Insulin and Its Metabolic Effects
By Ron Rosedale, M.D.
Presented at Designs for Health Institute's BoulderFest, August 1999 Seminar
First, let's talk about a couple of case histories. These are actual patients that I've seen; let's start with patient A. This patient saw me one afternoon and said that he had literally just signed himself out of the hospital "AMA," or against medical advice. Like in the movies, he had ripped out his IVs.
The next day he was scheduled to have his second by-pass surgery. He had been told that if he did not follow through with this surgery, within two weeks he would be dead. He couldn't even walk from the car to the office without severe chest pain.
He was on 102 units of insulin and his blood sugars were 300 plus. He was on eight different medications for various things. But his first by-pass surgery was such a miserable experience that he said he would rather die than go through the second one. He came to me because he had heard that I might be able to prevent this.
To make a long story short, this gentleman right now is on no insulin. I first saw him three and a half years ago. He plays golf four or five times a week. He is on no medications whatsoever, he has no chest pain, and he has not had any surgery. He started an organization called "Heart Support of America" to educate people about the alternatives to by-pass surgery that have nothing to do with surgery or medication. That organization, as he last told me, had a mailing list of over a million people.
Patient B is a 42-year-old man who was referred by patient A. He had a triglyceride level of 2200, a cholesterol level of 950 and was on maximum doses of all his medications. He was not fat at all; he was fairly thin.
This man was told that he had familial hyperlipidema and that he had better get his affairs in order, because if that was what his lipids were despite the best medications with the highest doses, he was in trouble.
Whenever I see a patient on any of those medications, they're off the very first visit. They have no place in medicine. He was taken off the medications and in six weeks his lipid levels, both his triglycerides and his cholesterol, were hovering around 220. After six more weeks, they were both under 200, off of the medications. As I said earlier, they have no place in medicine.
I should mention that this patient had a CPK that was quite elevated. It was circled on the lab report that he had brought in initially with a question mark by it because they didn't know why. The reason why was because he was eating off his muscles--if you take (gemfibrozole) and any of the HMG co-enzyme reductase inhibitors together, this is a common side effect, which is in the PDR; they shouldn't be given together.
So, he was chewing up his muscles, including his heart, which they were trying to treat. If indeed he were going to die, it would be that treatment that would kill him.
Let's go to something totally different — a lady with severe osteoporosis. This fairly young woman was almost three standard deviations below the norm in both the hip femeral neck and the cervical vertebrae and was very worried about getting a fracture. She was put on a high-carbohydrate diet and told that this would be of benefit. She was also placed on estrogen, which is a fairly typical treatment.
They wanted to put her on some other medicines, but she wanted to know if there was an alternative. Although we didn't have as dramatic a turn around in this case, we did take her off the estrogen she was on and got her to one standard deviation below the norm in a year.
Severe Angina of the Leg
Claudication, that is, severe angina of the leg when you walk (this is the same thing as angina of the heart, except of the leg), is characterized by pain in the legs after walking a certain distance.
My stepfather had extremely severe claudication. It was a typical case; he would walk about fifty yards and then get severe, crampy pain in his legs. He was going to see the best doctors in Chicago, but they couldn't figure out what was wrong with him initially.
For example, he went to a neurologist who thought it might be neurological pain or back pain. Finally, he went to a vascular surgeon who thought it was vascular disease, so they did an arthrogram — sure enough he had severe vascular disease. They wanted to do the by-pass surgery that is typically done for this, and he was considering it because he had a trip planned to Europe in two weeks, and he wanted to be able to walk around.
Ten years prior he'd had an angioplasty for heart disease. At the time I'd told him to change his diet, but of course he didn't. This time, however, he listened. I said that if he did exactly as I told him, he could avoid the by-pass and be walking just fine in two weeks. Modulating this one aspect of his disease — I have never seen it fail — works very quickly to open up the artery.
High Cancer Risk
This patient had a mother and sister who had both died of breast cancer. I put her on the exact same treatment as the other cases I just mentioned, because they all had the same thing wrong with them.
A Problem with Typical Treatments
What would be the typical treatment of cardiovascular disease? First they check the cholesterol. To treat high cholesterol (over 200) they put you on cholesterol lowering drugs, which shut off your CoQ10. What does CoQ10 do? It is involved in the energy production and protection of little energy furnaces in every cell, so energy production goes way down.
A common side effect of people who are on all these HMG co-enzyme reductase inhibitors is that their arms feel heavy. Well, the heart is a muscle too, and it's going to feel heavy too.
One of the best treatments for a weak heart is CoQ10 (for congestive heart failure). But doctors have no trouble shutting CoQ10 production off so that they can treat a number.
The common therapy for osteoporosis is drugs, and the common therapy for calaudication is surgery. For cancer reduction there is nothing.
But all of these have a common cause — the same cause as three major avenues of research in aging, one of which is called caloric restriction.
