Readers: This is the EXTENDED article that papers could not print due to space considerations.
I really need your help because I am now up to 14 medications for the following problems: High cholesterol, heart disease, pre-diabetes, cataracts, arrhythmias, allergies, memory problems and enlarged prostate (BPH). The medications make me sick and sleepy. The reason I am writing to you is because you always have a fresh perspective. Can you help me get off these medications?” – C.P. Kansas City, Kansas
Answer: Fresh perspective is my middle name. I would never tell you to stop taking your medications, but your doctor might in the coming months, as you get well. How to get you well is my major concern but since I’m not a doctor, I will just give you advice to take back and discuss. Currently you take a lot of medicine for many conditions, which makes me wonder why they call it the “golden” years. Regardless, I’ve got big news about something you’ve probably never heard of before.
In the email you sent me, something stood out. No one has measured your serum insulin! You should ask your doctor to measure this for you. Based on my studies, I suspect that high insulin is one common denominator for many, if not all, of your medical concerns. There are numerous studies available on pubmed and printed in respected journals that show an association to high insulin and the very disorders that you have.
For those who don’t realize, insulin is a pancreatic hormone that reduces blood sugar which rises in response to eating.
Many physicians routinely measure your blood glucose, but not your insulin.
The ratio of glucose to insulin is more valuable than the level of either one alone. That’s a very important statement and it often comes as a surprise to folks who are used to having their blood glucose measured (FBS) but not their insulin. Just because your blood glucose is normal (and you are sent home with the good news that you do NOT have diabetes) does not mean that everything is hunky dory.
The following information is hard to find, and I’m happy to share it with you. A person’s insulin levels may be SKY HIGH because the pancreas could be working on overdrive to push the blood sugar into the cell. Remember, insulin puts sugar into the cell, so if you have a lot of sugar on board (from eating the typical American diet or lots of carbs) then your insulin can be very high for many years while your blood sugar is normal. This is a dangerous place to be, and many doctors never think to measure a person’s insulin. The insulin can be high because the pancreas is pumping it out all day long to push the sugar into the cell. Good time to tell you that insulin makes a person fat. The more insulin, the more weight gain. So as a side note, if you are dealing with stubborn weight that refuses to come off, you may have high insulin.
So you see now, why it’s the ratio of glucose to insulin that is so important. High insulin gives you a higher risk for many diseases.
Serum insulin levels should be measured by the blood. If it’s high, we need to talk! Chronically elevated insulin causes a cascade of inflammatory chemicals and high cortisol which lead to major diseases some of which you already have. If I was a physician, I would have my patients take this blood test as part of their annual physical, or at the onset of any major disease. This is very important, I think taking the test twice in one day might be useful to certain patients.
That probably sounds odd, allow me to explain:
The first test would be taken on an empty stomach (fasting) and then you would eat a meal (or drink a sugary sweet drink offered by the lab facility, which tastes fairly nasty to be honest) and then you would take your second test 2 hours after that. What I’ve described is called a “post-prandial” test. So to summarize, some people can just do one test which evaluates two parameters (fasting serum insulin AND fasting blood glucose) while other people may need to be evaluated more fully and take two tests.
In this case, they would do the fasting tests and also a “2 hour post-prandial test” which evaluates two parameters (serum insulin and blood glucose). Why? Because some people are perfect when a fasting test is performed, but when they eat, their body goes haywire with the insulin and glucose. You wouldn’t see this on a fasting test.
I realize this is somewhat complicated but I’m here to help you, and if I don’t share these intricate details, you might fall through the cracks. I care to much to let that happen. So if this was hard to understand, re-read it, or print it for your doctor to see if you need to be tested in this way.
These are blood tests (not saliva or stool).
Here are the ranges to help you/your doctor and please note that this is just a guideline, it’s not the be-all, end-all… there are many tests that your physician will suggest to help you get better. Here’s one of them.
Fasting Serum Insulin.
Serum insulin levels should be 5 – 10 microunits/ml. Optimally speaking, they should be less than 5. As a general rule, if your levels are higher than 10, your risk for developing diabetes increases. Above 25, and I think it’s a slam dunk for diabetes and other major disabilities.
2 hour post-prandial serum insulin should be less than 25.
Optimal 70 – 100 mg/dl
2 hour post-prandial blood glucose: 70 – 145 mg/dl
Here’s the big deal: The ratio of glucose to insulin should be less than 10:1.
For example, if your blood sugar is 170 and your insulin is 8, then your ratio is 21 (NOT GOOD). You want the ratio to be less than 10:1. Here’s another example, your blood glucose is 85 and your insulin is 6 then your ratio is 14. It’s BETTER than 21, but more work that needs to occur.
Chronically elevated insulin hormone has also been associated with Parkinson’s disease, nerve pain, and autoimmune diseases like lupus and cancer. Yes, cancer! Breast cancer and pancreatic cancer are connected to high insulin. And according to an August 2009 study published in The Journal of The National Cancer Institute – elevated insulin increases the risk for prostate cancer too.
Here’s their conclusion:
Elevated fasting levels of serum insulin (but not glucose)… appear to be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer.
That’s straight out of the National Cancer Institute’s own journal. By now you may be wondering, how does one reduce insulin? The simplest way is free and totally up to you. Lose weight! Exercising helps you to reduce blood glucose levels. Even better, exercising makes your cells happy to see insulin, which improves insulin sensitivity.
