will decide what to use the glucose for. And the different jobs that it’s used for will be different depending on the tissue.

Pretty simple thus far right?

There are as it stand 5 known doorways if you like by which insulin and glucose get into cells. They’re made from proteins and live on the exterior wall of your cells which are made of fat. They’re known as glucose transports 1-5 or GLUT 1-5 depending on the tissue there will be the different door ways. In the brain for example there are mainly GLUT 1 transport doorways. These don’t actually need insulin to glucose inside. There are also GLUT 1 doorways in muscle and liver tissue, you don’t want to use those doorways. It’ll cost a lot in terms of making energy that way.

Insulin prefers to use the door known as GLUT 2 or 4 when it comes to liver and muscle tissue. This way it doesn’t cost a lot of energy to actually produce energy once the glucose is in the cell. Burks DJ, White MF. IRS proteins and beta-cell function. Diabetes. 2001;50 (Suppl 1):S140–5.  Imagine if you will two doors to get into a club. GLUT 4 is the front door where it’s free to get in. But let’s say you’ve turned up to the club wearing trainers, the bouncers at the front door turn you away. But it’s ok, you can still get into the club using the side door. GLUT 1, trouble is that to get into the side door you need to slip the bouncer a 20. If you’re doing this all the time to produce energy. Your body will not thank you for it. It’ll produce a lot of lactic acid and just going up a single flight of stairs can feel like a mega burn!

That’s how you’ll know if you’re using GLUT 1 in muscle tissue. Making energy to power your muscle the expensive way.

Below shows the different pathways with different GLUT transport doors getting insulin and glucose into a muscle cell. 

Associated Health Concerns

Like I said before insulin like nuclear power is amazing all the time things are running well. Once your cells start to reject insulin and glucose getting into them, that’s when we can run into major fucking problems.

Here you see the continuum of how important insulin management is. You need to be down in the insulin sensitive end, stay away from the rest! 

I’ve seen first-hand how quickly it can happen from a diagnosis of prediabetes (between insulin resistance and type 2) to pancreatic cancer to death is less than 12 months. It’s serious shit if you’re not managing your blood sugar and your insulin levels. Unless you’re born with type 1 where the liver doesn’t produce insulin. With careful diet and training type2 and insulin resistance can be reversed. 

When it comes to how this chain of events can start, it begins with metabolic syndrome. Defined by me as “A collection of symptoms that display multiple gland and hormone dysfunction, fuelling other gland and hormone dysfunction.”  Basically it’s like a downwards spiral of illness and symptoms that will cause further illness and symptoms.

According to The Adult Treatment Panel III of the National Cholesterol Advisory Panel, to be classified as having metabolic syndrome. You need to show 3 of the following:

  • Abdominal obesity
    • Men: waist circumference >40 inches (102 cm )
    • Women: waist circumference >35 inches (88 cm)
  • Fasting glucose ≥ 110 <126 mg/dL (6.1–7.0 mmol/L)
  • Blood pressure ≥ 130/80 mmHg
  • Triglycerides >150 mg/dL (>1.7 mmol/L)
  • HDL cholesterol
    • Men <40 mg/dL (<1.0 mmol/L)
    • Women <50 mg/dL (<1.3 mmol/L)
It’s been estimated that 25% of American adults have the syndrome. Reaven G. The metabolic syndrome or the insulin resistance syndrome? Different names, different concepts, and different goals. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2004;33:283–303.

These results you wont know for yourself until you head to your GP. Let them know you’re suffering with every singe sign or symptom of metabolic syndrome. If your GP actually knows what it is, they’ll need to do a lot of investigating to find out where to start fixing you.

My preference would always be to head to a functional medicine practitioner. They tend to look at your whole body and your lifestyle as a collective. Then look at what might be the trigger for your aliments. A normal GP will look at symptoms, ask a few questions and then prescribe a pill. Or give some very generic advice which doesn’t really help your personal situation.

Causes Of Insulin Resistance

Thing that will contribute towards insulin resistance.

