All those meals you eat every day to keep blood sugar stable? They're gradually causing you to become insulin resistant. Here's what to do.
Whenever you cook a steak or burger, you're witnessing what's known as the Maillard reaction, which is simply the binding of proteins to sugar.
It's also virtually identical to what happens in your body when you habitually keep blood sugar levels above what the medical profession considers to be the normal fasting range (70 to 99 mg./dl).
Once these blood sugar levels start to hover over 85 mg/dl – long enough, high enough, and often enough – something called glycation starts to be a problem. It's the chemical process where sugar binds to a lipid or protein without any enzymatic regulation and it results in what are called "advanced glycation end products," or AGE.
Glycation is actually the first step in the aforementioned Maillard reaction and once it happens, proteins in the body start sticking together, thereby damaging how they function. In short, your body starts to chemically resemble that browning steak or burger. In more traditional terms, you start to age prematurely.
Not only does having perpetual high blood sugar cause you to slow-cook yourself, it also leads to a host of metabolic problems, including, but not limited to, insulin resistance and its hefty partner-in-arms, obesity.
The logical question that follows is, what causes one to have perpetually high blood sugar?
Well, aside from someone who just eats the typical American diet, the individual most prone to high blood sugar would be someone who eats large amounts several times a day and who never allows his or her self to go hungry; who, on the advice of hundreds of diet experts, tries to keep their blood sugar levels "steady" over a period of several years.
Sound like anybody you know? Geez, if I'm not mistaken, that sounds like how every bodybuilder or "physique athlete" on the planet eats, along with most health conscious people in general.
Wait, Isn't Eating Regularly Good for Blood Sugar?
In normal, healthy individuals, glucose is taken up by the blood stream and moved into the interior of cells where it's burned as fuel. The whole thing is mediated by insulin, which is produced and released by the pancreas after you eat a meal.
However, in diabetics, glucose builds up in the blood as cells are unable to utilize it properly, which leads to a condition known as insulin resistance. Over time, the pancreas peters out and can no longer produce sufficient amounts of insulin to successfully transport glucose into insulin-resistant cells.
As the disease progresses, the pancreas produces inadequate or even zero quantities of insulin, which leads to all those glycation problems and metabolic problems I mentioned earlier.
Mind-blowingly, it's estimated by various authorities that between one in three and one in five Americans will reach the aforementioned disease state by mid-century.
A good number of those Americans, maybe you among them, are only in the insulin resistant state now, years away from approaching a state that's virtually indistinguishable from Type I diabetes.
Regardless, you're probably already experiencing some of the negative side effects, and it could well be because of the presumed "healthy" way you're eating, the cornerstone of which is your rigidly scheduled 6 meals a day.
While your cells were once sensitive to insulin, they've perhaps gradually grown resistant because there's an onslaught of sugar in your blood stream almost all of the time.
Luckily, all that muscle you've built helps you manage blood sugar much better than the average Joe, but it's likely not enough. Exercise itself helps, too, but you likely work out for an hour at a time a few times a week and are largely sedentary the rest of the time.
A Little Blood Sugar History
Between 1979 and 1997, the medical establishment said that one of the criteria of diabetes was a fasting glucose rate of 140 mg/dl.
In 1997, they reevaluated their numbers and moved the diabetic ceiling to 126 mg/dl, but added that anyone who had a level over 110 showed "impaired fasting."
Scootch ahead to 2003 and they then asserted that no one should have a level over 100 mg/dl, which is where the bar rests today. Clearly, they're freaked out by elevated blood sugar and its potential problems and they don't know exactly where to erect the milligram-per-deciliter bulwark.
A hundred SEEMS like a logical number, but there's a problem with the validity of this number. It seems that the glycation, or "cooking" that I mentioned in the opening paragraph, seems to rear up its charbroiled head at blood sugar levels over 85 mg/dl, and not too many people can boast that number, let alone any value below it, especially when you spend years eating 6 or more meals a day.
Any Studies to Back This Up?
There is some experimental evidence to support the idea that eating frequently can lead to insulin resistance. One study in particular seemed to corroborate my thoughts: "Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin excursions over the course of a day" (Holmstrup, et al, 2010).
Rather than puke up all the particulars of the study, suffice it to say that a group of normal-weight test subjects who ate 6 meals a day exhibited significantly higher blood sugar values than those who ate 3. Despite eating the same amount of calories, the fewer meals group had 30% lower blood sugar values than those who ate 6 meals.
Furthermore, while the insulin response was no different between the two groups, the higher meal frequency group had higher blood glucose levels over the course of the day. That means that insulin was able to lower blood sugar more efficiently when eating fewer meals.
Additionally, there are several studies out there that suggest that fasting, which is, after all, a term that translates to eating fewer meals, increased insulin sensitivity markedly.
What's the Solution?
One solution, while certainly not foolproof, is something you're already presumably doing, which is working out.
