Excess insulin and our modern diet
The following condensation of a chapter called "Excess Insulin And The Insulin Resistance Syndrome" is from a book entitled "Protein Power" by Eades, M.D. (1996) It explains briefly and in a simple clear manner some of the many problems and complications which arise from our modern diet, which is excessive in carbohydrates (starches and sugars) in relation to proteins and fats.
EXCERPT FROM PROTEIN POWER
The Bottom Line
"Insulin and its counterbalancing partner, glucagon, are the master hormones controlling human metabolism. The word insulin may immediately call up a mental association with diabetes, and the connection is a valid one. Controlling blood sugar is definitely insulin's most important job in the human body.
Many people especially those with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or obesity in their families - have inherited a tendency for, the insulin sensors on the cells to malfunction with age, illness, stress, or assault by years of high sugar and starch consumption.
Excess insulin stimulates a wide variety of other metabolic systems: it encourages the kidneys to retain salt and fluid; it stimulates the production of cholesterol by the liver; it fuels an increase in triglyceride production; it thickens the muscular portion of the artery walls, increasing the risk for high blood pressure; and it sends a strong message to the fat cells to store incoming sugar and fat.
Insulin's actions are countered by the second metabolic hormone, glucagon. Glucagon sends signals to the kidneys to release excess salt and fluid, to the liver to slow down the production of cholesterol and triglycerides, to the artery wall to relax and drop blood pressure, and to the fat cells to release stored fat to be burned for energy. When insulin levels in the blood are high, however, they so overwhelm system that they suppress glucagon's actions.
Since food is what mainly controls the production of these two hormones, we have been able to create a nutritional structure that maximizes the release of glucagon and minimizes the release of insulin, creating a closer balance between these two hormones. Under these conditions the actions of the glucagon predominate, allowing the metabolism to heal and the malfunctioning sensors to regain their sensitivity. Once this healing occurs, the metabolic disturbances that insulin resistance caused improve or disappear. If elevated, your cholesterol and triglycerides return to normal, your blood pressure returns to normal, blood sugar stabilizes and you can effectively lose excess stored body fat.
All these benefits accrue not by treating the symptoms - the blood pressure, cholesterol problem, overweight, or diabetes - but the root cause, chronically elevated insulin and insulin resistance. There are no medications yet to treat this disorder - the right diet is the only remedy, but it works extremely well."
CURSE OF THE MUMMIES
"The papyrus records tell us that the early Egyptians sat down to dine on a diet consisting primarily of bread, cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, some fish and poultry, almost no red meat, olive oil instead of lard, and goat's milk for drinking and to make into cheese - a veritable nutritionist's nirvana. Except for papyrus, the Egyptians could have obtained their entire diet from the shelves of any health food store in America.
With such a bounty available, rich in all the foods believed to promote health and almost devoid of saturated fat and cholesterol, it would seem that the ancient Egyptians should have lived forever or at least should have lived long, health lives and died of old age in their beds. But did they? Let's look at the archaeological evidence.
The Bottom Line
"Modern nutritional wisdom would predict that the diet of the ancient Egyptians - high in complex carbohydrates, low in fat, no refined sugar, almost no red meat - should have brought health, fitness and longevity to the Egyptians of old. But, it didn't.
Translations of the ancient Egyptian papyrus writings and modern examination of their mummified remains by pathologists tell us quite a different tale. The evidence speaks of a people afflicted with rotten teeth and severe atheriosclerosis, suffering from elevated blood pressure and dying in their thirties with heart attacks. And contrary to the paintings of the willowy svelte figures in pleated linen that adorned their tombed walls, the large skin folds of the mummies tell us that their ancient low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet left them obese as well.
The Egyptians are not the only people whose health suffered because of a diet consisting mainly of complex carbohydrates. An anthropologist examining skeletal remains of early man can tell immediately whether the bones and teeth belonged to a hunter-gatherer (mainly protein eater) or a farmer (mainly carbohydrate eater) simply by their condition. The hunters grew tall, with strong, well-formed bones and sound teeth, and the remains of the farmers usually show skeletal signs of malnutrition, stunted growth, and tooth decay.
For 700,000 years humans ate a diet of mainly meat, fat, nuts, and berries. Eight thousand years ago we learned to farm, and as our consumption of grains increased, our health declined. Genetic evolutionary changes take a minimum of 1,000 generations - or another 8,000 to 10 000 years to adapt.
Our metabolic machinery was designed to cope with an unpredictable food supply. We had to store food away for the lean times ahead. The hormone insulin did this for us. Unfortunately a diet heavy in carbohydrates also sends our insulin levels soaring and our body interprets this as a need to store calories, to make cholesterol, and to conserve water - all important to our survival way back then.
