Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all people lived off of minimally processed, wild-plant and wild-animal foods. Virtually unknown to them were refined and processed cereals, white rice, pasta, refined vegetable oils, refined sugars, pasteurized and homogenized dairy, and many fatty meats. Since then unfortunately, these highly processed and refined foods have become a staple. In fact, today they make up more than 70% of the typical western diet.
Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution led to the introduction of sucrose (white sugar), feedlot-produced meats, refined grains, refined vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It also created ways of extracting oils and nutrients from foods so that their shelf-life could be extended, which made transporting them across great distances without spoilage possible. However, what was good for convenience and mass consumption was not good for physiology. Today, the western world is suffering from a myriad of individual metabolic disorders that as a group have been named Metabolic Syndrome. If you have Metabolic Syndrome and you are obese, you are stamped with yet another label; Syndrome X. Current estimates from the American Heart Association are that 20-25% of the adult population of the U.S. suffers from Syndrome X. This means between 58 and 73 million men and women are at risk from this disorder. Many more are at risk from Metabolic Syndrome, because they are not classified as obese, but have all of the other associated aliments.
Metabolic Syndrome is characterized by having at least three of the following symptoms:
Insulin Resistance (high insulin and high blood sugar (glucose))
Abdominal fat – in men this means a 40 inch waist or larger, in women 35 inches or larger
High blood sugar levels – at least 110 mg/dL after fasting
High triglycerides – at least 150 mg/dL in the blood stream
Low HDL (the “good” cholesterol) – less than 40 mg/dL if male and 50 mg/dL if female
Prothrombotic (clotting) state (e.g. high fibrinogen or plasminogen activator inhibitor in the blood)
Blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher
If present, Metabolic Syndrome greatly increases one’s chances of getting a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association states that the “underlying causes of Metabolic Syndrome are being overweight, physical inactivity and genetic factors.” I will add one more…eating too many refined foods.
As you will read below, Insulin Resistance is the thread that unravels the metabolic sweater. This condition is directly related to the total number of refined carbohydrates eaten in proportion to other much healthier and more nutritious macro and micro nutrients. Today’s diet, as mentioned above, is full of refined carbohydrates. Here is a look at seven key changes to the western diet since the ability to refine and process foods was discovered:
1.) An increase in the glycemic load of the diet 2.) A decrease in omega-3 fatty acid consumption in favor of the more plentiful and useable omega-6 fatty acids from vegetables. 3.) A shift from a predominantly protein-based diet to a carbohydrate-based diet 4.) A decrease in micronutrient intake 5.) An increase in the acidity of the diet 6.) An increase in sodium intake and a decrease in potassium intake 7. A decrease in fiber intake
INSULIN RESISTANCE Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas in response to the presence of blood sugar (glucose) in the blood stream, usually following a meal. It is the job of insulin to “shepherd” glucose into a cell so that it may be used by that cell as fuel. When performing properly, blood sugar levels will be within a stable range. If the cells are no longer responding to insulin as they should, then blood sugar levels will tend to go up and down dramatically. High blood sugar often has few symptoms, but low blood sugar is recognized by symptoms between meals such as: irritability, lightheadedness, sugar cravings, sleeplessness at night, memory loss, fatigue and more.
Insulin resistance is the condition in which normal amounts of insulin are inadequate to produce proper responses from fat, muscle and liver cells. The result is a blood increase of triglycerides, free fatty acids, and blood sugar (glucose). High plasma levels of insulin and glucose due to insulin resistance often lead to Metabolic Syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance prevents the efficient conversion of food into energy because of a vastly reduced number of insulin receptors on the cell wall. This phenomenon is directly related to high carbohydrate consumption, which results in bountiful amounts of glucose in the blood stream that then over-stimulates and eventually desensitizes the cells to its presence. It has been estimated that a typical healthy person has 20,000 insulin receptor sites per cell, while the average overweight individual can have as few as 5,000.
If you have a greatly reduced number of insulin receptor sites on the cells’ surface, you are at risk for a number of hormone related metabolic dysfunctions including, the inability to lose weight. Free-floating insulin also has a harmful effect. It can damage the lining of the arteries and contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
Increased insulin and glucose levels in those suffering from Metabolic Syndrome have also been proven to cause changes in the kidneys’ ability to remove salt as well as increasing the risk of blood clot formation. All of these are key factors in the development of Cardiovascular Disease, heart attacks and stroke.
As mentioned above, the high ingestion of refined foods has led to this epidemic of insulin resistance. However, other stressors can do the same thing through different mechanisms. The adrenal glands, for instance, work directly in response to insulin levels and vice versa. Any ongoing emotional or physical stress will itself, begin to lead one toward Metabolic Syndrome via adrenal gland fatigue and subsequent hormonal imbalances within related glands (thyroid, testes and ovaries). The adrenal glands when fatigued remember, disrupt sleep, energy, sex drive, mood, appetite and motivation.
There are many natural and dietary ways of combating this problem. One for instance, is protein ingestion. Eating protein alongside carbohydrates is a good way to balance blood sugar and prevent the up’s and down’s that lead to Insulin Resistance (see: hypoglycemic diet). There are also many good nutrients that stabilize blood sugar and help the cells work better at responding to insulin. Chromium and vanadium are two excellent micro minerals. Alpha Lipoic acid, the amino acid alanine; vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin B6 are other good nutrients. These in combination with corrective lifestyle modification will often generate great results.