Understanding the Importance of Insulin

Almost everyone knows that insulin is given to people with a certain kind of
diabetes, to help control their blood sugar levels when their own supplies
become depleted or insufficient. Insulin is one of the most powerful and
efficient substances that the body uses to control the use, distribution and
storage of energy.

At its most basic, insulin is the control hormone for glucose, a basic form
of sugar. So listen up. Your body is an energy machine, never resting, always
metabolically active-and it powers its operations mainly through the use of
glucose in the blood, which is why glucose is interchangeably called blood

The body must maintain a certain level of glucose in the blood at all times.
So when there is no carbohydrate food source to make glucose, the liver will
actually convert protein to glucose.

Remarkably, even on a prolonged, total fast, a healthy body can maintain its
glucose level within a rather narrow normal range. As a general rule, of course,
the body obtains its principal supply of fuel from food.

What Happens to a Meal

You sit down at the table and consume a three-course dinner. Somewhere
between chewing and excreting, your body absorbs certain substances from your
food, mostly across the surface of your small intestine.

From the carbohydrate you eat, your body will absorb sugars, all of which
are, or quickly and easily become, glucose. From fat, it absorbs glycerol and
fatty acids, and from protein, it absorbs amino acids, the building blocks of
all cells.

Obviously, if you eat a lot of carbohydrate, you'll end up with a lot of
glucose in your blood. Sounds good, doesn't it? All that energy coursing through
your system. Eat sugar, starches and fruits and you're going to get those
blood-sugar levels up fast, aren't you?

If you love candy bars, perhaps you're saying, "That's great-the more I eat,
the more energy I'll have." Alas, a bad mistake. You see, the human body evolved
and primitive humans thrived as hunter-gatherers who subsisted primarily on
meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, whole grains and seeds and nuts. Candy bars were
few and far between.

The human body is used to dealing with unrefined foods as they occur in
Nature. Consequently, your body's capacity to deal with an excess of processed
foods is pretty poor, which is why our twenty-first-century way of eating so
often gets us into trouble. If you don't understand this yet, let's look at what
insulin and the other energy-controlling hormones do when you eat.

As Your Blood Sugar Rises

Consuming carbohydrates impacts your blood-sugar levels. The amount of
carbs-and the type-will determine how your blood sugar responds. For example, a
food full of refined sugar and white flour, such as a jelly doughnut, will raise
blood sugar much more dramatically than does a salad.

To be useful to your body, blood sugar has to be transported to your cells.
Think of insulin as the barge that transports glucose from your blood to your
cells. Once it reaches the cells, three things can happen to that glucose: It
can be mobilized for immediate energy; it can be converted into glycogen for
later use as a source of energy; or it can be stored as fat.

Let's delve in a little deeper. Insulin is manufactured in a part of your
pancreas called the Islets of Langerhans. As the sugar level in your blood goes
up, the pancreas releases insulin to move the sugar out of the blood. It then
transports the blood sugar to your body's cells for their energy needs.

But as we previously mentioned, when these needs are met the liver converts
excess glucose into glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles, where it
is readily available for energy use.

Once all the glycogen storage areas are filled, the body has to do something
with excess glucose. And here is the big revelation: The liver converts the
remaining glucose to fat, which becomes the "storage tanks" of fat on your
belly, thighs, buttocks and elsewhere. That's why insulin is called "the
fat-producing hormone."

Since fat is much more efficient-and has more capacity to store energy-than
glucose, we can store a lot more fat in our bodies than glucose. That, my
friends, results in obesity. And by the way, the main chemical constituent of
all this fat (the fat you're reading this book to get rid of) is triglyceride,
the very same triglyceride that, in your blood, can be a risk factor for heart
disease and stroke. Insulin is a pretty efficient worker.

If it were not, your cells could not get enough glucose, their basic fuel,
and blood-glucose levels would rise while the cells searched for other
fuels-first for protein in your muscles and organs, and then for fat in your fat

That's why people with poorly controlled, insulin-deficient diabetes can lose
weight when no insulin is present. And that's why a person on a low-calorie diet
may lose lean body mass. (This shouldn't happen on Atkins, where sufficient
calories and protein are consumed to meet the body's energy needs.)

On the other hand, excessive carbohydrate intake results in high amounts of
blood sugar and may, in turn, overstimulate insulin production. When this
happens, it causes a drop in blood sugar, robbing the body of energy for the

The result of the process is destabilized blood-sugar levels, quite possibly
causing fatigue, brain fog, shakiness and headaches. The body attempts to adjust
by liberating counter-regulatory hormones-such as adrenaline-to raise the
glucose level, but another stiff dose of insulin can overpower the effect of
those hormones.

Fortunately for most of us, this glucose balancing act takes place
automatically and our blood sugar stays in a fairly narrow, normal range.

But for some, the bodily insult of massive insulin release to deal with
massive blood-glucose levels has been going on for years, causing the
glucose-regulating mechanism in the body to break down, initiating unstable
blood sugar and eventually diabetes.