Insulin Response

“Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

Abba Eban

photo cred: DeathByBokeh

Inundate yourself with Paleo-minded information long enough, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that insulin is the consummate “bad guy” hormone.  That’s a little too simplistic a way to look at insulin, though — even for those of us who, though not trained specifically in the medical sciences, choose to enhance our lives through proper diet, exercise and well-rounded knowledge.  Insulin is, of course, critical for life and optimal health, and it’s not the hormone per se that is inherently evil, but the gross tilting of that hormone level beyond anything that the human body has evolved to handle that defines the problem.

In this clip (alternatively, you can jump to the Nov. 8th, 2009 WOD from the CrossFit home site), Robb Wolf discusses a case study in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and (though he doesn’t get into it here), the classic indicators of carbohydrate addiction.   If you’re a member of the CrossFit Journal (I highly recommend it, though I’m certainly no shill for CrossFit, nor do I fully endorse all of CrossFit’s ideologies), you can view a much larger portion of this video (over 7 minutes worth).

The take-away message here — and what we, as Paleo-minded, physical culturalists need to keep in mind — is that, within the body, insulin’s dictate (when excessively elevated) is to is promote/accelerate energy storage, maturation, reproduction and decline (death).  And from an evolutionary prospective, of course, this all makes perfect sense.  Quicker turnover equates to a more nimble and adaptive species.  In your grandma’s day, young girls matured in their later teens.  Nowadays, girls as young as 9 have reached reproductive maturity.  I’m not saying all of this can be laid at the feet of a hyper-insulin environment — there are plenty of other notable suspects lurking about in our diets — but I’d be willing to bet that an out-of-control insulin level has a big hand in this.

And just as Robb alluded to in the clip, the body can’t be fooled by artificial sweeteners.  The key is to successfully break the desire for the sweet taste (and thus eliminate the carb jonze), not placate that need by the use of artificial sweeteners — the equivalent of handing out methadone to heroin addicts.

Though we use the metaphor frequently, the body is not a simple furnace that serves solely to liberate energy from raw material.   There are complex storage and release components at work as well; hence the truth of a calorie not being a calorie.  The amount of energy contained in a calorie is, of course constant; what’s not constant is the hormonal impact that calorie source will have upon its host.  The first law of thermodynamics works fine for a closed system (the “furnace model”), but not for an open system, i.e., a living being.

In health,


8 responses to “Insulin Response

  1. Them – “Well then where do those extra calories go?”
    Me – “Into something else that’s metabolically expensive, like the repair of my bone and muscle tissue, or the production of anti-bodies and white blood cells.”
    Them – “Those use energy?”
    Me – “Well they’re not free . . .”

  2. Keith –

    Besides insulin levels, what are the health metrics which are good predictors of being healthy?

    Is it something like cholesterol, blood pressure?

    I’m in the process of going through “customer discovery” to determine if there is any need for a device which could measure these values and trend this data into usable information.

    It’s sorta like fitbit, but for personal health readings.

    I’m a firm believer that if we were armed with this information frequently we could make better decisions. Currently, by the time we get these measurements (in our yearly check up – if we even get one) the bad habits and behaviors have set. Habits are stubborn things.

    We measure so many things, why can’t we easily measure our personal health?

  3. Happy Birthday Keith! You’re about a decade older than I am in years, probably a decade younger as regards metabolic health, and already full of a lifetime of grace that you show to your paleo community (which, can/should be all of our brothers and sisters everywhere, thanks for keeping the hope alive that that may happen sometime in my now thankfully extended lifetime).

    • Thanks for all the kind words and well wishes, everyone. Here’s to another year of n=1, m=1, Paleo self-experimentation.

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