Now, I’m going to say the unthinkable to many of you reading this. Eat a vegan diet, including more raw foods for just 30 days and see what glorious things take place. Caloric restriction and the consumption of nourishing foods (rather than soda, fast food and candy bars) can reduce insulin and pain-causing chemicals. It’s really not as hard as it sounds, and maybe a healthy diet is the solution for you, considering the current path you’re facing. With dietary compliance, your doctor may be able to discontinue some of your medications.
Certain supplements drive biochemical pathways in the body which tell your cells to burn fat and sugar, and that reduces insulin levels. These supplements include vitamin D, resveratrol, quercetin, lipoic acid, curcumin and L-arginine. Let’s take a look at each supplement so that you can decide (with your physician) which of these are right for you:
This is affectionately dubbed the “sunshine” vitamin because sunlight sparks a reaction in the skin to begin the formation of active vitamin D.* It is your liver and kidneys which fully activate the D to a hormone which has far-reaching effects in the body.* One of these effects is that D can improve insulin sensitivity.* The effect is fairly dramatic. If you’re interested in high quality vitamin D suspended in Organic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you can purchase it at my shop.
There are many studies, one appeared in Diabetic Medicine in January 2009 (Reference below). If your doctor approves, buy an over-the-counter version because it is more natural to the body* (compared to prescribed sources) and look for “Vitamin D3” or “Cholecalciferol.” A suggested dose would be about 5,000 IU per day in the morning (with food/snack).
This is best known as the heart-healthy antioxidant from red wine. You an buy pure supplements of resveratrol and that is my recommendation. It is thought to work by awakening a longevity gene. Yes, it appears that we are not ruled by our genes!
The gene is in charge of burning fat so in this case, resveratrol appears to help a person burn fat by triggering a lazy gene (called PGC1-alpha). Don’t worry about the technicalities, okay, the point is that this antioxidant has important effects like doing good housekeeping on your cells, and waking up your lazy sluggish genes which then start to holler, “Burn the fat! I said get the fat and sugar out of this cell right now!”
When buying resveratrol supplements, be choosy. The better form of resveratrol is the “trans” resveratrol, and dosages vary widely. I’d suggest about 100 – 500 mg daily, in the morning (on an empty stomach meaning no food, but fine with other supplements that you take). Resveratrol is often combined with another grape-derived extract called quercetin or grape seed extract, those types of combos are fine with me.
A citrus “bioflavonoid” this is a potent antioxidant that comes from citrus plants as well as the skin of grapes and apples. It is best known as nature’s antihistamine, and it helps prevent easy bruising by protecting capillaries. Quercetin makes vitamin C work better and it also happens to upregulate your genes and get some fat-burning action to occur. It’s all subtle, these supplements are not magic bullets. Some naturopaths suggested quercetin to help reduce LDL cholesterol. In this case, you can take it as part of a resveratrol formula (see above) or you can take it by itself. Dosages are typically 500 mg and you take it once or twice daily (with food/snack).
I could write a book on this one! It’s a powerful antioxidant that penetrates both the fat-loving (lipophilic) and the water-loving (hydrophilic) cells of your body. This means it gets into your kidneys, liver, pancreas, heart, brain, lungs, everywhere! No organ can hide from lipoic acid. It sweeps away free radicals. I’ve included the nutrient in my list to lower insulin because it has a rarely known talent.
Lipoic acid happens to prod some transcription factors in your body, which in turn awaken a gene called PGC1-alpha. When you wake up this gene, your cells are awakened and the little fat-burning organelles inside your cells (called “mitochondria”) start the party.
The party consists of burning up a lot of fat and sugar that is making you unhealthy. So lipoic acid basically gets these mitochondria working harder and that helps you lose weight. Now be sensible, you’ll have to sweat a little too, lipoic acid is not a magic bullet, it’s just a helping hand. I like the R-lipoic acid version (over the “alpha” version) and the dose is approximately 200 mg two to four times daily. Be warned, lipoic acid makes your urine smell like cooked asparagus.
It’s almost the same type of “party” as described above for lipoic acid. L-arginine is an amino acid which works to awaken the same longevity gene I discussed above. This begins a cascade of signaling which could help you lose weight. L-arginine is found in many sex formulas too, because it widens blood vessels and sends blood flowing down South. In addition to helping one with pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and angina, it may very well be the best bedroom secret known to men.
Dosages vary: 1,000 – 3,000 (or much more if your doctor suggests) taken one to four times daily.
There isn’t a lot of counterfeiting/contamination with arginine (as compared to other dietary supplements) so just use your best judgement in picking a formula. Please ask your doctor if arginine is right for you because it can lower blood pressure, and there are some studies that suggest it is not right for people who have already had a heart attack. Be warned, taking too much may increase your risk for an outbreak of shingles or fever blisters or any type of herpes-driven infection.
Found in the spice turmeric and curry, this is a powerful herb and it is pretty well known in the scientific community to improve insulin sensitivity (by increasing adiponectin levels which is a good thing). The big, huge deal with curcumin is that there are well-designed trials and positive emerging studies that suggest curcumin plays a role in preventing and possibly treating various cancers. It has an effect of lowering inflammatory chemicals which cause swelling, pain and inflammation all over the body.
Curcumin has many other effects too, such as lowering levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF alpha) which in some cases causes damage to your heart and pancreas. There are several high-quality versions of this herb sold nationwide but unfortunately, with curcumin, there is a lot of garbage out there. This frustrates me because some people buy this supplement to prevent/treat serious cancers so I wish there was better regulation.
Did You Know?
Caffeine-related jitters are intensified by birth control and synthetic estrogen-containing hormones used for menopause.
Just a few references, more can be obtained from pubmed and peer-reviewed journals:
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.