Caloric Restriction Research
There have been thousands of studies done since the 1950s on caloric restriction of laboratory animals. If you restrict calories but maintain a high level of nutrition, called CRONs (Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition), or adequate nutrition, CRANs (Caloric Restriction with Adequate Nutrition), these animals can live anywhere between 30 percent and 200 percent longer, depending on the species.
Researchers have tested caloric restriction on several dozen species, and the results are uniform throughout. They are doing it on primates now, and it seems to working with primates, though we won't know for sure for about another 10 years.
There are three major centenarian studies going on around the world. They are trying to find the variable that would confer longevity among this group of people who live to be 100 years old. Why do centenarians become centenarians? Why are they so lucky? Is it because they have low cholesterol, exercise a lot and live a healthy, clean life?
Well, the oldest person ever recorded was Jean Calumet of France who died last year at 122 years of age. She smoked all of her life and drank.
What researchers are finding from these major centenarian studies is that there is hardly anything in common among these people. They have high cholesterol and low cholesterol, some exercise and some don't, some smoke, some don't. Some are nasty as can be, some nice and calm and some are ornery.
But, they all have relatively low sugar for their age, and they all have low triglycerides for their age.
And, they all have relatively low insulin.
A Common Cause
Insulin is the common denominator in everything I've just talked about. They way to treat cardiovascular disease and the way I treated my stepfather, the way I treated the high risk cancer patient, and the osteoporosis and high blood pressure. The way to treat virtually all of the so-called chronic diseases of aging is to treat insulin itself.
The other major avenue of research in aging has to do with genetic studies of so-called lower organisms. We know the genetics involved. We've got the entire genes mapped out of several species of yeast and worms now. We think of life span as being fixed, sort of.
Humans tend to have an average life span of 76 years, and the maximum lifespan was this French lady at 122 years. In humans we feel this length of time is relatively fixed, but in lower forms of life it is very plastic. Lifespan is strictly a variable depending on the environment. Other species can live two weeks, two years or sometimes 20 years depending on what they want themselves to do, which depends very much on the environment.
If there is a lot of food around they are going to reproduce quickly and die quickly, if not they will just bide their time until conditions are better. We know now that the variability in lifespan is regulated by insulin.
Often it is thought that insulin's role is strictly to lower blood sugar. I once had a patient list off about eight drugs she was on and not even mention insulin. Insulin is not treated as a drug. In fact, in some places you don't even need a prescription, you can just get it over the counter, it's treated like candy.
Insulin is found in even single-celled organisms and has been around for several billion years. Its purpose, in some organisms, is to regulate lifespan. The way genetics works is that genes are not replaced, they are built upon. We have the same genes as everything that came before us--we just have more of them.
We have added books to our genetic library, but our base is the same. What we are finding is that we can use insulin to regulate lifespan too.
Aging is a Disease
If there is a single marker for lifespan, as they are finding in the centenarian studies, it is insulin, specifically insulin sensitivity.
How sensitive are your cells to insulin? When they are not sensitive, the insulin levels go up. Who has heard of the term insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is the basis of all of the chronic diseases of aging, because the disease itself is actually aging.
We know now that aging is a disease. The other case studies that I mentioned, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, cancer, all the so-called chronic diseases of aging and auto-immune diseases, those are symptoms.
If you have a cold and you go to the doctor, you have a runny nose. I did Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) for 10 years so I know what the common treatment for that is, a decongestant. I can't tell you how many patients I saw who had been given Sudafed by their family doctors for a cold who then came to see me afterward because of a really bad sinus infection.
What happens when you treat the symptom of a runny nose from a cold and you take a decongestant? Well, it certainly decongests you by shutting off the mucus, but why do you have the mucus? It's because your body is trying to clean and wash out the membranes. What else is in mucus? Secretory IgA, a very strong antibody to kill the virus. If there is no mucus, there is no secretory IgA.
Decongestants also constrict blood vessels, the little capillaries, or arterioles, that go to those capillaries, and the cilia, the little hair-like projections that beat to push mucus along to create a stream. They get paralyzed because they don't have blood flow, so there is no more ciliary movement.
What happens if you dam a stream and create a pond?
In days you've got larvae growing, but if the stream is moving, you are fine. You need a constant stream of mucus to get rid of and prevent an infection. I am going into this in some detail because in almost all cases, if you treat a symptom you are going to make the disease worse. The symptom is there as your body's attempt to heal itself.
Now, the medical profession is continually segregating more and more symptoms into diseases--they call the symptoms diseases. Using ENT for example, a patient will walk out of the office with a diagnosis of Rhinitis, which is inflammation of the nose. Is there a reason why that patient has inflammation of the nose? I think so. Wouldn't that underlying cause be the disease as opposed to the descriptive term of Rhinitis or Pharyngitis?
Someone can have the same virus and have Rhinitis, Pharyngitis or Sinusitis. They can have all sorts of "itis's," which is a descriptive term for inflammation. That is what the code will be, and that is what the disease will be. So they treat what they think is the disease, but which actually is just a symptom.
