Insulin, Glucagon and Eicosanoids
Food is really the most efficient hormone delivery system. Simply put, different types of food affect different types of hormones, which are chemical messengers. This is why most of my programs and diet plans evolve around a 40-30-30 breakdown, which translates into 40 percent of calories from wholesome and essential fats, 30 percent from slow acting carbohydrates and 30 percent from lean protein foods.
Carbohydrates (think sweet potatoes, yams, peas and squash) stimulate the secretion of the hormone insulin, which is known to lower blood sugar levels and acts as a fat-storage hormone. Proteins (poultry, beef, chicken, fish, tempeh and beans) produce the hormone glucagon, which raises blood sugar levels and mobilizes fats from storage.
Fats (flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, fish oils and botanicals like black currant seeds and borage oil) are the building blocks of tissue-like hormones known as eicosanoids. Once again, it is this delicate balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that will determine the levels of these hormones in the body. Let’s start unpacking them one by one.
My Take on Insulin
Insulin, as many of you are now aware, is basically the key hormone that is the blood sugar controller after you eat any type of carbohydrate. Insulin helps muscle tissue use blood sugar as fuel for energy, and it helps store excess blood sugar in two ways.
First, insulin helps store blood sugar in the liver and stores energy as glycogen in the liver. However, the body can store only a limited amount of glycogen. Any excess beyond what the body can store is converted to body fat, again with the assistance of insulin. To increase glucagon relative to insulin, and thus enable the body to access body fat better, your body requires a more balanced proportion of carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each meal. Along with a more balanced diet, exercise also reduces insulin levels.
Whenever I find a client who is on their way to type 2 diabetes or has full-blown adult-onset diabetes, I make sure they have the right kind of carbohydrates and I include a insulin-regulating product like Weight Loss Formula which contains chromium (an essential mineral that works with insulin to help move glucose out of the blood and into cells). It also contains L-carnitine which is required for the transport of fatty acids during the breakdown of fats and Oregon grape root which is a natural source of berberine, an alkaloid compound shown to help control blood sugar and fat metabolism.
The protein hormone glucagon works in opposition to insulin. What insulin puts away in storage, glucagon puts back into use. The two hormones do not conflict with one another in the bloodstream, because when the insulin level is high, the glucagon level is low and vice versa.
When your blood sugar level drops, the pancreas secretes glucagon. It is believed that both protein-rich foods and exercise induce this process. Glucagon causes the stored sugar glycogen to be released back into the bloodstream to restore the blood sugar level. In addition to releasing glycogen, glucagon releases fat from adipose tissue. This fat is then burned as fuel.
What are the different roles of insulin and glucagon? Insulin lowers blood sugar levels while glucagon raises it. Insulin stores fat and glucagon mobilizes fat from storage. And insulin is triggered by carbohydrates while glucagon is triggered by protein. This is all about making sure there is enough production of glucagon which is so important to oppose insulin. It’s important to have easy to digest proteins like Whey Protein or Body Protein to help stabilize blood sugars. I make mine into a daily snack with the right kind of fats.
As we all now know, we need the right kinds of fats in the diet to provide the essential fatty acids that become part of the eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are natural hormones secreted by the body that control our bodily functions on a minute-by-minute momentary basis.
Prostaglandins are the only eicosanoids most people have heard of, and that is due to the importance of prostaglandins in the male sexual system. But eicosanoids have a much larger role to play in human biology than they are generally credited with. In fact, some authorities claim that eicosanoids control just about all hormones and every bodily function. They are known to be affected by the nutrients we absorb from food.
As I said earlier, the right kinds of fats are essential for eicosanoids. Healthy fats, especially essential fatty acids like those that are found in GLA-90 and CLA-1000, and the omega-3s, like those that are found in Super-EPA, provide the necessary materials for building eicosanoids. These are what I suggest for people who need to increase their eicosanoids, which helps the body dilate blood vessels, retard blood clotting, dilate bronchioles, retard cell proliferation, and strengthen immunity.
Eicosanoids also fights inflammation, lowers cholesterol, decreases pain, stimulates endocrine hormones, decreases triglycerides, and helps to fight depression. For GLA-90, I recommend taking 2 softgels twice daily with meals. For CLA-1000, take one softgel three times daily. And for Super-EPA, I recommend taking one softgel two times daily.
All-in-all, think of food as the most efficient delivery system for hormonal balance. We no longer eat for calories, but we eat for our hormones. To your health!