Insulin Resistance – A Stone Age Human In A Carbohydrate World

We live in a culture that presently encourages consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) but our physiology did not evolve to properly metabolize these large amounts of carbohydrates.

All humans on earth evolved from a small number of hunter gatherers that migrated from the plains of Africa approximately 50,000 years ago.  These hunter gatherers ate a diet that principally consisted of large amounts of animal tissue (muscle, organs, bone marrow) and large amounts of browsing foliage (leaves, roots, berries and nuts).  Our daily consumption of carbohydrates is estimated to be a small fraction of that consumed by the average American

Our increasing level of carbohydrate consumption is responsible for the wide variety of medical disorders seen in modern culture (high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and many cancers).  These disorders are all the result of our body’s inability to process the large amounts of carbohydrates that we consume.

Over time, the high levels of carbohydrates result in a metabolic disturbance most common recognized by elevated insulin levels and is called Insulin Resistance.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It helps your body move sugar from the blood stream into the muscles and the liver where the sugar is used as fuel or converted into fatty acids that are later moved into the fat cells and are stored as energy there.

Elevated insulin levels generally promote the storage of energy in fat cells while low insulin levels generally promote the burning of fat as an energy source.

In some people, a condition of abnormal metabolism develops that causes muscle and liver cells to not respond as readily to insulin and the body has to create higher and higher levels of insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar. Doctors refer the metabolic abnormality that causes escalating levels of insulin as insulin resistance.

Insulin Resistance and the Development of Disease

Insulin resistance increases the risk of medical conditions such as:



Yes, it may seem hard to believe but all of these disorders are related to carbohydrate intake and  insulin resistance.  Over 100 years ago when most persons ate little in the way of carbohydrates, especially processed carbs such as table sugar and fructose, these diseases rarely occurred.  And if they did it was often in the more weathly individuals who could afford to purchase excess amounts of carbohydrates.

Its important to note that a reduction of carbohydrate intake to less than 100 grams per day can result in marked improvement in all of these conditions and often results in a great reduction in the need for medication.

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

Although excessive carbohydrate intake is felt to be the major factor in the development of insulin resistance, other factors may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance such as:

  • Eating too many carbohydrates (sugars and starches)
  • Aging
  • Having a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure or premature heart disease.
  • Weighing too much
  • Not enough exercise
  • Medications

The exact sequence of metabolic events that carbohydrates trigger are not yet fully elucidated but the vast majority of researchers are confident that carbohydrates are responsible for the development of insulin resistance.  There still remains a lot of scientific research to be done in order to clarify what type of carbohydrates cause insulin resistance.

Could insulin resistance be triggered by the total amount of carbs, the amount of grain-related carbs (wheat) or even just fructose (corn syrup, sucrose)?  We just don’t kow as of yet.  But what we do know is that a reduction in all forms of carbohydrates seems to greatly improve the conditions caused by insulin resistance.

How do I know if I have Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is difficult to measure by a simple blood test so doctors depend on a combination of other simple lab tests and medical conditions (listed above) in order to make the diagnosis.  If one or more of the following is true for you, you may very likely have insulin resistance:

  1. Body Mass Index is equal to or greater than 29. (click here to calculate)
  2. Fasting blood sugar level that is higher than normal (>100).
  3. Hemoglobin A1c level greater than 5.6
  4. Fasting triglycerides  higher than 150.
  5. HDL Cholesterol is less than 50 for women or 40 for men.
  6. You have an excessive amount of fat around your waist (> 40 inches for Men & > 35 inches for Women; measure a relaxed abdomen at the midpoint between the top of the pelvis and the lowest rib of your flank)
  7. One (or more) of your brothers, sisters or parents has been diagnosed with diabetes.
  8. A history of Diabetes during pregnancy.
  9. Have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea.
  10. Have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
  11. Have been diagnosed with Fatty Infiltration of the Liver.
  12. You have a skin condition known as Acanthosis Nigricans.

What are the Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance usually has no symptoms.  People may have insulin resistance for several years without noticing anything.  In some individuals, insulin resistance can cause some changes in the functioning of your nervous system that results in some very common symptoms such as:

  • Lightheadedness Upon Standing
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Frequent Urination, Day or Night
  • Urinary Dribbling
  • Abdominal Bloating
  • Rapid Fullness with Meals or Frequent Nausea
  • Excessive Sensitivity to Light
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Inability to Ejaculate
  • Sweating after Meals
  • Flushing of the Skin Constipation
  • Heart Burn
  • Dry Mouth
  • Numbness or burning sensation of the toes and feet

Fortunately, the majority of these problems will go away with a reduction in carbohydrate consumption and the reversal of insulin resistance.

Lessons Learned

Many of the symptoms we experience, heart burn, frequent urination or occasional lightheadedness are not normal, they are simply common.  They are often signs that your neurological system is not functioning properly because of excessive carbohydrate consumption.  Fortunately, the fundamental dietary components of the Science of Hunger program can make many of these symptoms completely go away.

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Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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