Suppress Insulin Levels to Lose Weight

As we all know, obesity is now considered a pandemic. In the US, prevalence rates of obesity have almost doubled from 12.8% to 22.5% during the last couple of decades (Kuczmarski et al., 1994; Mokdad et al., 1999). Diet interventions or exercise alone has been unsuccessful in controlling obesity and the accompanying metabolic diseases. A combination of the two seems more appropriate in controlling obesity. Also, recent research reporting the role of insulin in causing the obesity syndrome has lead to the belief that decreasing insulin secretion may help weight loss. In fact, suppression of insulin in the absence of any dietary or exercise interventions seems to cause weight loss (Velasquez-Mieyer et al., 2003).

Thus, a combination of exercise, dietary interventions by reducing refined carbohydrates and intermittent fasting – all working towards suppression of insulin secretion and reducing circulating levels of insulin in blood – may likely be the best way to fight obesity.

Role of Insulin in Obesity

Obese people exhibit raised insulin levels in their blood – a condition called hyperinsulinemia (Haffner et al., 1996; Lillioja et al., 1991). Whether the raised levels are responsible for causing obesity or obesity causes raised levels of insulin is not known. Although it is not known whether raised insulin levels are a cause or effect of obesity, research does prove that hyperinsulinemia is associated with development of obesity (Le and Bougneres, 1994; Sigal et al., 1997; Taylor et al., 1994), increased calorie intake (Brandes, 1977), increased carbohydrate craving (Brandes, 1977) and a lethargic lifestyle (Cohen et al., 1986; Woods et al., 1974).

In humans, insulin is responsible for storage of excess calories in the form of body fat (Marin et al., 1987). Within the fat cells, insulin regulates fat metabolism by affecting the secretion of enzymes and genes:

  • Enzyme acetyl-CoA carboxylase
  • Enzyme lipoprotein lipase (promotes breakdown of fat – starvation seems to increase synthesis of this enzyme)
  • Enzyme fatty acid synthase (promotes formation of fats)
  • Expression of Glut4 gene (for Glut4 – a glucose transporter for fat cells responsible for carrying glucose into fat/muscle cells)

Effective Strategy of Weight Loss

As stated earlier, a combination of daily exercise, dietary interventions by altering the macronutrient content and intermittent fasting seems to the best way to induce weight loss. Scientific evidence in support of this seems to be overwhelming.

• Acute exercise – seems to stimulate glucose transporter proteins which otherwise need insulin for stimulation – such as occurs after a meal. Thus, glucose is transported into muscle cells; this process takes place without the need for increasing insulin secretion (Douen et al., 1990) Reduced circulating insulin levels ensure that excess calorie are not deposited as fat. Low levels of insulin for prolonged periods also increase insulin sensitivity. Thus, this can have an application in treatment of type 2 diabetes as well!

• Intermittent fasting – for example alternate day fasting – will also reduce circulating insulin levels and have effects mentioned above.

• Changing dietary macronutrient content – suppression of secretion and circulating levels of insulin seem to decrease carbohydrate craving (eating sugary things) and alter the intake of macronutrients (Velasquez-Mieyer et al., 2003), i.e., a person is more likely to eat proteinaceous food.

Thus, controlling insulin levels in your body seems to hold the key in suppressing obesity and its associated ill-effects. To conclude, a smarter, more effective and quicker way to lose weight and fight obesity would be to implement exercise and dietary interventions (decrease sugars and increase protein content of food) coupled with intermittent fasting.

References Cited

Brandes, J. S., 1977, Insulin induced overeating in the rat: Physiol Behav., v. 18, no. 6, p. 1095-1102.

Cohen, P., N. Barzilai, D. Barzilai, and E. Karnieli, 1986, Correlation between insulin clearance and insulin responsiveness: studies in normal, obese, hyperthyroid, and Cushing’s syndrome patients: Metabolism, v. 35, no. 8, p. 744-749.

Douen, A. G., T. Ramlal, S. Rastogi, P. J. Bilan, G. D. Cartee, M. Vranic, J. O. Holloszy, and A. Klip, 1990, Exercise induces recruitment of the “insulin-responsive glucose transporter”. Evidence for distinct intracellular insulin- and exercise-recruitable transporter pools in skeletal muscle: Journal of Biological Chemistry, v. 265, no. 23, p. 13427-13430.

Haffner, S. M. et al., 1996, Increased insulin resistance and insulin secretion in nondiabetic African-Americans and Hispanics compared with non-Hispanic whites. The Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study: Diabetes, v. 45, no. 6, p. 742-748.

Kuczmarski, R. J., K. M. Flegal, S. M. Campbell, and C. L. Johnson, 1994, Increasing prevalence of overweight among US adults. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1960 to 1991: JAMA, v. 272, no. 3, p. 205-211.

Le, S. C., and P. Bougneres, 1994, Early changes in postprandial insulin secretion, not in insulin sensitivity, characterize juvenile obesity: Diabetes, v. 43, no. 5, p. 696-702.

Lillioja, S., B. L. Nyomba, M. F. Saad, R. Ferraro, C. Castillo, P. H. Bennett, and C. Bogardus, 1991, Exaggerated early insulin release and insulin resistance in a diabetes-prone population: a metabolic comparison of Pima Indians and Caucasians: J Clin Endocrinol.Metab, v. 73, no. 4, p. 866-876.

Marin, P., M. Rebuffe-Scrive, U. Smith, and P. Bjorntorp, 1987, Glucose uptake in human adipose tissue: Metabolism, v. 36, no. 12, p. 1154-1160.

Mokdad, A. H., M. K. Serdula, W. H. Dietz, B. A. Bowman, J. S. Marks, and J. P. Koplan, 1999, The spread of the obesity epidemic in the United States, 1991-1998: JAMA, v. 282, no. 16, p. 1519-1522.

Sigal, R. J., M. El-Hashimy, B. C. Martin, J. S. Soeldner, A. S. Krolewski, and J. H. Warram, 1997, Acute postchallenge hyperinsulinemia predicts weight gain: a prospective study: Diabetes, v. 46, no. 6, p. 1025-1029.

Taylor, S. I., D. Accili, and Y. Imai, 1994, Insulin resistance or insulin deficiency. Which is the primary cause of NIDDM?: Diabetes, v. 43, no. 6, p. 735-740.

Velasquez-Mieyer, P. A., P. A. Cowan, K. L. Arheart, C. K. Buffington, K. A. Spencer, B. E. Connelly, G. W. Cowan, and R. H. Lustig, 2003, Suppression of insulin secretion is associated with weight loss and altered macronutrient intake and preference in a subset of obese adults: Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, v. 27, no. 2, p. 219-226.

Woods, S. C., E. Decke, and J. R. Vasselli, 1974, Metabolic hormones and regulation of body weight: Psychol.Rev, v. 81, no. 1, p. 26-43.

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Dr. Deepak S Hiwale

Dr. Deepak S Hiwale, a.k.a "The Fitness Doc" specializes in sports medicine in addition to being an elite personal trainer. He currently runs an elite personal training company in West London. As a sports injury and fitness writer-presenter, he tries to disseminate as much knowledge as possible for the benefit of all. MBBS (University of Pune); MSC, Sports and Exercise Medicine (University of Glasgow); Diploma in Personal Training (YMCA Dip. PT, London).

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