What is Insulin Efficiency?

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The hormone insulin, produced in your pancreas, plays a central role in your body. Insulin is responsible for carrying glucose (blood sugar), your body’s primary source of fuel, into your cells, where it is burned for energy. Without insulin, you would die. Insulin is also the hormone your body uses to store fat. After insulin carries enough glucose into your cells to meet their needs, it takes whatever glucose is left over and carries it off to be stored as fat.

For peak health and fitness, the insulin you produce needs to be used efficiently. To use your insulin efficiently, you want to produce just enough of it to meet your metabolic needs—and no more. Ironically, most of us can’t use our insulin efficiently, because we produce too much of it.

Here’s how it works: As you put on those extra pounds, or even just as you get older, your cells become resistant to the effect of insulin. Your pancreas has to produce more of it just to force enough glucose into your cells. Your blood sugar values are still in the normal range, so it appears that everything is fine, but you’re now making a lot more insulin to keep them there. You don’t have type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance so bad that your blood sugar is high all the time), at least not yet. What you do have is a lot of extra insulin sloshing around in your bloodstream.

Whether or not you’re insulin resistant, keeping your insulin levels as low as possible—using your insulin efficiently—is crucial for reaching your health and fitness goals.

Insulin resistance and the resultant increased insulin levels create devastating effects. It leads to a cascade of bad effects in your body, including weight gain, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, dementia, and diminished quality of life. These outcomes are not in question; the medical evidence is irrefutable. Insulin resistance will absolutely keep you from meeting your health, fitness, and weight goals, and it will continue to impact your results until you do something about it. The majority of the concepts discussed in this book are designed to create insulin efficiency and reduce the negative impacts of insulin resistance.

The idea of evaluating specific exercise techniques and dietary changes in the context of insulin efficiency is a new and very powerful framework. The Olumia Life method is unique in using these groundbreaking new concepts as the foundation of the plan.

Let’s take a closer look at insulin. You may think of it as something only people with diabetes need to think about. In fact, however, insulin is crucial to all of us, because it controls our blood sugar levels and our body fat. Insulin’s primary job is as an energy storage hormone. When we eat something, our blood sugar rises, signaling the pancreas to release insulin to use it. The insulin then does its job. Some of the glucose gets carried to your body’s cells to be used for energy; some gets carried to your liver to be stored as glycogen, your body’s go-to source of quick energy. The rest gets carried off to be converted to fat, your body’s way to store the energy for later use.

Without insulin, you can’t store fat. The more insulin, the more fat storage. When insulin levels drop, the reverse happens—energy stored as fat is utilized and burned. The bottom line is that the less excess insulin you have floating around, the better off you are going to be. Sounds pretty simple, right?

It’s actually not that simple at all. In fact, it’s extraordinarily complex. Because energy storage is so important to the survival of the species, your body has multiple pathways involved in energy storage and burning. Energy storage and use are based not only on what you eat, but also on the exercise you do and the sleep you get.

A tiny part of the brain called the hypothalamus has a huge say in what happens. The hypothalamus receives signals from many parts of the body, including those that tell it whether you’re hungry or full. It also gets signals about your general degree of fat storage. All that information reaching the hypothalamus triggers signals in return. The hypothalamus sends messages to the body, telling you if you should eat or not and if you should feel energetic or not.

An extremely important signal to the hypothalamus comes from the hormone leptin. Leptin is made by our fat cells. If you have a lot of fat cells, you make a lot of leptin. A high leptin level tells the hypothalamus that you now have plenty of stored energy and don’t need to eat to get more fuel. In fact, it’s now OK to feel like being active and have a sense of well-being. But this is where the plot thickens.

High insulin levels block the leptin signal from working in the hypothalamus. Even if you’re overweight from too much stored energy and are producing a lot of leptin from all that extra fat, your hypothalamus isn’t getting the message. It thinks your energy balance is too low (you’re starving) and tells your body to do whatever it can to increase energy stores. In other words, you feel hungry and less energetic, because your hypothalamus is telling you to eat more and conserve energy.

Remember, insulin resistance means you need higher levels of insulin to get the job done. But insulin resistance also means more insulin in your bloodstream, which blocks the leptin signal and causes a cascade of overeating, underexercising, and all the bad things that come from that. When you improve your insulin efficiency, your insulin levels are lower, leptin isn’t blocked, and your hypothalamus gets the leptin message clearly. You feel better, look better, and are far healthier.

The insulin/leptin connection doesn’t stop at the hypothalamus. Another brain pathway that is affected by insulin and leptin is the one that regulates “reward.” In other words, this brain function, also known as the dopamine pathway, makes you feel good in response to something. Most researchers believe the pathway is there to make sure behaviors important to survival of the species are desirable because they produce a positive feeling of reward. Sex is pleasurable, so we want to do it, thereby ensuring reproduction. Food is pleasurable, so we want to eat it and get the nutrition necessary to live. The reward pathways are particularly strong for foods that are palatable, meaning they’re high in sugar and fat.

As you might imagine, the reward system in your brain is highly complex. What’s relevant to us, however, is that leptin helps extinguish the feeling of reward from food. When leptin levels are high because you have enough body fat, the reward pathway becomes less responsive. That lowers your desire for food because you don’t get as much of a reward from eating—it becomes less pleasurable. You eat less and put your energy toward other things.

Guess what too much insulin does to the dopamine reward pathway? You’re right—the increased insulin levels from insulin resistance keeps leptin from acting appropriately.  When insulin blocks leptin’s actions in the reward pathway, you continue to get increased pleasure from your food, even though you don’t need to eat more for energy. In other words, you don’t feel satiated by your food, even when you eat a lot of it.  Over time, it takes even more of those sweet and fatty foods to give you the same satisfaction that you got in the beginning.

This leads to our eating more and more and creates pleasure when we do. Now you know why you crave all of those things that you know just aren’t good for you.

Think about it. When your insulin efficiency is poor, or in other words, when your insulin levels are higher than they need to be, the signals that tell you to stop eating are blurred. Your body tells you that you need to eat more, even when you don’t. It tells you that you’re tired and need to conserve energy even when you don’t need to, so you feel less like being active and have a lowered sense of well-being. And your body tells you that sugary and fatty foods sure look awesome. It’s no wonder the Twinkie is so popular they had to bring it back. And it’s no wonder we can’t stick to an eating program and have success.

That’s why the Olumia Life program works. It’s specifically designed to improve insulin efficiency and lower insulin resistance and insulin levels. When that happens, your body sends the right signals at the right time—and the signals get through as they should. If you’ve tried other approaches, that’s why they haven’t worked out over the long term, they didn’t deal with the fundamental underlying issue of insulin resistance and didn’t restore your insulin efficiency.

If you have all of these factors constantly fighting against you, it creates a tremendous headwind to success. The type, variety, order, and progression of exercise is vital to improving insulin efficiency. If you aren’t doing this the right way, you just aren’t going to get much bang for the buck. The proper nutritional strategy is of course another key. Knowing the proper approach to sleep helps you even more—the quality of your sleep has surprisingly far-reaching effects on your health. Any one of these components is helpful, but optimal health is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The Olumia Life method takes into account how these factors interrelate. By combining them all in an intelligent way, you will reap tremendous rewards. This is a battle that can be won as long as you know you’re in a battle and you understand the right way to fight.

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