Understanding Insulin Resistance

Ben Bikman Ph.D. is the author of Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease—and How to Fight It.

That hidden epidemic he describes is insulin resistance, sometimes called metabolic syndrome, which raises the risk of a host of diseases, from cardiovascular diseases, to various cancers and even Alzheimer’s.

If any three of the following five are true of you, you have metabolic syndrome:

  • Large Waist (> 40 inches for men, >35 inches for women) measured at the belly button
  • Blood pressure >130/85 mmHg
  • Fasting glucose >100 mg/dL
  • High blood Triglycerides (>150 mg/dL)
  • Low HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol (<40 mg/dL for men, <50 mg/dL for women)

More than a third of U.S. adults, and nearly half of those age 60 or older, have metabolic syndrome. And 88% have at least one of the metabolic syndrome factors, putting them on the path toward it.

But as Dr. Bikman relates in the video below, starting at about the 16:00 mark, the news is actually worse than that.

For many years, even as you’re becoming increasingly insulin resistant, blood glucose can stay in a normal range because your pancreas is still producing enough insulin to keep up.

Until it can’t.

High insulin levels are themselves bad for you. It isn’t just high blood sugar that does damage. Too much insulin does, too.

Dr. Bikman suggests that’s why we should pay more attention to insulin levels than blood glucose.

Measuring blood ketones is a good proxy for insulin levels. If you’re producing ketones, you don’t have abnormally high insulin levels and therefore aren’t developing insulin resistance.

Watching this two-year old video in December is why I took the plunge and got the Keto-Mojo glucose/ ketone meter.

Rewatching this video again yesterday made me want to listen again to the Audible version of Why We Get Sick, which I first heard last July when it was published.

I hope you’ll watch this video and also get some version of his book, because both will increase your understanding of the science of chronic disease.

He’s one of my Health Sherpas and I hope he’ll be one of yours.

When you understand the mechanisms behind so many of the diseases that plague our society, it provides great motivation for the changes needed to reverse them.

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And if you’re ready to get started yourself, use my #BodyBabySteps.

“What if we’re wrong about diabetes?”

That’s the title of this video, which came up in Lisa’s YouTube related videos feed about a year ago.

It’s a gripping TEDMED talk from 2013 by Dr. Peter Attia, who confesses the judgmental attitude he had harbored six years earlier toward an obese patient who had come into the emergency department with foot ulcerations.

She obviously must have let herself go, he thought, consuming too many calories and not moving enough.

But then three years later he found himself 40 lbs. overweight and with metabolic syndrome, and he knew that physical inactivity was not the cause in his case: he had been “exercising three to four hours every day, and following the food pyramid to the letter.”

It led him to wonder whether, in the case of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, the medical community might have the chain of causation backwards.

Watch this video. It’s totally worth the 16 minutes.

I have found Dr. Attia one of the most thoughtful online voices when it comes to evaluating and making sense of dietary and lifestyle research related to both longevity and healthspan.

As he says in this video, perhaps he’s been humbled by what the thought he knew that turned out to be mistaken.

I expect I will have several more posts in this series that feature (or at least mention) Dr. Attia. His website is an amazing resource, and his podcast, The Drive, is the only one for which I pay for premium access.

Like Tim Ferriss, Dr. Attia also has introduced me to many other leading researchers and thoughtful analysts. Follow him on Twitter.

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