The Real ‘Cure’ for Almost All Diseases
Parts 1-3 - Additional Installments Coming Soon
When I ask people what they believe is the cause of disease, I get all sorts of answers. Inflammation, diet, lack of exercise, exposure to environmental chemicals, etc. Research confirms that insulin resistance is the key contributor to a wide range of health conditions. Most people aren’t aware of or haven’t even heard of insulin resistance, and most don’t know they have it. Yet estimates are that up to 88% of adults in the U.S., and half the adults in India and China are insulin resistant.
In the early 1900s, the main causes of death were gastrointestinal infections, tuberculosis, and lung infections (pneumonia or influenza). Thanks to improved sanitation, better personal hygiene, and some incredible drugs, infections are no longer the primary cause of death, although exposure to viruses or infections remains a serious risk for those with existing health problems (including diabetes, heart disease, and insulin resistance).
Over 90% of deaths today are from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cerebrovascular disease (i.e. stroke). If I told you that some cases of all these diseases are preventable and that you can improve your quality of life for the last 5 to 10 years or more, would you be willing to make some important changes to your diet and lifestyle to control insulin resistance?
What is Insulin?
Well known as a medication for those with diabetes, insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from the blood to our tissues and organs, including the brain, heart, muscles, and liver. Insulin is produced by a small organ under the stomach called the pancreas (unless you are a type 1 diabetic). Insulin’s most important functions are to lower blood glucose levels after we eat, and transfer that glucose from the blood to our cells where it’s used for energy. When we eat too much and too often, the extra glucose results in fat storage, causing weight gain.
When we digest carbohydrates, glucose (blood sugar) levels rise. The pancreas secretes the hormone insulin, which moves the blood glucose into our cells for energy. The overconsumption of carbohydrates (including sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) and processed foods, eating too often, snacking between meals, chronic stress, insufficient sleep, and other dietary and lifestyle factors cause the pancreas to produce more and more insulin. This attempt to stabilize blood glucose levels results in our cells becoming less sensitive (resistant) to the effects of insulin. Our pancreas is forced to make more insulin to lower the extra blood glucose, but the cells no longer respond properly. This vicious cycle, called “insulin resistance,” can lead to type 2 diabetes if not corrected.
A major problem is that during this stage, fasting glucose levels may be perfectly normal, but your insulin levels can be higher (hyperinsulinemia). During a physical examination, insulin levels are not usually measured. Most physicians base their diagnosis on fasting glucose levels, a glucose tolerance test, or postprandial glucose level (measured two hours after a meal). Because these numbers are often in the normal range when people are insulin resistant, the issue may not be diagnosed accurately. The problem exists, but many doctors underestimate the seriousness of this issue. You want to detect insulin resistance early enough to correct the problem.
Insulin Resistance > Prediabetes > Type 2 Diabetes
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of getting insulin resistance under control. If the necessary changes to your diet and lifestyle aren’t made, insulin resistance can progress to prediabetes, and then to type 2 diabetes. With prediabetes, insulin levels are unstable and abnormal, but glucose levels have not progressed to the point of type 2 diabetes. The time window for this progression can vary depending on the individual’s diet, lifestyle, genetics, and environmental factors, but it’s much easier to reverse or correct insulin resistance and prediabetes than type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes has quadrupled in the last 30 years and is the most common cause of kidney disease. But type 2 diabetics have a tremendously increased risk of other conditions including blindness, amputation, chronic infection, stroke, nerve damage, heart disease, and cancer. When you are insulin resistant, all the same complications that are associated with type 2 diabetes have already started to develop at the intracellular level due to the high insulin levels.
In addition, insulin resistance causes weight gain and obesity. About 40% of the adults on the planet are considered obese or overweight, almost half of men over 45 have low testosterone levels, and close to 10% of women experience menstrual irregularities or infertility.
I have to emphasize again that insulin resistance increases the risk of just about every health problem, including heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart failure, stroke, and cancer (colorectal, prostate, breast, and more). High blood sugar can lead to chronic infections, blindness, hearing loss, nerve damage, amputations, premature aging, inflammation, and a host of gastrointestinal problems including heartburn and GERD. Insulin resistance and elevated blood glucose contribute to kidney disease, vertigo, osteoporosis, liver disease, metabolic syndrome, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), skin conditions, osteoarthritis, gout, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), migraines, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and erectile dysfunction.
While there are many factors that cause and contribute to these diseases, it’s now understood that insulin resistance is one of the major triggers. You can improve so many serious health conditions by making the dietary and lifestyle changes necessary to improve insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels.
You may be wondering how to self-test if you are insulin resistant. To determine your risk, answer the following questions:
- Do you have PCOS (if you’re a woman) or erectile dysfunction (for men)?
