Insulin is the hormone that’s released by the pancreas in response to the rise in blood sugar (glucose) from food intake. Protein, carbohydrates and fats all cause an insulin response but at different levels. Some foods like bread or cookies cause blood glucose to quickly climb high while broccoli causes very little elevation. If blood glucose stays lower, then insulin stays lower, too.
Insulin and cortisol are the two main metabolic hormones. While they are opposite in their actions, they are in communication and sending out signals 24/7 with each other and us. Even though many will argue that calories in/calories out is what’s most important for body composition, the balancing of our hormones play a significant role as well. Let’s examine what insulin does and why it’s important to us.
Insulin is an anabolic hormone. Anabolic merely means to “build up”. When you hear insulin think storage. While it helps to build muscle, which is great, it also helps to build fat, which is not so great. Let’s look at a very basic explanation of the insulin response in our body.
When we eat, digestion starts in our gut, releasing glucose or sugar into our bloodstream. Our pancreas is monitoring our blood sugar constantly and is the keeper of insulin in our body. Because high blood sugar is toxic to us, the pancreas starts increasing the release of insulin to lower blood sugar back down to a normal level. Insulin lowers blood sugar by helping to transfer glucose into the muscles and liver in the storage form of glycogen. It also shuttles glucose into fat cells if the other areas are full. So what determines where insulin shuttles glucose:
As with all hormones, insulin is important for life. Without insulin we would die but carrying around high levels of glucose which causes high levels of insulin all the time can lead to excessive fat gain and increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.
For insulin to function correctly, we must help maintain our body’s sensitivity to insulin so our cellular communication remains intact. In next week’s article, we will discuss insulin resistance and what we can do to prevent or reverse it’s effects.