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Issue 91: Insulin Balancing Act

Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. is a University of Southern California Medical School graduate who completed her residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in endocrinology at the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. While she specialized in endocrinology, she’s also adept in the areas of metabolism, diabetes, osteoporosis, menopause and thyroid conditions.

She says that prolonged high insulin levels are caused not only by eating a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet and processed foods, but also by stress, yo-yo dieting, soft drink consumption, meal skipping, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, tobacco, steroids, stimulants and other recreational drugs, lack of exercise, excessive and/or unnecessary thyroid replacement therapy and all over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Wow. That list doesn’t leave too many stones unturned.

But what is insulin anyway and why is it so important to keep it in balance? Glad you asked!

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas to manage blood glucose levels, and the more the blood is flooded with glucose, the more insulin is necessary. Excess insulin has adverse effects, though. It can cause insulin receptors to become desensitized to insulin, resulting in an unhealthy heart, arteries, blood pressure, blood fat and blood sugar. It can also make the body store excess fat and gain weight, have vitamin and mineral deficiencies and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Additionally, it can switch off the body’s fat-burning mechanism.

Under normal circumstances after eating a meal, blood sugar makes its way into the bloodstream, causing the pancreas to produce enough insulin to return the blood sugar level to normal. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: After digestion, glucose passes into the blood where it is used by cells for growth and energy. It is assisted by insulin’s role, which is to inject the blood sugar into cells. And it’s an important role, too, because every cell in the body depends on blood sugar to stay alive and to function.

When insulin is imbalanced, however, cells don’t get the fuel they need, while excess glucose builds up in the blood, overflows to the urine, and is passed out of the body. The result? The body loses its main source of fuel. Over time, this causes serious damage to the kidneys, eyes, vital organs and nerves.

Excess insulin can also cause the body to become deficient in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Chromium, for example, is necessary for metabolism and healthy sugar levels, but excess insulin depletes chromium. Dr. Michael Eades, author of Protein Power says a diet high in starch and sugar puts a heavy demand on the insulin system and will deplete chromium.

Likewise, excess insulin can deplete the body of calcium and magnesium, which are needed for hundreds of bodily functions and for bone health. Excess insulin can also cause deficiencies in zinc, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins and essential fatty acids.

Insulin. Like many other things in life, it’s all about being balanced.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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