The Root Cause of Many Diseases is Insulin Resistance

I listened to a great podcast featuring Dr. Ben Bikman, a renowned metabolic research scientist and author of the book “Why We Get Sick”. He reveals the groundbreaking evidence linking many major diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, to a common root cause—insulin resistance—and talks about an easy, effective plan to reverse and prevent it. 

Here are the highlights from this 2 hour podcast:

  • Insulin resistance is driving sickness and obesity. Now, even young people are developing insulin resistance. These kids will become sick, overweight, vitamin D deficient, lose muscle mass, and develop hypertension and diabetes in their teens. This will also lead to increased risk for dementia and heart disease as they get older.
  • Dr. Bikman states that the loss of moral foundation and loss of connection increases isolation and does not allow our youth to develop to their full potential. He believes we are getting fatter, sicker and losing the critical social connection.
  • We have a glucose-centric paradigm where blood sugar is the primary metabolic marker. However, the underlying changes in glucose is down to insulin and why is this overlooked? Glucose and A1C can be normal for years so doctors don’t suspect any problems. While glucose levels are normal, insulin could be increasing steadily. So, the fasting insulin biomarker is the earliest sign of metabolic disruption. Insulin may be elevated 10-20 years before glucose starts going up so this needs to be measured.
  • People with Type 2 diabetes with insulin therapy get fatter and die faster; 2X higher from cancer, 3X higher from heart disease, and 2X from Alzheimer’s. These diseases are problems of hyper insulin NOT hyperglycemia.
  • The problem is that there are no firm standards for insulin. Anything under 15 mIU/mL may be considered normal but that’s way too high. Fasting insulin of 6 or lower is optimal as this means you are insulin sensitive. Fasting insulin of 7-15 mIU/mL is a warning sign as this is indicating the path to insulin resistance.
  • However, insulin is not the only marker for insulin resistance. A triglyceride/HDL ratio of 1.5  or lower is a good sign that you are insulin sensitive even if your insulin crept up into the teens.
  • When it comes to weight gain, you need both of these:
    • Insulin must be elevated – this signals growth of the fat cell
    • Calories – you need enough calories to provide sufficient energy to fuel fat cells
  • Dr. Bikman did a lab experiment to prove this out. He grew fat cells in petri dishes and noticed that in the presence of insulin, they grew rapidly. When insulin is added to the medium containing fat cells, the cells are being told by insulin to store the energy and start growing. The hormone insulin is the conductor to the orchestra of cells and tells them to store energy and stimulate appetite.
  • Also, insulin slows metabolic rate. That’s why Type 1 diabetics with no insulin will have 20-30X the metabolic rate of non-diabetics. Type 1 diabetics may choose to eat what they want and skip the insulin injection – so they can remain skinny. This wreaks havoc on their system (called diabulimia) and can be life-threatening.
  • Type 2 diabetics on insulin therapy find they gain weight because their metabolic rate slows due to the added insulin.
  • Genetics matter! A study done with Caucasians and Asians eating a similar diet found that the fasting insulin for Asians is double that of Caucasians. Also the fat cells in Asians are larger than Caucasians. Typically, for Caucasians, they get fat via hyperplasia (the body creates more new fat cells) but for Asians, the number of fat cells are pre-set so existing ones just get bigger.  More important than the mass of fat cells is the SIZE of each individual fat cell.  That’s why there’s an even bigger epidemic of diabetes in Asia.
  • When fat cells get too big, they cannot grow anymore. They can swell to 10-20X their size and start suffocating. This suffocation tells the fat cell to become insulin resistant to inhibit further growth.
  • Fat cells also become hypoxic (inadequate level of oxygen to tissues and cells). And it secretes pro-inflammatory cytokines which promotes new capillaries and stimulates new fat cells. A vicious cycle leading to obesity and sickness…

Now for the solution:

  • Cutting calories and exercising more is NOT the solution! If you cut calories but you are keeping insulin high, HUNGER will always win. Any weight loss strategy built on these principles will not be sustainable – guaranteed!
  • You need to control carbs and eat mostly low-starch fruit and vegetables. It’s important to prioritize protein and DON’T FEAR fat.
  • As your insulin levels come down, your metabolic rate will go up and fat burning will go up. Your brain has sufficient free fatty acids and ketones to fuel the brain. And your brain relies more on ketones than glucose for energy if both are available equally.
  • Lower insulin is the first step to weight loss. When you get to a weight loss plateau – then you need to control the energy coming in. Rather than counting calories, opt for structured fasting.
  • 4 steps to lower insulin to enable the body to use its own energy for fuel: control carbs, eat adequate protein, don’t fear fat and do fasting. This will also generate less hunger because your brain is relying on fat burning and not screaming for food.
  • The studies done on the danger of excess protein and it eliciting an insulin response are dependent on the underlying glycemia and the glucose coming in with the amino acids. So even adequate protein intake will not prevent an insulin response if carbs are included.
  • The beauty of protein is that it is calorically inert. Protein is not a fuel and should not be counted as a caloric load as our bodies don’t rely on amino acids for energy. Our bodies don’t use protein for energy – it’s used as a building block. We use glucose and fat for energy.
  • There is the protein leverage hypothesis developed by scientists that states that humans will only eat until we’ve had enough and then stop (~1g/protein per pound of lean body weight). While the study done on rodents supported this hypothesis, there is not enough human evidence to support this approach. The original intention of this research was to look at longevity but there are flaws in the model when extrapolated to humans. As protein consumption goes up, you start to see problems with fertility.
  • The recommendation is to use protein as a focus (not in excess) AND don’t fear fat.
  • There is such a fear of fat in current society. In nature, protein comes with fat – and there is no exception to this! But in our fear of fat, we eat chicken breasts; our chicken consumption was ~0% in 1909 and now it’s the primary source of meat. Chickens back in the day were raised for their eggs, not for their meat.
  • Don’t fear the fat that comes with the protein. When we eat fat with protein, we digest protein better. Bile acids that are released with the fat intake accelerate protein digestion. So, for example, if a whey protein shake gives you a tummy-ache, try adding a fat source to facilitate protein digestion. You can get your fat from animal sources or vegetarian ones (avocado, nuts, olive oil). If you’re eating chicken breasts, add fat like olive oil to combine them.
  • Anthropologically, humans may have a higher demand for fat – early humans sought the fattiest sources of meat.
  • Be an advocate of whole food! If it comes in a bag or box with a bar code, be careful. Rather than counting calories, control the amount you consume.
  • Dr. Bikman talked about the 5th step to lowering insulin resistance. It’s muscle! Lower skeletal muscle mass is associated with diabetes. Muscle is THE metabolic powerhouse because it’s the majority of our tissue mass. Muscle is a sink for glucose and has a great ability to absorb enormous amount of glucose.
  • 80% of the post prandial glucose removal from blood is going into muscle. So, if we can increase muscle and move that muscle, we can keep blood glucose steady more consistently.
  • Muscle wasting = insulin resistance. A study has shown that 7-10 days of bed rest significantly increases insulin resistance due to muscle wasting.
  • In type 2 diabetics, muscle is broken down because of insulin resistance. The body releases amino acids and muscle wasting happens.
  • Bigger muscle = greater insulin sensitivity. So make sure to incorporate strength training into your exercise regimen. Big muscles will absorb more glucose from your system and help with insulin sensitivity.

Five steps to weight loss, reversing pre-diabetes and insulin resistance:

  1. Control carbs
  2. Eat adequate protein
  3. Don’t fear fat – combine with protein
  4. Do structured fasting
  5. Grow those muscles 

To listen to the podcast:

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