Insulin Response

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

Abba Eban

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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,

Keith