Hope you’re having fun going through the ABC’s of Healthy Hormones with me. This little mini-series seems to be flying by waaaaaayyyy faster than I had planned for!
*Deep breaths, Trish, deep breaths.*
Although it was tempting (so tempting) to do ‘D is for Deep Breathing’, we’re actually using D to Discuss Diabetes – so let’s get crackin’! Yup – that was figurative as well as literal because I’m egg-cited to share today’s featured recipe – my Egg-scellent Egg-vocado. It’s diabetic-friendly, high in protein, a source of good fats, low in carbs, and just tastes great – which means it’s perfect for non-diabetics as well! So keep reading for that – but first, some background about Diabetes – Types 1, 2 and 3.
Diabetes is Epidemic Worldwide
The stats are alarming all across the globe. In Canada, currently 1 in 3 people is living with diabetes or prediabetes (a condition that includes elevated blood sugars and impaired glucose metabolism). That’s 11 million people.
A 20-year old today has a 50% chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime. How’s that for a happy future to look forward to (not!)?
And 7,000 people die each year due to complications from diabetes.
This disease is no joke. According to Diabetes Canada, people living with diabetes account for:
- 30% of strokes
- 40% of heart attacks
- 50% of kidney failure requiring dialysis
- 70% of non-traumatic amputations.
And while there are certainly many other factors that contribute to Type 2 diabetes (which is what 90% of people with diabetes have), the rapid rise of obesity among both adults and children is a significant risk factor.
The cost of treating diabetes has also skyrocketed, from $14 billion in 2008 to just under $30 million this past year. That’s more than double in just a decade!
Despite its severity, a recent (April 2019) public opinion poll showed that diabetes is not well understood by Canadians.
So let’s try to do something about that now – because I don’t think there is anyone in Canada who has not been touched by this – either you have it or someone in your family has it or someone you work with or who works for you have it.
And it’s taking its toll.
Oh – and before we jump in and review the basics – let me just explain why we are focusing on diabetes during a hormone education series.
Because diabetes is a hormone imbalance disease. Insulin is one of our key hormones and when it’s out of balance, we can’t metabolize carbohydrates and that starts a cascade of symptoms that sends our bodies into turmoil.
So let’s dive in:
What is diabetes and how does it affect us?
In a fully functioning system, when we eat a meal containing carbohydrates, they get broken down into smaller units (glucose) that our body will use for energy. This causes an elevation in blood sugar levels. The pancreas produces the hormone, insulin, which is released into the bloodstream to manage the glucose by directing it into the body’s cells.
Diabetes is a chronic disorder of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism and arises when there is not enough insulin. If sugar stays in the blood, it can damage the blood vessels, organs, etc and over time, progress to more serious health conditions including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, kidney disease, neuropathy, retinopathy, amputations, pain, depression and auto-immune conditions.
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition that prevents the pancreas from creating and secreting the hormone insulin. It is often diagnosed during childhood or adolescence, and while the condition can be controlled and managed, it is not reversible.
You may be more familiar with Type 3 diabetes by its other name – Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Newer research suggests that Type 1 and 2 may both be cofactors to the neurodegeneration you see in Alzheimer’s (hence the name Type 3 diabetes), where fluctuations in brain insulin and insulin growth factors can affect the health of various structures that make up the brain. While you’re certainly not sentenced to AD if you have Type 1 or 2 Diabetes, their similarities in pathophysiology (and treatment) are no longer being overlooked and have encouraged more research.
Type 2 diabetes is all about insulin resistance, which we’ll get into below. It is a growing threat for those over age 40, and while it used to be referred to as ‘Adult-Onset Diabetes’, the rise of childhood obesity means that more and more young people are developing this condition.
It also is often referred to as a ‘lifestyle disease’, meaning what we eat, how we move, how we sleep and how we manage stress are all critical factors in whether we develop this disease or not. The good news is that Type 2 diabetes can actually be reversed if we make changes in these aspects of our life.
We can’t have a full discussion about diabetes without delving into insulin resistance because often that’s the issue we are facing when our insulin imbalances overloads our cells.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance is when cells start ignoring the signal that insulin is trying to send out, and the pancreas starts producing even more insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. This leads to high insulin levels in the blood or hyperinsulinemia.
As the cells become increasingly more resistant to insulin, the pancreas is unable to keep up with the push and may become damaged. This leads to decreased hormone production, which in turn can lead to skyrocketing blood sugar levels.
How do you become insulin resistant in the first place?
