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  • Dr. Corina Fratila

Insulin Resistance: The Single Biggest Hormonal Disorder We Face

I find Dr. Hyman's explanation of insulin resistance and subsequent hormonal disorders due to our food intake particularly appealing:

"The single biggest hormonal disorder we face is insulin resistance. One in two Americans has pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes and 75 percent are overweight—all suffering from too much insulin, which is the direct result of the mountains of sugar and flour we consume. That insulin overload creates a domino effect. It drives all those excess calories into fat cells that in turn produce messengers that increase hunger, slow metabolism, prevent fat burning, and spike inflammation.

In women, too much insulin turns estrogen into testosterone. The result is something misleadingly called polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is not an ovarian problem; it is a dietary problem. The extra testosterone in women also causes hair loss, facial hair, acne, infertility, and others.

In men, the testosterone gets converted to estrogen, which is why men with big bellies often have man boobs, low testosterone, impotence, loss of hair on their bodies, and more. It's no fun.

The same high sugar and starch diet also spikes the hormone cortisol. When you eat a sugar-laden diet, your body literally perceives it as stress, just like when a tiger chases you. Adrenaline and cortisol increase, worsening insulin resistance and increasing cravings for sugar and starch. The cure: A whole foods, good fat, plant-rich, fiber-rich, low glycemic, and phytonutrient-rich diet. This is what I call the Pegan Diet.

The Connection Between Sex Hormones and Diet

Many hormonal problems also result from imbalances in sex hormone metabolism including menopause, PMS, and female cancers. We live in a culture that drives excess estrogen and increases toxic estrogens in the body. Too much sugar, low fiber diets, nutritional deficiencies, alcohol, xenoestrogens (pesticides, plastics, environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen), stress, and lack of exercise all drive hormonal imbalances.

Estrogen is metabolized and excreted through the liver and bile. If you are constipated or have an unhealthy gut microbiome (mostly caused by our low fiber, processed diet), the estrogen can get reabsorbed leading to breast and uterine cancer and worsening PMS and menopause. Certain fibers, for example in flaxseeds, contain lignans which help detoxify and improve estrogen metabolism reducing cancer risk.

For men, testosterone levels are inversely related to their insulin levels. Getting off the sugar and starch helps boost testosterone levels. Increasing fats also helps boost testosterone. In fact, your sex hormones are made from cholesterol. The best treatment for sexual dysfunction is cutting out the crappy diet, eating foods that help blood flow, and increasing good fats.

The Epidemic of Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid function is also affected by what we eat. One in 10 men and 1 in 5 women have low thyroid function. Low thyroid function can be triggered by gluten, and diets low in zinc, selenium, vitamin D, and iodine. Environmental toxins often found in our food such as pesticides and mercury also damage our thyroid. Adding foods rich in zinc (pumpkin seeds and oysters), selenium (sardines and Brazil nuts), vitamin D (herring and porcini mushrooms), and iodine (seaweed and fish) can help optimize thyroid function.

As you can see, our hormones and messengers are highly influenced by what we eat. The biggest factor impacting your communication system is reversing insulin resistance. The good news is that reversing insulin resistance starts at home, with your next bite. "


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