Working muscles require glucose to fuel them and there are plenty of studies that show that acute muscle contractile activity and chronic exercise improves glucose utilization and lowers circulating blood sugar levels.
Furthermore, having bigger muscles from working out is like having big kids named Hoss, Meat, and Bull, each of whom requires more food, i.e., glucose, than the skinny neighbor kids named Frances, Sorrel, and Meadowlark.
But, as described, a lot of people who work out have perpetually high or higher blood sugar levels because they eat so often. Paradoxically, their attempts to maintain consistent blood levels have contributed to many of them becoming less insulin sensitive than they might otherwise be.
The simplest way to remedy the insulin resistance problem is to change your eating habits. Do a dietary downshift from 6 meals to 4 or even 3. You don't need to necessarily eat less, just less often.
Secondly, you could adopt some sort of intermittent fasting regimen, whether it be restricting your eating to a limited number of hours, e.g. the 16/8 (only eat during an 8-hour period) method, the 5:2 diet (5 days of normal eating followed by two days of reduced calories), the "Warrior Diet" (where you essentially eat only one giant meal at night), or any of their relatives.
These types of diets invariably lead to loss of body fat, not just because of any reduction in calories that might occur, but also because of improvements in insulin sensitivity.
The drawback of these diets, though, is that they might lead to impaired muscle growth as you're not only depriving yourself of calories, but also a regular flow of amino acids that muscles need to grow.
Lastly, you could take drugs or supplements that increase insulin sensitivity. Most well known among the former are the drugs Metformin and Acarbose, but they're not without some potentially serious side effects.
As far as supplements, things like cinnamon, chromium, apple cider vinegar, and fish oil have been used to lower blood sugar with varying degrees of success.
The most effective of these supplements, though, is probably cyandin 3-glucoside (C3G), an anthocyanin found primarily in dark-colored fruits (blueberries, blackberries, acai, etc.).
C3G, marketed by Biotest as Indigo-3G®, dramatically improves how your body handles sugar. One of several laboratory experiments using C3G showed two dosage-related drops in blood glucose of 33% and 51%, prompting the authors of the study themselves to remark how favorably it compared to glucose-disposal drugs (Grace, et al. 2009).
In addition to facilitating glucose absorption into muscle tissue, the compound also blocks elevation of leptin (along with improving leptin sensitivity), lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, blocks body fat accumulation, and inhibits intestinal enzymes that break down starch for absorption (meaning that carbs can't be easily absorbed and thus remain in the intestinal tract).
That's why people using Indigo-3G® can eat more, often lots more, and keep their insulin sensitivity extremely high while simultaneously getting leaner and more muscular. It seemingly restores insulin sensitivity in affected people, while turning up sensitivity several notches in people with supposedly normal insulin sensitivity.
As a result, you take your body "off the grill." Blood sugar levels stay low and you avoid the formation of the advanced glycation products that facilitate premature aging.
What's the Best Way to Use Indigo-3G®?
To improve glucose disposal and keep blood sugar levels in the non-cooking zone, take 4 to 6 capsules a day on an empty stomach, preferably about a half-hour before your biggest meal of the day.
On workout days, though, take it 30 minutes before you start your workout supplementation. (That way, Indigo-3G® will keep shoveling fuel into the furnace of your muscles while you work out.)
There's also an "off-label" use that I find personally helpful. Let's say I know I'm going to come face-to-face with a pizza, a birthday cake, or a mountain of flapjacks. In those situations, I'll take an extra, "insurance dose" of Indigo-3G® to ameliorate some of the blood-sugar raising, meat-cooking, body fat-accumulating effects of the impending pig-out.
While my blood sugar would surely rise at such an onslaught of carbs, the Indigo-3G® will help it get back to the safe zone a lot more quickly than might otherwise happen while also preventing me from gradually slipping into a state of insulin resistance.
- Mary H. Grace, et al. "Hypoglycemic activity of a novel anthocyanin-rich formulation from lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium Aiton," Phytomedicine. 2009 May;16(5):406-15. Epub 2009 Mar 20.
- Holmstrup, Michael, et al. "Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin excursions over the course of a day," Clinical Nutrition, ESPEN, Volume 5, Issue 6, E277-E280. December 01, 2010.
- Noordam, Raymond, et al. "High serum glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age," AGE 35, 189-195 (2013).
- Min Shi, et al. "The effect of cyanidin-3-O-β-glucoside and peptides extracted from yoghurt on glucose uptake and gene expression in human primary skeletal muscle myotubes from obese and obese diabetic participants," Journal of Functional Food, Volume 51, December 2018, pages 55-64.
- Yilin You, et al. "Cyanidin 3-glucoside attenuates high-fat and high-fructose diet-induced obesity by promoting the thermogenic capacity of brown adipose tissue," Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 41, February 2018, pages 62-71.
- "High Blood Sugar Linked to Aging and Disease," Diabetes In Control, May 5, 2002.