- Does a member of your family have type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance?
- Do you easily retain water?
- Is there a family history of heart disease?
- Do you have hypertension (high blood pressure)?
- Cravings for sweets and salty foods (women)?
- Tingling sensations in the hands or feet?
- Is there more than normal fat around your belly?
- Do you have skin tags (little bumps of skin at your neck or armpits), or do you have patches of darker-coloured skin?
If the answer is yes to one of the questions, you probably have insulin resistance. If the answer is yes to two or more, it’s extremely likely you have insulin resistance. Even though insulin resistance won’t kill you directly, the condition is likely to accelerate your death due to all the health conditions caused by it and can cause premature death.
In next month’s article, I will detail steps you can take to help correct and reverse insulin resistance including environmental, dietary and lifestyle changes, supplements, and more. Many of the recommendations may surprise you, and some willpower will be required.
The good news is that changes in diet and lifestyle can often correct insulin resistance, the most common disorder in the world. Natural solutions can often be more effective than drugs, which always come with side effects. If you treat the root cause — insulin resistance — instead of simply lowering glucose levels, your quality of life will be dramatically improved, and you can reduce your risk of developing associated health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular events.
In last month’s article, I discussed the chronological pathway and consequences that result from insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. In particular, insulin resistance does not get enough attention from both doctors and patients due to the lack of diagnostic tools, improper blood test-result interpretation, and misinformation from social media.
The majority of people die from chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), cancer, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), and type 2 diabetes, all of which share a contributing root cause — insulin resistance.
Fifty years ago, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the US was about 2.5% of the population among the age group of 65 years and above. Now, it’s 10% of the population aged 20 and up. Pediatricians have reported patients with fatty liver and type 2 diabetes (not type 1) among children as young as five years old. According to the CDC, over a third of Americans have prediabetes, and close to two-thirds of those may develop type 2 diabetes. This is shocking to me!
Sadly, in medical practice, there is no medicalized prevention for chronic metabolic disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood glucose), just long-term treatment. That’s why patients are told by doctors that they need to take medications for the rest of their life after being diagnosed with chronic metabolic disease. It’s no surprise that we are now facing a worldwide medical care system crisis. We are only treating 10% of the population with diabetes, while about 40% with prediabetes are waiting to be treated in the near future. The cost to treat type 2 diabetes alone increases by billions of dollars every year, not to mention the cost of treating the other diseases that are caused by insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance can not only lead to type 2 diabetes, but as a major cause of inflammation and oxidative stress, it can also result in chronic infections, blindness, hearing loss, nerve damage, infertility, amputations, and premature aging. It is a contributing cause for all of these conditions:
- Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, chronic nephrotic syndrome, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.
- Neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (dementia), Parkinson’s disease, and migraine headaches.
- Cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, stroke, heart attack, and erectile dysfunction.
- Gastrointestinal problems like heartburn and GERD, gall bladder stones, and inflammation.
- a including fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, and pancreatitis.
- Osteoporosis, chronic skin conditions, osteoarthritis, gout, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), chronic asthma, tinnitus.
- All types of cancer.
Monitoring Glucose Levels & Metabolic Fitness
You can be young, old, physically fit, healthy, and eat what you consider a healthy diet, and still suffer from metabolic dysfunction. And as I’ve said in numerous previous articles, you should do what you can to improve your health while you’re healthy, and not wait until you have a health crisis. Estimates are that 88% of all Americans (and probably Canadians) have some level of metabolic dysfunction, so having tools that can inform you and help bring health benefits quickly is exciting.
If you took the self-test in my previous article and answered yes to two or more of the questions, I recommend purchasing either a blood glucose meter (glucometer) or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to measure the level of your blood glucose. It’s important to know your fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels. While the cost is higher for a CGM, I feel these devices are well worth it, even if you only use one for one or two months. What you will learn can truly change and improve your health for life. What investment could be more important?
Blood Glucose Meter
These are inexpensive devices that determine the approximate glucose concentration in your blood, and are widely available at pharmacies and online. First, you insert a test strip in the meter. Then you use a special fine needle called a “lancet” (it’s painless) and poke a clean fingertip to get a droplet of blood. You touch the end of the strip to the drop of blood on your finger and can quickly see your blood glucose reading.
Continuous Glucose Monitor
One of the most important health products ever invented, a CGM includes a small round patch that is applied usually at the back of the arm. The patch contains a tiny wire that punctures the skin, and a transmitter that sends readings to your smartphone. A CGM continuously reads blood glucose levels through the interstitial fluid. The most popular are the FreeStyle Libre 3 and the Dexcom G7. With a CGM you can see continuous readings as often as every minute, so you can quickly see the results of diet and lifestyle on your blood glucose levels.
