Insulin: Like Money in the Bank

Have you ever considered that the amount of insulin you are capable of making over your lifetime is limited? Maybe your pancreas can make, let’s just call it 1000 pounds worth of insulin, and after that it starts to have trouble keeping up with the demand? What would happen if you used up most of your supply by the time you were 40 or 50? Then what? Then your blood sugars would probably start to rise dramatically, and you would need to start taking medicine, whether to make your remaining insulin work more efficiently, to get your pancreas to make more, or to augment your existing supplies.

Insulin plays many roles in your body, and one role is as a fat-storage hormone. When I first meet a new patient, I can tell if their insulin levels are elevated just by looking at them. People with high insulin levels can be identified by the extra pounds around their middle (even if the rest of them is relatively slender), by swelling around the eyes (called periorbital edema), by prominent cheeks (called buccal fat pads), and by a double chin. In other words, people with high insulin levels look like babies. That’s because babies have naturally high insulin levels. Babies are supposed to have high insulin levels. Insulin is a growth hormone, and babies are growing. But babies’ insulin levels begin to fall around around the time they start to walk, and that’s why a 2- or 3-year-old no longer looks like a baby.

Let’s take this idea one step further. Imagine that your pancreas is endowed with slightly less than the average number of “beta islet” cells, the ones that are responsible for making insulin. You were just born that way, let’s say. So whereas many of your friends and neighbors manage to keep up even though they eat the American diet, which essentially wastes insulin, you start having trouble keeping up with the demand when you are still in your 20s, or even earlier. It could happen. 

There is a lot of genetic variability: Some people are able to run extremely far distances, some can compute long columns of complex numbers in their heads without any specific training, some have a preternatural capacity to understand animals. So it would not be out of the realm of possibility to consider that some people are endowed with greater insulin-making capacity than others. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. We live in a “diabetogenic” environment, one that actually causes diabetes. Yes, it’s that black and white. 

If current trends continue, and there is no reason to expect that they will not, approximately 50 percent of Medicare recipients (individuals over 65) can be expected to carry a diagnosis of diabetes. Approximately one-third of current 15-year-olds are expected to become diabetic in their lifetimes. If you would like to avoid becoming one of them, then you can begin to conserve your insulin. We are wasting insulin by the bucketful, and large numbers of people are starting to run out. At this point, so many people are unable to make sufficient insulin to meet their needs that you can no longer say it’s because of their genetics.

You may have heard of an insulin spike, which is what happens after you eat something that you absorb very quickly. Items like orange juice, white flour, sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, and white rice are absorbed most quickly, which is why I recommend that you limit them to the occasional treat. You can also avoid insulin spikes by shifting your diet in the direction of foods you absorb slowly, especially vegetables, beans and other high-quality protein, as well as nourishing fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. 

The fewer insulin spikes you experience, the less insulin you will use over the weeks, months, years, and decades to come. The less insulin you use overall, the more likely you are to have enough to last a lifetime. I would call this insulin conservation. It’s just like money in the bank. If you use it all now, then you won’t have any left for later. 

3 thoughts on “Insulin: Like Money in the Bank

  1. I really appreciate how you are able to break down complex functions into such easy-to-understand and relatable examples.

  2. Just watched a movie from the library called Fed Up made us think of you today looked you up online and was pleased to see that you’re still practicing in the area these are all the things that you talk to me about and I was your patient and you were right still agreeing with you and still working on my insulin control. Thank you for helping people get their health on the right track sincerely Rod Ramsey.

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