Recent advances in dietary science have highlighted the crucial role of insulin in weight gain. Produced in the pancreas, insulin is a critical hormone for the control of blood sugar (glucose). Its job is to transport glucose into cells, where the glucose is burned as fuel. While this process is necessary for life, abnormalities in the insulin-glucose system caused by aging, lack of exercise and poor diet can cause major health problems. In aging, cells become more resistant to the effects of insulin. As cells become increasingly insulin resistant, the body compensates by increasing the number of insulin receptors on cells and secreting more insulin in an attempt to drive more blood sugar into muscle and liver cells (Fulop 2003).
Insulin resistance is a dangerous condition. Research suggests that adipose tissue (fat) is a source of pro-inflammatory chemicals that have a role in the development of insulin resistance (Sharma AM et al 2005). Insulin resistance is associated with obesity (in particular, abdominal obesity) (Greenfield JR et al. 2004). It is also associated with aging muscle (Nair KS 2005), physical inactivity, and genetics.
This increase in insulin (called hyperinsulinemia) and decreased insulin sensitivity have a number of harmful effects, including contributing to diseases associated with being overweight (Zeman et al 2005; Garveyet al 1998). Over time, high insulin and insulin resistance may lead to type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals, a major risk factor for heart disease. A study sponsored by the NIH showed that over a 10-year period, hyperinsulinemia was associated with increased all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, independent of other risk factors (NIH 1985).
Controlling insulin levels as we age is essential for overall health, longevity, and weight management. An increasing number of physicians recognize the role of insulin resistance in the current obesity epidemic. The good news is that nonprescription drugs and low-cost dietary supplements that have demonstrated beneficial effects upon insulin action are already available.
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