  • Stress, increases in stress associated hormones actually stop insulin doing its job of getting into cells. If these hormones run riot because you’re super stressed. You will start becoming insulin resistant. Karam JH. Pancreatic Hormones and Diabetes Mellitus. In: Greenspan FS, Strewler GJ, editors. Basic and Clinical Endocrinology. Appleton & Lange, Stamford CT USA; 1997 p. 601–2.
  • GLUT 4 downregulation (switching off), abnormalities or defects. This translate as the door you want to be using for energy in your muscle and fat tissue is fucked basically. It can become fucked by too much stress, inflammation or lack of use. Oxygen is a key player here, if you’re not breathing well, as in through your nose. Or you’re not getting your heart rate up enough times a week through exercise. Your body will shut down stuff it doesn’t need. And GLUT 4 is no exception.
  • A diet too high in calories, and saturated fats this will cause excess fat gain. Studies have shown that diets higher in omega 6’s than omega 3’s are linked to a prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):560S–569S.
  • Lack of good quality sleep will raise inflammation markers, will raise fasting blood sugar levels and lower heart rate variability. All key factors that go into causing insulin resistance. Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354:1435–9, Vgontzas AN, Mastorakos G, Bixler EO, Kales A, Gold PW, Chrousos GP. Sleep deprivation effects on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and growth axes: potential clinical implications. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 1999;51:205–15.
  • Infrequent meal timing and then binge eating in the evening will cause insulin to spike super high in the evening. This is due to taking on excessive amounts of calories, and most like sugary type calories late in the day.
  • The type of carbs and amount of carbs you consume play a big factor. Diets high in sucrose increase visceral fat (the hard fat that sits on your stomach, think the typical beer gut) and spike insulin higher than lower glycaemic index foods. Causing higher inflammation levels and potential ling term complications with insulin management. Wolever TM. Dietary carbohydrates and insulin action in humans. Br J Nutr. 2000;83 (Suppl 1):S97–102. Toida S, Takahashi M, Shimizu H, Sato N, Shimomura Y, Kobayashi I. Effect of high sucrose feeding on fat accumulation in the male Wistar rat. Obes Res. 1996;4:561–8.

How To Manage Blood Sugar And Insulin

The best way to start managing this is to first measure your blood sugars. Get yourself a decent glucometer I personally recommend this one.

The values you need to working towards according to are:

For fasted blood glucose in the morning

Normal ranges 3.9-5.4mmols/L (70-99mg/dL)

PreDiabetes or impaired glucose tolerance 5.5-6.9mmols/L (100-125mg/dL)

Diagnosed as diabetic 7.0mmols/L (125mg/dL) or above.

Without knowing these figures first, you don’t really know what you’re shooting for. Or what kind of dietary or exercise factors you need to change.

If you want to start making changes right away before your glucose monitor turns up then I’d suggest the following.

  1. Cut out refined and sweet carbs. Things like ice cream, chocolate, biscuits, sweets, bread of any kind and excess sugar. Standard recommended sugar intake for the UK adult man is 30g that’s 6 teaspoons of sugar. If you have 2 spoons of sugar in your tea or coffee that’s 3 cups you’re allowed. And you’re not allowed any more sugar than what’s naturally occurring in the foods you eat.
  2. Start exercising. Exercise is one of the best ways to start using up all that extra energy on stored on your body. AKA fat! If you’ve got stores of fat on your body, get your body using it as a fuel source. Start going out for walks or long bike rides, if you’re happy in the gym get back to lifting weights. A combination of cardio based work 3-5 times a week with 1-3 weight based session is a great way to start burning fat.
  3. Manage your stress. I’ve covered this in a blog which you can find here. And I’ve also got it covered in a short eBook which you can find here. But I can tell you know if you start to manage your stress, you become more insulin sensitive. When you become more insulin sensitive you can handle more carbs in your diet and you get leaner. The leaner you get the more testosterone you will have circulating and you’ll naturally be a more confident bloke.

Those are my top 3 tips for starting to manage your blood sugar. But like I said, you can manage what you don’t measure. Get a blood glucose monitor, you don’t have to get the one I recommended. That’s just the one my mentor recommends and it’s a bloody good one. It does it all.

Summit it up

Insulin is a building type of hormone, but if you don’t get it into the cell where it’s supposed to be. It can become highly inflammatory to the body. If you don’t get adequate insulin into the cells. The nucleus of the cell will send a message back to the brain to say “we need more insulin”. Your pancreas will then secrete more insulin from the Beta cells. If this cycle repeats and repeats for years and years. Eventually your Beta cells will burn out and become exhausted. This is when the cells mutate and start causing pancreatic cancer. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, all it takes 6 months, diagnosis to death, and it’s brutal.

Out of control insulin in the blood is not a good thing. On the flip side, being too insulin sensitive will cause you to have low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). It’s all about balance in the body.

My advice is measure your fasting blood glucose in the morning. The more you lean towards the lower end of normal the better.

Training, exercise, stress and sleep all play a factor in how well you get insulin and glucose into cells. Make sure that you’re doing the right things to keep balanced.

Any questions, as always fire them over fellas.

Fair play for making it this far.