When most of us think of Hormones, we automatically think of the “sex” hormones, estrogen, testosterone and maybe progesterone, but did you know we actually have dozens of hormones managing our bodies? Each of them has a basic function to send signals and regulate our body’s ability to function as we were designed. At Wonderfully made Medicine, Dr. Wood is dedicated to helping you understand what is happening with your body and keeping it healthy and happy.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to help it regulate the blood sugar in our bodies. The pancreas releases insulin whenever we eat or drink anything. The insulin hormone is responsible for getting the glucose from the food we eat into the cells in our muscles, liver, fat, and other organs where it is used for energy. Insulin acts as the key to the doors of the cells. The liver is also capable of making small amounts of insulin as needed, such as during periods between meals or when fasting.
A properly functioning pancreas will produce insulin from any sugars that enter our bloodstream from food or drinks we consume. The unfortunate truth is, that typical American diets, also called “The Standard American Diet,” contain very high levels of sugar and processed foods. The more sugar and processed food and drink you consume, the higher your blood sugar (glucose) levels spike. As a result, the pancreas has to work harder to create insulin, which eventually results in the pancreas’ inability to keep up. Cells in the pancreas either can’t produce enough insulin to counteract the amount of sugar or the cells in the body become “resistant” to insulin.
If not managed correctly, Insulin Resistance can cause more serious problems. Cells that need glucose become “starved” of energy, while glucose in the bloodstream elevates because there is no place for it to go. Higher levels of insulin direct the body to store fat, usually around the abdominal area.
The stored fat, also known as visceral fat, can be potentially dangerous because it can cause the liver (fatty liver disease) and other organs to become inflamed. Several studies show that fats can impede insulin from getting into the cells. Because the pancreas secretes too much insulin from all of the sugars ingested, insulin levels in the bloodstream can be 5 to 7 times greater than they should be.
While Insulin Resistance usually occurs in people who are obese, that is not always the case depending on diet and lifestyle. One major sign that you may have Insulin Resistance is if you carry extra weight around your abdominal area; for females, if the waist is over 35”, and for males, if the waist is over 40”, then you very likely could be Insulin Resistant. However, even thin people with a flat stomach can have Insulin Resistance which is why it’s always a good idea to have your levels checked. This condition also impedes the body to break down fats effectively which causes weight gain, especially around the mid-section. What makes this cycle particularly vicious is that extra abdominal fat, also called visceral fat, can be one of the causes of Insulin Resistance which becomes a “chicken and egg” situation.
Other causes of Insulin Resistance can include:
- High Triglycerides (a form of cholesterol)
- Hormones imbalances
- Diets high in processed foods and sugar
- Imbalances in the gut microbiome
- Sedentary Lifestyle
- Poor sleep habits or Sleep apnea
Insulin and Hormones
Along with insulin, our bodies produce and secrete dozens of hormones which are the chemical receptors that tell certain organs like your heart, kidneys, ovaries, and pancreas how to function. Hormones range from sex and reproductive to those that control digestion, mood, stress, and metabolism. But, many of these hormones also work with insulin to control blood sugar, and when one or more become unbalanced, you can be at higher risk for Insulin Resistance, which not only causes potential serious health problems but can also speed up our aging process.
What makes Insulin Resistance particularly dangerous is that it’s a precursor for Type 2 Diabetes. It’s also a precursor for Cardiovascular Disease. Additionally, Insulin Resistance can lead to Metabolic Syndrome, also called “Syndrome X.” Four conditions need to exist for Metabolic Syndrome: Hypertension, elevated glucose levels (high blood sugar), abnormal cholesterol/triglyceride levels, and excess abdominal weight. Metabolic Syndrome SIGNIFICANTLY increases the risk for Diabetes, Stroke, and Cardiovascular disease. It can also wreak havoc on your endocrine system.
A few examples of how Insulin Resistance can affect hormones and vice versa are:
- Estrogen: Estrogen, in part affects insulin, however as we age, estrogen levels drop which can lead to insulin resistance
- Progesterone: Low Progesterone levels can cause Polycystic Ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is directly associated with Insulin Resistance
- Testosterone: While primarily a male hormone, women have testosterone as well. When there is an increase of sugar in your body, it decreases the testosterone levels, which can lead to Estrogen Dominance, and eventually, Insulin Resistance.
- Growth Hormone: Low or high levels of growth hormone can cause Insulin Resistance.
- Epinephrine: Also known as adrenaline, this can impede or exacerbate glucose levels.
- Cortisol: A stress hormone from the adrenal gland, this controls the amount of insulin that reaches fat and muscle and signals the liver to produce more glucose. (When our bodies are in a constant state stress or anxiety, higher epinephrine and Cortisol levels can cause Insulin Resistance)
- Inadequate Sleep/Sleep Apnea: Inadequate sleep signals the body to produce excess cortisol levels.
At Wonderfully Made Functional Medicine, Dr. Kathryn Wood’s core belief is that we are “Wonderfully Made.” She believes that bodies are designed to function like a well-oiled machine, with all parts working in tandem to keep us healthy and living longer. Think of your body as a symphony. If all of the active parts are preforming correctly, the result is beautiful synergy. If they are not, the result could be unpleasant or even deadly. Properly maintained hormone levels can keep our bodies functioning the way it was designed. Dr. Wood’s commitment is to identify and address any area of your body that may be functioning abnormally. Through a series of tests, which include testing insulin and other hormonal levels, she can determine which areas need “help” in performing at the standards it was designed to.
Armed with the combined knowledge of how your body is functioning, at the core level, coupled with healthy lifestyle choices, Dr. Wood can help you maintain your health and vitality at any age!
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