With a CGM you can improve your metabolic fitness by analyzing the variations of how much your blood glucose spikes during the day in response to the foods you eat. The smaller the blood glucose spikes you have, the more energetic you will be throughout the day. CGMs also track sleep and exercise, so you can view your blood glucose levels (which should be steady) as you sleep. You can also see the effect of exercise and movement on your blood glucose levels, as your muscles use the glucose in your blood for energy. Exercising after meals can have a significant positive effect on balancing blood glucose levels.
CGMs show you how your day-to-day lifestyle choices affect your blood glucose levels. You’ll learn how by combining the foods you eat (fats can lower the insulin response when combined with carbohydrates), the order of the foods you eat (for example, never eat bread at the beginning of a meal), and how specific foods affect your energy levels and ultimately how productive you will be each day. By monitoring your blood glucose level by using the glucometer or CGM, you can make choices to help correct insulin resistance and achieve tremendous health benefits.
Fasting Blood Glucose
You should do this first thing in the morning, after not having eaten for at least 12 hours. Your reading should be between 70mg/dl and 99mg/dl, or (if you are in Canada) 3.9 mmol/L and 5.6 mmol/L. If it’s higher than 99mg/dl (5.6 mmol/L), the information that follows is very important. If you keep your blood glucose level consistently low for a long enough period, you can correct insulin resistance, bringing back insulin sensitivity to normal.
Postprandial Blood Glucose
This is also a critical measurement, which should be done 2 hours after a meal. After two hours, your blood glucose level should be below 140mg/dl (in Canada, below 7.8 mmol/L). By doing this, you will quickly determine the effects of the foods you eat on blood glucose levels, and you will learn how to best personalize your diet. Because of our unique microbiomes, it’s important to learn how foods affect us individually.
By using a CGM or glucometer you will also learn which types of exercise are best for you. Getting into the habit of performing some type of exercise after meals can significantly lower blood glucose levels because exercise moves blood glucose into muscle cells (glucose is required for energy). Some will find a 15-20 minute walk will lower blood glucose substantially, while others may find resistance or aerobic exercise works best for them.
“Metabolism” describes all the cellular processes in the body that produce energy and power our bodily functions, by breaking down the nutrients in food. Controlled by our autonomic nervous system, these processes include heart rate, breathing, circulation, hormone regulation, producing proteins, and digestion. In addition to diet and exercise, our metabolism is tightly controlled by our response to insulin. Insulin sensitivity is also affected by stress, lack of sleep, and being overweight. If the body becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, the resulting hormonal imbalance can not only cause the problems listed above, it can also result in a cytokine storm — an over-reactive immune response potentially leading to organ failure and death.
Next month I will go into more detail about how dietary changes and food combinations can lower blood glucose levels, improve insulin sensitivity, increase energy by improving mitochondrial function, and help correct insulin resistance. In addition, I will describe a method using a standard blood test that will more accurately determine if you are insulin resistant. I will also outline supplements that can improve insulin sensitivity and help correct insulin resistance. The good news is that by making changes in your diet and lifestyle, you should be able to bring your readings into the normal range.
Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that moves blood glucose from the food we eat into our tissues and organs; it is needed for energy and a multitude of important functions. Insulin resistance (IR) is a physiological state where our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin resistance, and is an underlying cause of many serious health conditions.
The goal of this series of articles is to show how we can restore insulin sensitivity to our cells and help reverse IR. When our cells are more sensitive to the effects of insulin, the many health problems associated with IR can be reversed, bringing you the greatest potential for living a long, disease-free life.
While most people associate high blood glucose and high insulin levels with type 2 diabetes, before reaching confirmation of that diagnosis, a host of other problems may develop which should be a red flag that it’s time to correct the underlying cause of these problems by lowering blood glucose and insulin levels through lifestyle, diet, and supplements. Just about every health problem can be improved by correcting this one overarching cause.
While there are a number of dietary changes and lifestyle modifications to consider, in this installment I’ll outline the role of air quality, sleep, and exercise and how they all can either contribute to insulin resistance or help correct it by improving insulin sensitivity.
Particulate matter up to 2.5 microns (PM2.5) is considered to be among the most dangerous category of air pollutants, as these tiny particles can get lodged deep in the lungs, and even enter the bloodstream. Most cities track the levels of PM2.5 present in the environment, but even PM10 can result in inflammation in the body. Once in the blood, these particles can activate pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines that can potentially contribute to IR. I recommend using a quality HEPA air purifier like products from Blueair that can remove particles even smaller than PM2.5, making your indoor spaces safer and more comfortable.
