Like spices and seasonings, a little knowledge about insulin goes a long way. Learning about how insulin works in the body is one of the reasons why many of us choose a Paleo lifestyle. When people ask me about Paleo, I often just share my basic understanding of Insulin, and that’s usually enough to get people’s heads nodding in agreement and curiosity. So what do we need to know about Insulin? I’d say, unless you’re a doctor or a biologist, you don’t need to know much more than this. But these few points you want to have on the tip of your tongue.
Don’t have time to read this now? Pin it for later, or download the Free Printable version.
Insulin is a hormone, and hormones are chemical messengers. Usually travelling in the bloodstream, they are secreted by cells in one part of the body and bind to receptors in another part, inciting them perform various actions. They keep things in balance, making sure that all biological processes are operating within safe and healthy parameters. When external factors tip the homeostasis out of equilibrium (such as when we eat and digest food), the hormones bring everything back to normal.
INSULIN 6 KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER
- Insulin is the Master Hormone. It acts on virtually all cells in the body, controlling or influencing energy storage, cell growth and repair, reproductive function, and blood sugar levels. The anabolic ‘building and storing’ function of insulin facilitates the moving of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) from the bloodstream into the cells for immediate or future use. Insulin coordinates the metabolic shift from predominantly burning one fuel source (usually carbohydrate) to another (fat).
- Insulin regulates Blood Sugar Levels. When we eat any kind of carbohydrate – bread or pasta, a banana or potato, a chocolate bar or cake – the digestive process breaks it down into glucose (simple sugars). It is then absorbed into the bloodstream, causing an immediate rise in blood sugar levels. This rise is sensed by the beta cells in the pancreas, which secrete insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin tells the body’s cells to pull the excess sugar out of the bloodstream, and move it into storage, thus bringing blood sugar levels back within a healthy range. The elevated insulin levels give us the feeling of satiety, reducing hunger.
- Insulin regulates Energy Storage and Release. Having been taken out of the bloodstream, the glucose is either used immediately, or stored for later. The primary place to store this energy is in the liver and in the muscles as a complex carbohydrate called glycogen. If stored in the liver, it can easily be converted back into glucose to be released into the bloodstream as energy. Glycogen stored in the muscles, however, cannot be emptied back into the bloodstream – it needs to be used by the muscles themselves. Muscles can store enough glycogen for about 90 minutes of intense physical activity. This means: if you’re not exercising much, you’re not burning the muscle glycogen.
- Excess Carbohydrates lead to Insulin Resistance. If the liver and muscles are already full and there is no space for more glycogen, the cells simply cannot respond to Insulin’s message. The pancreas keeps pumping out insulin in response to carb intake, and insulin keeps shouting out loud, but the cells have nowhere to store the excess. The extra glucose is crudely converted into the saturated fat called palmitic acid. The palmitic acids bind together in threes, with glycerol, to form triglycerides. Continual excess carbs means blood sugar levels remain high for dangerously long periods of time, leading to problems of the liver, pancreas, kidneys, blood vessels, brain and nerves.
- Constant Carbs Tilt the Metabolic Preference. A constant excess supply of carbohydrates tilts the body’s metabolic preference towards burning sugar whenever energy is needed. Energy stored as fat will never be used so long as there is an easy source of carbohydrate available. If fat is not being burned as fuel, it accumulates in the body, leading to a buildup of body fat, triglycerides and free fatty acids.
- Insulin Resistance leads to Leptin Resistance. The pile-up of all this in the bloodstream throws the hormone Leptin out of balance, and that will be explained in another post.
What do you think? Have I left anything out? How do you describe the role of Insulin in the context of the Paleo Diet?
Thanks so much for your time here – don’t forget to sign up for the News and grab your Free Printables (including the PDF for this post) at the same time.
Big thanks for all your Shares on Social and for your Pins – every share helps spread the message about our Paleo Diet and Lifestyle.
And thanks for purchasing through the Affiliate Links here, whereby you, of course, never pay full price, and the small commissions help to keep the blog running, and keep the information freely circulating for all.
Best Wishes, Good Health and Happiness.