Some of us inherit this conservation ability - a thrifty gene - in great measure. People who have this trait gain weight easily and have a more difficult time losing their excess and the current nutritional low-fat, high carbohydrate prescription leads to overweight and weight-related health problems even more quickly among them."
EXCERPTS FROM THE PROTEIN POWER LIFEPLAN
The Truth May Surprise You
" The authors who defied conventional wisdom, turned the food pyramid upside down, and helped to vastly improve personal health continue to break the rules...A New York Times bestseller for over a year, Protein Power sparked provocative debate with its assertion that our mainly carbohydrate-based diet - and not one rich in protein - is responsible for rampant obesity and heart disease among Americans. Now the authors of this exciting guide expand both their theory and their nutritional program, and show how The Protein Power LifePlan can combat diabetes, high blood pressure, auto-immune disorder, and more. ....Good health is in our birthright. Contrary to popular belief, our bodies were designed by nature to metabolize and thrive on protein and fat, and simply weren't built to handle today's typical diet of carbohydrates and processed foods. The authors have linked the rise in disease to our increasing reliance on the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that first appeared at the dinner table relatively late in human history. The keys to good health can be found by understanding how we evolved, and by eating a diet typical of our ancestors', rich in protein and good fats and full of fruits and vegetables for the antioxidant and cancer-fighting abilities."
Brain Food - Anthropological Data
"Anthropologists have known for decades that the health of humanity took a turn for the worse when our ancestors abandoned their hunter-gatherer means of subsistence in favor of the farm somewhere between eight-thousand and ten-thousand years ago. The fossil record leaves little doubt that compared to their farming successors, the hunters were more robust, had greater bone density, decreased infant mortality, a longer life span, a lower incidence of infectious diseases and iron-deficiency anemia, fewer enamel defects, and little or no tooth decay.Humans have followed a Paleolithic diet for a few million years and a "modern" agricultural diet for only a few thousand years. The not too gentle forces of natural selection have spent millennia shaping and molding our evolving line, weeding out those offshoots and mutations that didn't thrive on the available fare, reinforcing those traits that improved our survival, until we emerged as modern humans some one-hundred-thousand years or so ago. Since our modern form and physiology today is the same as that of these one-hundred-thousand-year-old ancestors, it stands to reason that we should function best on the diet they - and we, their descendants - were designed to eat, not necessarily the "prudent" diet recommended by modern nutritionists, which is often composed primarily of foods that weren't even in existence for the vast majority of our time on earth. It is by turning to the vast amount of anthropological data that we can determine what our ancestors ate for the three to four million years that we have been recognizable as humans.
Not only was meat a principal source of nutrition for developing man, it actually was the driving force allowing us to develop our large brains. For years anthropologists argued that we humans got our large brains because we had to develop them to learn hunting strategies to capture and kill game much larger, faster, and meaner than ourselves. Anthropologists Leslie Aiello and Peter Wheeler turned that idea on its head in a brilliant paper postulating that we were able to develop our large brains not to learn to hunt but because the fruits of our hunting - nutrient-dense meat - allowed us to decrease the size of our digestive tracts. The more nutrient dense the food, the less digestion it needs to extract the nutrients, and consequently the smaller the digestive tract required. (The human digestive tract, while longer than true carnivores, is the shortest of any of the primates.)
Is meat really that nutritionally dense? Let's take a look at a few examples of meat compared to plant foods and see. First, let's look at protein. Protein is the only true essential macronutrient. Fat is also essential, but you can go a lot longer without fat than you can without protein. (Carbohydrates, the third macronutrient, are totally unessential to human health.) So, if you are trying to get protein you could eat 8 ounces of elk meat, a small amount by Paleolithic standards, and get about 65 grams of it. Or you could eat almost 13 heads of lettuce to get the same amount. Or 56 bananas or 261 apples or even 33 slices of bread. If you're trying to get methionine, an essential amino acid that the body uses to make glutathione, its major antioxidant, you could eat the same 8 ounces of elk, or you could eat any of the following: 22 heads of lettuce, 127 bananas, 550 apples, or 46 slices of bread. In almost any nutrient category you want to look at, meat is going to come out a winner because of its incredible nutritional richness that doesn't require much digestive activity to get to. "
BUT WHAT IF I'M A VEGETARIAN?
" A larger percentage of our patients than you might imagine are vegetarian to some degree. With some modifications, the Protein Power LifePlan works fine for vegetarians, but before we start patients on the vegetarian version we always inquire as to their rationale for following such a diet. If they are vegetarians because they believe it a more healthy way to eat, we disabuse them of that notion quickly. If, on the other hand, they are vegetarians for ideological reasons, we have no quarrel with that and we help them modify our program to solve their health problems within the limits of their ideology. We do, however, encourage them to read a fascinating little book entitled The Covenant of the Wild that goes a long way toward removing many of the inhibitions that some people have about using animals for food. "