Exposure to cigarette smoke increases the risk of many chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Dr. Gerald Reaven identified a relationship between smoking and IR over 20 years ago, and many studies have since confirmed his research. In addition, secondhand smoke can produce ceramides — bad fats that may cause smoke-induced IR. The main addictive component in tobacco, nicotine, causes our fat cells to be insulin resistant, and nicotine can also enter the body through patches and vaping.
Matthew Walker, the director of UC Berkley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab wrote an excellent book called “Why We Sleep” where he outlines the many important benefits of sufficient sleep, and how insufficient sleep is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and a long list of health problems, including cancer. While the exact amount of sleep a person needs can vary, just one week of insufficient sleep can increase IR by over 30%, and a recent study found that two days of sleep restriction could make even healthy people insulin resistant.
White light is a relatively equal blend of red, blue, and green light. When you are exposed to normal daylight, cell phones, computer monitors, and televisions, the blue portion of the light stimulates serotonin and cortisol (the stress hormone). It also works to inhibit melatonin production which is critical for sleep and immune function. In addition, too much light in general can contribute to developing IR, while spending more time in the dark, helps to lower it. I recommend using blue-blocking sunglasses if you need to use a screen, or ideally, to stop using any screens within three hours of bedtime. If you want to read at night, there are special light bulbs that have the blue portion of light removed designed for nighttime use, or look for lighting in the 3000 Kelvin range, which is a more yellow colour.
I love a brief nap, especially if I have to be at my best in the evening, but napping for an hour a day is associated with IR. Keeping your naps limited to 30 minutes is ideal as it doesn’t increase IR. In addition, napping for an hour or more can affect your ability to fall asleep at night. I find that 25-30 minutes before 3:00 pm works best for me.
Exercise & Movement
One of the primary reasons older people develop IR is because they become more sedentary. Even being sedentary for a few days, as can happen if you are fighting a bad cold or recovering from a surgical procedure can result in a measurable increase in insulin resistance. A seven-fold increase in IR can result from just a week of being bedridden, and it can take many weeks to reverse. It’s critically important that you get sufficient rest and sleep if you’re trying to recover from any illness. As one of my teachers told me many years ago, “Your body has only so much energy. If you use that energy to propel yourself about, that same energy can’t be used for healing.”
Whenever you move, you contract your muscles, and muscle contraction enables the muscle to take in glucose from the blood without the use of insulin. Any type of movement, even walking at a moderate pace, will lower insulin and blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Exercise also results in improved cardiovascular function and stronger bones and muscles, but it must be combined with other lifestyle and dietary changes for weight loss and to reverse IR.
It’s important to move around during the day. Sitting for two hours without a break increases IR, especially before eating. Standing up and flexing your muscles every 20 minutes, even for a minute or two can help reduce the risk of developing IR.
Resistance vs. Aerobic Exercise
Studies confirm that you receive the greatest benefit from resistance exercise, and not just for lowering IR. You can receive benefits from aerobic exercise too, so if you prefer to walk (I like a brisk pace), you will still benefit from walking daily. Do the form of exercise you like best, so you can make it a daily habit. If you want to spend the least amount of time and reap the greatest benefits, resistance training improves insulin sensitivity the most. If you only have an hour or two per week to exercise, I recommend training with weights, bands, or other forms of resistance. You build the most muscle from resistance training, and the more muscle you have, the greater potential for removing glucose from the blood.
Being casual about exercise, whether it’s walking, aerobics, or resistance, will not bring the best results. It’s important to increase the intensity as much as you can. If you’re doing aerobics (i.e. walking, biking, rowing, swimming), low intensity makes sense as you get more accustomed to the exercise, but eventually you want to challenge yourself to go at a faster pace. As a former musician, I’ll sing a musical piece (usually a Sousa march like The Stars and Stripes Forever) in my head, and exercise to that rhythm. If I’m doing resistance exercise, it’s important to exercise as vigorously as possible. Even if you’re using a low weight, focus on doing as many repetitions as possible. When you’ve finished exercising, don’t drink a sports drink that’s high in sugar, as this will counteract the insulin-sensitizing benefits of the exercise.
In the coming months, I’ll outline some of the dietary changes and important nutritional supplements that can help restore insulin sensitivity and reverse IR. When combined with these lifestyle changes, you’ll position yourself to feel better throughout the day and help prevent disease.
Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2022-2023. Nathan Zassman is a trained nutrition practitioner and the owner of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.
Supplements for Diabetes & Blood Sugar Management
Supporting Science & References
Why We Get Sick. Benjamin Bikman, PhD.
Insulin and Insulin Resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005 May. PMID: 16278749.
Association between insulin resistance and the development of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular Diabetology. Volume 17, Article number: 122 (2018).
Pathophysiology, phenotypes and management of type 2 diabetes mellitus in Indian and Chinese populations. Nature Reviews Endocrinology. Volume 18 (2022).