A diet high in refined carbohydrates, a high level of adipose (fat) tissue, especially belly fat, overeating and a sedentary lifestyle are all major contributors to developing insulin resistance.
Excess fructose consumption (from refined added sugars, not necessarily fruit, although fruit juice is definitely a caution), inflammation, lack of activity, and a disruption in the gut microbiota have all been linked to insulin resistance as well.
We store glucose in our muscles and our liver and when those are overloaded and we are still piling on the carbohydrates, our bodies cannot keep up. So the excess goes to our fat stores (hello love handles, belly fat, back flab, waving underarms, and double chins).
Signs & Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
Just remember, you don’t need to have them all to raise the red flag and take a closer look at your health!
- Sugar and carb cravings
- Feeling “hangry” and the desire to eat every 2-3 hours
- Extra weight, especially around the middle
- Evidence in blood work including elevated fasting blood sugar and insulin levels, high blood triglycerides and low HDL “good cholesterol” levels
- Elevated blood pressure
- Tingling sensations in hands or feet
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or ovarian cysts
- Fertility issues or irregular periods
- Scalp hair loss in women and/or increased hair growth (hirsutism) on face and other parts of body
- Skin tags, commonly found on the neck, eyelids, armpits and breasts
- Patches of dark skin (acanthosis nigricans)
- Acne and other skin issues
- Fluid retention, swelling in ankles
- Trouble concentrating
- Mood swings, irritability and/or anxiety
Insulin resistance is strongly correlated with incidences of fatty liver disease, heart disease and is a key driver of both Type 2 diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome – often referred to as “insulin resistance syndrome”.
How to go from insulin resistant to insulin sensitive
Insulin resistance can be greatly improved with some fairly simple lifestyle measures, like improving your daily diet and activity regime.
- Reduce your intake of refined carbs, especially those with a higher Glycemic Index (GI). We’re going to dive deeper into GI when we get to the letter G. But for now, if you’re insulin resistant, avoid consuming excess carbohydrates, including sweetened drinks and processed sugary foods, like commercial baked goods.
- Increase the amount of fibre in your diet. Vegetables, nuts, seeds are excellent sources. But sometimes a fibre supplement is the best way to go to ensure you are truly getting what you need.
- Eat lean protein and healthy fats (especially omega-3 fatty acids) at every meal. This helps to keep your blood sugar level balanced and reduces the amount of insulin required.
- Attain and maintain a healthy weight – reducing belly fat is especially important.
- Optimize your Vitamin D levels. Studies show that nearly all people with diabetes have Vitamin D deficiencies.
- Get active! Exercise can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and helping to boost your metabolic capacity. Regular exercise that includes strength training may be the single easiest way to improve insulin sensitivity.
- Prioritize sleep and manage stress. Excess release of the hormones adrenalin and cortisol can elevate blood glucose and blunt the cells response to insulin.
Cost to your wallet and your health
Diabetes (type 2) is both preventable and reversible. And expensive! Not only for the healthcare system but for individuals who need medication to control their blood sugar fluctuations. Canadians spend on average $1500 a year on medicines, devices and supplies and very few of these are covered by provincial health plans. The cost of insulin alone is rising dramatically and a report by the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) shows that 57% of people with insulin dependent diabetes in Canada are skimping on insulin as they are not able to afford the dosage suggested. Often the outcome of this is a trip to the ER.
When you add on the medications and interventions that are then needed to overcome the other diseases and complications that arise, it puts this hormonal imbalance in perspective as an incredibly costly – both financially and personally – condition.
This does not have to be. It’s proven over and over that changes in diet and activity can and do make a difference. You’ll save money and perhaps even save your life.
If you have concerns for yourself or for someone you love, seek out the counsel and support of an experienced hormone nutrition expert and learn how to turn your health around.
Recipe: Egg-scellent Egg-vocado
- 1 Avocado
- 2 Eggs
- Preheat oven to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Slice the avocado in half and scoop out a little flesh from each half to make room for the eggs. Place face-up on a baking sheet.
- Crack an egg in each half of the avocado and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs. Enjoy!
 Healthline: Insulin and Insulin Resistance, The Ultimate Guide
 Endocrine Web: Insulin Resistance Causes & Symptoms
 Medical News Today: Natural Ways to Improve Insulin Sensitivity
 Dr Axe: Insulin Resistance Diet Protocol
 Diabetes Canada
 NCBI: Alzheimer’s Disease is Type 3 Diabetes – Evidence Reviewed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769828/>
 CBC radio: The skyrocketing cost of insulin. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/blog/the-soaring-cost-of-insulin-1.4995290