The same thing happens with cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol it is called hypercholesterolemia. Hypercholesterolemia has become the code for the disease when it is only the symptom. So doctors treat that symptom, and what are they doing to the heart? Messing it up.
What you have to do if you are going to treat any disease is get to the root of the disease. If you keep pulling a dandelion out by its leaves, you are not going to get very far. But the problem is that we don't know what the root is.
The root is known in many other areas of science, but the problem is that medicine really isn't a science; it is a business (but I don't want to get into that, we could talk for hours).
You really need to look at the root of what is causing the problem. We can use that cold as a further example.
Why does that person have a cold?
If he saw the doctor, the doctor might tell him to take an antibiotic along with the decongestant. You see this all the time because the doctor wants to get rid of the patient. In almost all cases of an upper respiratory infection, it is a virus, and the antibiotic is going to do worse than nothing, because it is going to kill the bacterial flora in the gut and impair the immune system, making the immune system worse.
The patient might see someone else more knowledgeable who will say, "No, you caught a virus, don't do anything, go home and sleep, let your body heal itself." That's better. You might see someone else who would ask why you caught a virus without being out there trying to hunt for viruses with a net. We are breathing viruses every day; right now we are breathing viruses, cold viruses and rhinoviruses.
So why doesn't everybody catch a cold tomorrow?
The Chinese will tell you that it is because the milieu has to be right, if the Chinese were to quote the French. Your body has to be receptive to that virus — only if your immune system is depressed will it allow that virus to take hold.
So maybe a depressed immune system is the disease. You can be given a bunch of vitamin C because your immune system is depressed and it is likely that the person has a vitamin C deficiency. That's where most of us are at right now, where we would recommend a bunch of vitamin C to try to pick up the immune system.
But why is the vitamin C not working? Vitamin C is made in almost all living mammals except humans and a couple of other species. Vitamin C is made directly from glucose and actually has a similar structure; they compete for one another.
It has been known for many decades that sugar depresses the immune system. It was only in the 70s that they found out that vitamin C was needed by white blood cells so that they could phagocytize bacteria and viruses. White blood cells require a fifty times higher concentration, at least inside the cell as outside, so they have to accumulate vitamin C.
There is something called a phagocytic index, which tells you how rapidly a particular macrophage or lymphocyte can gobble up a virus, bacteria or cancer cell. In the 70s Linus Pauling knew that white blood cells needed a high dose of vitamin C and that is when he came up with his theory that you need high doses of vitamin C to combat the common cold.
But if we know that vitamin C and glucose have similar chemical structure, what happens when sugar levels go up? They compete for one another upon entering the cells. And the thing that mediates the entry of vitamin C into the cells is the same thing that mediates the entry of glucose into the cells. If there is more glucose around then less vitamin C will be allowed into the cell, and it doesn't take much glucose to have this effect. A blood sugar value of 120 reduces the phagocytic index 75 percent.
Here we are getting a little bit further down into the roots of disease. It doesn't matter what disease you are talking about, whether you are talking about a common cold or cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or cancer, the root is always going to be at the molecular and cellular level, and I will tell you that insulin is going to have its hand in it, if not totally control it.
What is the purpose of insulin?
As I mentioned earlier, in some organisms it is to control their lifespan. What is the purpose of insulin in humans? Your doctor will say that it's to lower blood sugar, but I will tell you right now that that is a trivial side effect. Insulin's evolutionary purpose as is known right now, we are looking at other possibilities, is to store excess nutrients.
We come from a time of feast and famine when if we couldn't store the excess energy during times of feasting, we would not be here because all of our ancestors encountered famine. We are only here because our ancestors were able to store nutrients, which they were able to do because they were able to elevate their insulin in response to any elevation in energy that the organism encountered.
When your body notices that sugar is elevated, it is a sign that you've got more than you need; you're not burning it so it is accumulating in your blood. So insulin will be released to take that sugar and store it. How does it store it? Glycogen?
Your body stores very little glycogen at any one time. All the glycogen stored in your liver and muscle wouldn't last you through one active day. Once you fill up your glycogen stores that sugar is stored as saturated fat, 98 percent of which is palmitic acid.
So the idea of the medical profession recommending a high complex-carbohydrate, low-saturated-fat diet is an absolute oxymoron. A high-complex-carbohydrate diet is nothing but a high-glucose diet, or a high-sugar diet. Your body is just going to store it as saturated fat, and the body makes it into saturated fat quite readily.
Insulin's Other Roles
Insulin doesn't just store carbohydrates, by the way. Somebody mentioned that it is an anabolic hormone, and it absolutely is. Body builders are injecting themselves with insulin because it builds muscle and stores protein.
A less known fact is that insulin also stores magnesium. But if your cells become resistant to insulin, you can't store magnesium so you lose it through urination.
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