Insulin resistance is a two-pronged problem closely and causally related to obesity and disease. Last week we discussed insulin, insulin resistance, and the first prong to why it’s so damaging to our bodies, oxidative stress. I encourage you to go back and refresh your memory on those points because this week we’re wrapping up our series on metabolism by talking about the second prong of the insulin resistance problem, and also the big kahuna for obese people everywhere: Fat Storage.
One of the main reasons people turn to Ketogenic living is because they have body fat they want to lose, and keto is extremely efficient at burning it off during ketosis. How does all that fat get there anyway? Why is it that keto helps us not only burn fat but also reduce fat storage in the first place?
When it comes to fat creation and storage, there are several factors involved, but the primary hormone that directs fat storage and accumulation is our old friend insulin. As discussed last week, insulin opens the door to our cells and forces excess glucose out of the blood and into the cells of our muscles and/or organs, and fat tissue. But that’s not all! It is also responsible for pushing any excess fatty acids floating around in our blood into the cells as well. So it not only puts extra sugar into our cells for storage (which can then be converted into fat molecules), it also puts fat into storage.
A problem that the medical community is mildly baffled by is an inconsistency in our liver function caused by excessive insulin and insulin resistance. When insulin is released, it tells a normal liver to stop producing glucose from protein (via gluconeogenesis) and to also stop producing fat. In an insulin resistant liver, however, scientists have found that the presence of insulin does tend to stop glucose production by the organ, but it DOES NOT respond appropriately by also stopping fat production. So in the insulin resistant person, you’re not only going to have high blood glucose and a lot of excess insulin hanging around telling your body to store fat, you are also going to be producing extra fat in your liver, which will then be stored in your tissues.
Short version: insulin resistance makes you create and grow fat tissue.
Even worse, insulin is also a primary mover when it comes to the creation and storage of the dreaded visceral fat. Visceral fat is that which forms and wraps around your internal organs, and it is acknowledged as a very large factor in many diseases and medical problems.
We also previously discussed the vicious cycle that is insulin resistance: how it begins with excess blood glucose, causes insulin release which forces the excess into the cells, the excess damages the cells which causes them to react defensively and require even more insulin to open them, which in turn leads to excess glucose and the cycle starts all over again. Having all that excess insulin in your system, especially if it is chronically and persistently present, in a nutshell is constantly telling your body to store fat, including visceral fat.
In addition to being an underlying factor in disease, visceral fat is also found to excrete and circulate a specific protein that actually INCREASES insulin resistance in the cells. So your visceral fat is telling the cells in your body to resist insulin, which then leads to further resistance.
A flow chart of this process would look like this:
Excess blood glucose—> Insulin secretion—> Muscle and fat cells open to store excess fatty acids and sugar (the latter is converted into fat in the cells)—> Insulin resistance develops and more insulin is needed to process excess glucose—> More insulin tells your body to store fat, while your liver simultaneously produces more fat to be stored—> Body fat increases and visceral fat develops—> Visceral fat produces proteins that increase insulin resistance—> Excess blood glucose
As you can see, insulin resistance in relation to fat and fat storage is also a vicious and reinforcing cycle, and it also begins with excess blood glucose and insulin.
This is the other reason it is so important to control carbohydrate consumption, and in turn control insulin secretion. Keeping insulin in check not only keeps the damage in your cells from excess glucose to a minimum, it also keeps your body from mass fat creation and storage, and keeps harmful visceral fat to a minimum.
Throughout this series we’ve explored how your body gets energy, how it breaks down our food into its most basic components for use, and how it processes those components both to our benefit and our detriment. What is so wonderful about keto is that it tends to maximize the processes that are beneficial while simultaneously minimizing the processes that can lead to serious harm. By eating lots of healthy fats, we stay satiated and give our bodies the essential fatty acids it needs to build and maintain itself. By eating a sufficient amount of protein, we are supplying our bodies with essential amino acids that are required to maintain our muscles and repair our cells and DNA. And by limiting carbohydrates we can manage blood sugar and insulin secretion so as to avoid damaging our cells and organs, while also minimizing fat creation and storage.
The nutshell is this: keeping carbs low, protein moderate, and fat high helps our bodies build and restore, while also keeping damage to a minimum.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on metabolism and keto. Now go, apply what you’ve learned, and continue to keto on.