Paul Davis DNM
Dietary and Lifestyle Factors and Their Impact on Insulin Resistance, Obesity, Diabetes, PCOS, Metabolic Syndrome, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease
Most of us have grown up eating the SAD, ‘standard american diet’. At some point many of us will have realized that it’s not a very healthy diet. If you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably tried to upgrade your dietary choices by reducing saturated fat, eating whole grains and cutting back on refined carbs and eating more vegetables and fruits. Hopefully that has helped you with your weight loss goals, hormonal health and perhaps with your cholesterol or blood sugar regulation. If not, please take a look at some of the ideas I’m presenting here.
If you’re gaining weight as the years go on you may be getting more calories than you require for your lifestyle energy output. That’s probably not a surprise! What seems to be surprising to many is that simply cutting down on total daily calories often does not help with people’s weight loss goals.
If your cholesterol is going up as the years go on even though you have tried to reduce excess fats that may be puzzling too. If you have been told by your doctor that you are Pre-diabetic, have PCOS, Metabolic Syndrome or NAFLD (Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease or Heart Disease), you may not have realized that these conditions are all related to poor blood sugar control and/or insulin resistance.
After being in practice for 25 years I have seen a lot of dietary trends come and go, and as I’ve observed patients (and myself) aging I’d say that in general, most people tend to underestimate their progression of disease over time. We don’t see a lot of it because it’s on the inside and we’re all involved in the day to day challenges of life so that gradual changes in our health bio-markers end up being low in priority. If our annual check up is ‘OK’ we feel that we’re on track to continued good health.
We may be told that our cholesterol is beginning to get a bit high, or perhaps the blood sugar is at a pre-diabetic level, or that our blood pressure is starting to go up but there are medications for that so it’s manageable. And medications are certainly an excellent answer for poor control of blood sugar and cardiovascular risk factors. However, relying on them only to solve the problem is not the best first line approach. A best first line approach should usually include a very pro-active and personalized diet and lifestyle prescription.
If you have been diagnosed with any of the above conditions, then you can assume that the day before you were diagnosed you were heading there for months and perhaps years or decades. So I think it’s safe to say that being more pro-active about preventing health decline will very likely pay off in terms of quality and quantity of life. We can reverse our biological age by eating better food, increasing physical activity, improving our home, work and play environments and by managing stress more effectively.
In this article I’m focusing on dietary factors because for most people learning how to shop for and prepare high micronutrient density low-glycemic foods is a challenging learning curve. If you rely on standard dietary guidelines and prepared food ingredient lists to guide you, you will likely fall short of your goals. The reason is that there are too many low-quality options within the standard guideline categories. Food companies tend to formulate their products so that they are inexpensive to manufacture, tasty and have a long shelf life; purity and nutrient content is sacrificed. Nutritional content is generally inferior to that found in fresh foods and the presence of artificial flavours and colour enhancers, low-quality oils, excess salt, excess sugars or sweeteners and other non-nutritional components have questionable merit. I think many people realize this and have been trying to cook more meals from scratch, eat ‘slow food’ rather than fast food and avoid chemical food additives when possible.
Unfortunately, many people who have improved their diets are still slowly or quickly developing insulin resistance as they age. The fasting blood sugar looks OK but your body is having to make a lot more insulin to control it, because the insulin receptors are not responding as they previously did. Baseline insulin levels go up. Having chronic over-secretion of insulin negatively impacts all of the conditions I’ve listed above. Long term negative consequences also include a higher risk for many cancers as well as Alzheimer’s Disease, a disease that will become more and more common as Baby Boomer’s and Gen Xers enter their later years.
The reasons that insulin resistance occurs are somewhat complex and include dietary and lifestyle stress, genetics as well as environmental factors. However, this process can be reversed to a large extent and managed well with the consistent application of an individualized lifestyle ‘prescription’. There is no ‘one size fits all approach’ and I would not suggest a dietary plan to a patient without sitting down with them and looking at their lifestyle factors and dietary patterns and negotiating a plan they can live with!
I believe in a complementary medical model where conventional and alternative solutions to health care challenges are given equal consideration. I do not advise patients to discontinue their current medications and I am happy to work with their primary health care practitioners to strike a balance between therapeutic lifestyle change and conventional management of risk factors. I believe that this complementary model of health care is essential for optimal health outcomes at the personal and public health level.
Going forward, I see a clear need for more attention to be placed on the prevention and early intervention of insulin resistance-related diseases. A personalized lifestyle and dietary approach can help many people who trying to figure out what they can do to be and feel healthier. If a patient wants to work on their health and wellness pro-actively, Naturopathic Medicine provides an approach that can provide inspiration and workable solutions!