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Insulin and Weight Loss


Insulin is a natural hormone made by the body that is necessary for converting carbohydrates into fuel and fat.  By understanding how insulin works to create fat, you can then use this information to help you in your weight loss goals.

The Relationship between Carbohydrates and Insulin

Carbohydrates are vital as they are converted into glucose, which is the primary energy source for the brain.  The carbohydrates that are not immediately used by the body are stored in the form of glycogen.  Glycogen is stored in the muscles and the liver.  However, the glycogen in the muscles cannot be used by the brain so the brain gets all of its glycogen from the liver.  The liver is only able to store a limited amount of glycogen and its stores can be depleted in ten to twelve hours, hence why we need to eat carbohydrates.

While carbohydrates are a vital source of fuel for the body, if you eat too many of them, they will ultimately be stored as fat.  The muscles are able to store three to four hundred grams of carbohydrate while the liver can only store sixty to ninety grams.  Once these levels have been reached, the carbohydrates are converted to fat and stored in the body’s fatty tissues.  Also, if you eat foods that are high in carbohydrates, you will cause the body’s blood glucose levels to rapidly rise, and to compensate for this rise, insulin is secreted into the bloodstream in order to lower the blood glucose levels.

The issue with this is that higher levels of insulin prompts the body to store the excess carbohydrates as fat, as well as telling it not to release any of the stored fat, meaning that you are unable to use existing stored fat as energy.  High insulin levels also suppress glucagon and growth hormone.  Glucagon promotes the burning of both fat and sugar by the body while growth hormone is used to build new muscle mass and also for muscle development.

Insulin also causes hunger and one of its nicknames is actually the “hunger hormone”.  This is because the blood sugar levels increase after a meal that contains carbohydrates, causing insulin to rise as well in order to lower blood sugar.  This results in hunger, often only a couple of hours or less since your last meal, as your blood sugar levels are lower than what you need.  The more refined the carbohydrates you eat, the more extreme the response is.  This is because refined carbohydrates lack the fibre that helps to minimise the insulin response – fibre causes the blood sugar levels to rise at a steadier rate.

About Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is another problem that can cause problems with weight loss.  In a normal person, 40 percent of the carbohydrates that they consume are converted into fats.  This percentage may be much higher in a person that is suffering from insulin resistance. Some of the common complaints that are associated with insulin resistance are:

  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating or poor memory
  • low blood sugar
  • intestinal bloating
  • sleepiness
  • increased fat storage and weight
  • increased triglycerides
  • increased blood pressure
  • depression

What happens with insulin resistance is that the levels of insulin in the blood are similar or a little higher than a normal person’s, but the body’s cells become resistant to the insulin, causing the body to over-secrete insulin in order to feed the cells.  The cells respond sluggishly to the glucose, causing blood sugar levels to be higher than they should be, and when the body cannot get the glucose into the cells, the extra energy is stored in fat cells, making it easy for insulin resistant people to gain weight but difficult for them to lose it.

Insulin resistance is made worse by being overweight and physically inactive.  However, recent research has shown that a healthy diet combined with a modest weight loss (5 to 7 percent of your current weight) along with regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent.  It is important that you eat less high fat and energy dense foods, and eat smaller meals, more often.


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