Busy schedules and long stressful workdays take their toll on your body. Long hours and little sleep elevates your cortisol levels – the body’s stress hormone – making you crave sugars, sweets and refined carbohydrates. Your body pumps out the hormone insulin to keep your blood sugars in balance, but the more simple carbohydrates or sugars you eat throughout the day, the more insulin your body needs to keep up. Eventually this cycle leads to a condition called ‘insulin resistance’, where your body needs greater and greater quantities of insulin to do the same job it once did at much lower levels. Essentially, your insulin is less effective.
This is precisely where the root of the problem starts and the weight gain downward spiral follows close behind. High insulin and blood sugar stimulate your body to go into ‘storage’ mode, turning all those excess carbohydrates into body-fat stores. This leads to an expanding waistline, unwanted extra pounds and worsening of your overall health. So how do you reverse this trend and get your health and body shape back on track? The answer is insulin control. The combination of exercise, healthy eating, and specific medicinal herbs and nutrients will help trim your waistline and renew your energy levels.
The average North American consumes 160 pounds of sugar every year, the equivalent of drinking more than 1,800 cans of Coke! This amounts to more than 5 cans of soda per day! Compare this to the early 1900s when the average person consumed 80 pounds per year, and to our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ‘ancestors’ who consumed on less than a pound of sugar for the entire year! In order to reverse the negative effects of high insulin and achieve sustainable healthy weight loss you need to start improving your insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone responsible for taking the sugars from your bloodstream after a meal and transporting them into your cells to be used for energy. Unfortunately, the less active you are or the more weight you are carrying your ‘insulin sensitivity’ goes downhill. Poor insulin sensitivity is ‘bad’ thing. It means you’re body has been overloaded with too many sugars for too long, to the point where you need much more insulin to do the same job your body used to accomplish with far less. High insulin levels equals weight gain, plain and simple. The good news is that exercise is one of the best ways to improve your insulin sensitivity and lay the foundation for optimal weight loss. Combining regular weight training (2-3x per week) and cardiovascular training (interval type) will improve your blood sugar levels the quickest. If you are a beginner or new to exercise, start with a simple 20-minute walk daily to get the ball rolling toward better insulin sensitivity and better health!
Your diet is another powerful tool to help improve your insulin sensitivity. If weight loss if you primary goal then remove all starchy carbs from your diet – breads, pastas, potatoes, beans – and focus on increasing your consumption of whole foods such as leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, organic meats like chicken and fish, fresh fruit and plentiful nuts and seeds. This will provide the body with optimal amounts of protein, healthy fats, and fabulous fiber to help normalize your blood sugars. Combined with an overall reduction in starchy and simple carbs will naturally improve insulin sensitivity and weight loss. More specifically, there are a couple of ‘all-star’ insulin balancing nutrients – chromium and alpha-lipoic acid – that are important to include in your diet. They quickly and effectively regulate blood sugars to stimulate sustainable weight loss. The essential mineral chromium is a major contributor to healthy blood sugar levels and active component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) a compound that controls your blood sugar levels. Insulin must attach to the receptors on your cells in order to transport the glucose into your cells and out of the bloodstream. GTF plays a vital role in making sure insulin ‘docks’ effectively to your cells receptors. This promotes optimal insulin function and healthy blood sugar control. A deficiency in chromium leads to insulin resistance – outlined above – a condition where your body’s cells do not respond effectively to the presence of insulin. This leads to higher and higher levels of circulating insulin and glucose in the bloodstream, the ‘perfect storm’ for weight gain and worsening health. A recent meta-analysis study summarizing the results of 15 independent chromium studies concluded that chromium showed substantial reductions in hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia. Although chromium is found in a wide variety of foods, processing methods typically remove the naturally occurring chromium. As a result, it’s tough to get sufficient amounts of chromium from the diet alone. Food high in chromium include broccoli, turkey, apples and green beans.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is another potent nutrient that reduces the negative effects of a high sugar or refined carbohydrate diet. It is a potent antioxidant made by your body and found in every one of your cells, assisting in the conversion of glucose into energy. Antioxidants quench ‘free radicals’, which are waste products of the body’s energy metabolism, much like the fumes from your car’s exhaust pipe. These free radicals cause cellular damage to the body and need to be ‘cleaned up’ by the body’s antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C and vitamin E. Alpha-lipoic acid is considered a ‘universal’ anti-oxidant because it is both fat-soluble and water-soluble, whereas vitamin C only works in water, and vitamin in E in fatty tissues. It also helps to ‘recycle’ the body’s other antioxidants – like vitamin C and glutathione – into their active state for even further protection. Alpha-lipoic acid is found in red meat (grass fed highly recommended), organ meats, and brewer’s yeast. You can also supplement with ALA to achieve higher doses and assist in insulin balance and weight loss.
There are also some powerful herbal medicines that can significantly reduce blood sugar and insulin levels to boost your efforts in achieving your health and weight loss goals. Herbal medicines used in traditional cultures for centuries – cinnamon, bitter melon, gymnema sylvestre – have been shown in clinical studies to significantly improve insulin and blood sugar levels. Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in the world, dating back to 2,700BC in Chinese Medicine. It was so highly regarded over the centuries that it was considered more precious than gold! Cinnamon also deserves ‘gold-star’ status for its ability to improve blood sugar levels. A 2003 study in the medical journal Diabetes Care showed that a 1g dose of cinnamon daily was enough to decrease fasting glucose 18-29%. This is great way to stimulate weight loss and adding a pinch of cinnamon to desserts will mitigate some of the negative effects on your insulin. Not only that, it also helps lower bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol by 7-27%, total cholesterol 12-26%, and triglycerides (blood fats) by 23-30%. Cinnamon will not only help improve weight loss but also improve your overall health.
Bitter Melon is another medicinal herb widely used in Asia to help balance blood sugar levels. It is a tropical vine that is grown abundantly in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit. Recent 2012 study in Germany highlighted how bitter melon enhances insulin sensitivity thereby improving the body’s ability to deal with carbohydrates. In China, The Garvan Institute of Medical Research has identified four compounds that help explain the mechanism behind bitter melon’s ability to improve blood sugar control. The compounds found in bitter melon activate the AMPK enzyme which helps to stimulate the movement of glucose receptors to the surface of your cells, where they can be utilized most effectively. The benefits of exercise on blood sugar levels can be traced back to this same activation of the AMPK enzyme. Another reason why it’s so important to keep your exercising regularly!
Gymnema is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy used for centuries in India to treat high blood sugar levels. Gymnema supports healthy glucose metabolism by supporting optimal pancreatic function and insulin release, preventing insulin from lingering in the bloodstream and keeping you ‘stuck’ in fat-storing mode. In India, it is known as Gurmar or ‘destroyer of sugar’ for its ability to quench sweet cravings. Studies have shown gymnema produces a significant reduction in fasting glucose levels and a reduction in glucose levels after meals. This is really important when you can’t escape having a heavier meal at a business dinner or function. It is essential that the supplement form of Gymenma extract is standardized to contain 25% gymnemic acids, the identical concentration used in clinical research.
Achieve your weight loss goals by supporting healthy blood sugar and insulin control. Incorporate weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise, a whole-foods based diet high in protein and healthy fats, and add supportive supplementation of medicinal herbs and nutrients such cinnamon, bittermelon, gymnema sylvestre, chromium, and alpha-lipoic acid to boost your insulin sensitivity and assist weight loss. This strategy will help you achieve long-term healthy and sustainable success!
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, BSc, CSCS, ART
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