Today we are taking a greatly simplified view of two of the most important signaling molecules in our body. The two that play a MAJOR role in our body’s ability to use or store energy as well as to the development of disease.
How to Balance Our Storage Hormones
10-Sept 2020, by Bronwyn MacRitchie
The Stars of This Show
Meet insulin and glucagon. These are both hormones in our body which regulate the storage or burning of fat, the use of glycogen as well as a number of other important functions. Both are vital and without either we would (and do) get sick!
So, What Are They?
Both are secreted by the pancreas, and both have the VITAL function of regulating our blood glucose.
Insulin rises in when blood glucose is HIGH, mostly caused by food, especially carbs, and even MOST by high GI processed carbs. It signals that all excess blood glucose be turned into fat and stored.
Insulin is the ANABOLIC, or GROWTH hormone.
Glucagon is activated in response to fasting and carbohydrate restriction, when blood glucose is LOW. It signals fat cells to RELEASE stored energy to keep the body functioning in the absence of other energy sources.
Glucagon is the CATABOLIC or BREAK DOWN hormone.
When these two are in balance we experience great energy, a sense of wellbeing and a healthy weight.
However, the storage hormone becomes constantly raised when we don’t take a break from high carb meals throughout the day, on a daily basis for years. And whenever we are exposed to a certain stimuli we tend to become LESS sensitive and MORE resistant to it, as our bodies are naturally adaptive.
So what's the problem?
The problem is that with the diet most people are eating today (high carbs and frequent meals), and our sedentary, stressed, sleep-deprived lifestyles is that the insulin/glucagon balance goes WAY out of whack! Meaning that we have an overabundance of insulin (going STORE, STORE, STORE) and a lack of glucagon (no chance to USE all the stored energy).
Insulin Resistance then Takes Hold
The cycle is perpetuated when cells become resistant to insulin. Every single cell in the human body has insulin receptors. The cell’s ability to respond to the presence of insulin is imperative to healthy functioning.
However, insulin becomes constantly raised when we don’t take a break from high carb meals throughout the day, on a daily basis for years. And whenever we are exposed to a certain stimuli we tend to become LESS sensitive and MORE resistant to it, as our bodies are naturally adaptive.
Exercise – If we exercise regularly, we will eventually need to increase the speed, weight or duration for it to have the same effect.
Medication – If we are on chronic medication we will usually have to increase the dose in time as our bodies become resistant to its effects.
Insulin – If it is raised more than it was intended to be (high GI, processed cards were never a natural part of our diet, and now they dominate), we need MORE and MORE of it to do the same job that just a little could previously do.
So… we switch our exercise routine, we increase our dose of medication.
...and our bodies automatically increase the insulin consistently, and as it increases, the resistance increases, and the body increases the insulin in response.
This process will often end in diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome), autoimmune conditions, Alzheimer’s and other metabolic conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and hypertension. But THOSE are another story for another day!
The Glucagon Problem
So... WHY should we be worried if Glucagon doesn’t get a chance to do its thing?
- Glucagon makes the body USE our stored energy, otherwise known as fat! All fat really IS, is our bodies trying to do what they were designed to and STORE this energy in response to the signals we are giving it. Glucagon is the USE signal.
- Glucagon is also the STOP STORING signal!
- Tells our livers to USE the glycogen present when glucagon is present, reducing the accumulation of fat in the liver. A healthy, functioning, non-fatty liver is VERY important for the healthy functioning of our bodies.
- Glucagon activates autophagy, our cells’ spring cleaning, self-healing process, where they get to go in and remove parts that aren’t working properly, halting the progression of disease. If insulin is consistently present this process isn’t allowed to happen, and cells will continue to deteriorate and the disease process is advanced.
- Glucagon activates the production of ketones in the liver… and our bodies were MEANT to have some time using ketones for fuel instead of glucose! They are a superior fuel for the brain (this article), and a myriad of other wonderful things which you can read about here, here and here.
So what can we DO to ensure glucagon gets its chance?
- Diet is the most impactful lever to pull here. Choose lower carb foods, limit carb intake, and keto and try intermittent fasting to try and get your insulin/glucagon balance back in check!
- Make sure you incorporate movement into your daily routine. Even just 30 minutes of walking a day, making sure you stand up from your desk at least for 5 minutes an hour and move! Exercise isn’t about weight loss, but it DOES improve insulin sensitivity! First prize for improving insulin sensitivity is resistance training, so if you can add in some body weight work or even lift some weights, this will be an advantage.
- PRIORITIZE SLEEP! Honestly, I can’t repeat this one enough, the insulin resistance impact of a lack of sleep is quite staggering. Have a read of this article to learn more about how subjects became pre-diabetic after only a few nights of less than 6 hours a night! Sleep is NOT a luxury, it is a NECESSITY if we wish to be the best versions of ourselves.
- Find and incorporate a stress reduction practice. In today’s world our fight or flight response is chronically activated in response to things that really aren’t life threatening, however our limbic system in our brain hasn’t caught up to the modern world yet! It still interprets an overwhelming work load or a traffic jam making us late as a tiger chasing us… and so because we experience these stressors daily our stress hormones become chronically elevated, increasing our insulin resistance! We recommend meditation and yoga as extremely effective techniques to balance the cortisol and reduce your overall stress.
Always remember... You CAN impact your healthfulness through the daily choices you make!
While the medical community might like us to believe that these lifestyle diseases are out of our hands, more and more people are waking up, making truly healthful choices and either halting or reversing disease in their bodies on a DAILY basis!
There is no reason why you can't be among them. These actions to take are now back by peer reviewed science, and it's up to us in SO many cases whether we go the medication route or the healthy lifestyle route.
The destination of the first route is simply surviving.
The end destination of the second is THRIVING!