Blood Glucose - Insulin Sensitivity

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In the battle against obesity and war against body fat, it is important to pay attention to the body's blood glucose level, plasma level of insulin, and insulin sensitivity. The body tends to maintain the plasma glucose at a steady-state level (homeostatic regulation). Insulin is the most important fighter in maintaining the body's energy balance, energy metabolism, and homeostatic regulation of blood glucose.

blood glucose

Why is it Important to Regulate the Blood Glucose?

Regulation of blood glucose assures adequate energy supply for various organs and cells of the body. Glucose is a metabolite that is utilized for energy by every organ in the body. In particular, the brain relies exclusively on glucose for its energy needs under normal conditions. During starvation, the brain can use other metabolites for energy. If the glucose level goes down markedly or rises significantly, adverse health consequences can result.

Adverse effects of significant and markedly lowered blood level of glucose (hypoglycemia) is readily noticed by the impairment in cerebral and neural activities and responses. When the plasma glucose level is lowered, the brain will be starved of energy since it can use only glucose. The effects on the individual can range from confusion to coma and death.

Adverse effects of an elevated plasma level of glucose are numerous. Sustained elevation of plasma glucose level can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (1). It can also lead to obesity and numerous debilitating chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, arthritis, and some types of cancer.

What Does Insulin Do?

Insulin can be seen as the "energy manager" that makes sure that the body has adequate levels of metabolic fuels for the body to function properly. When metabolic fuels are abundant (for example, after food consumption), the anabolic activity of insulin goes into affect. This includes stimulation of the synthesis of glycogen and fatty acids in the liver, and facilitation of fat synthesis and storage in the fat cells.

When the body's metabolic fuels are low (for example, during fasting), the catabolic effects of insulin go into action. These effects include the break-down of glycogen to glucose in the liver. This glucose is then released into the blood for energy metabolism by the muscle cells and numerous other cells and organs. Glucose is also produced by gluconeogenesis in the liver, and released.

Gluconeogenesis is the production of glucose from amino acids (break-down products of proteins) and other metabolites such as pyruvate, lactate and oxaloacetic acid. In the fat cells, fat is broken down to fatty acids and released from storage. Fatty acids are then utilized for energy metabolism by the muscles and numerous other organs.

When the plasma level of insulin is elevated as would occur if blood glucose is elevated, anabolic action of insulin will go into effect. Fat synthesis will accelerate, and body fat level will rise. This can lead to obesity. If the insulin level remains elevated for a prolonged period, then insulin resistance can occur.

Increase in Insulin Sensitivity Makes it Easier to Lose Body Fat

In contrast to diminished responsiveness to insulin where higher concentrations of insulin are needed to carry out anabolic activities, an increase in insulin sensitivity means that the same anabolic activity can be performed at lower plasma levels of insulin. Consequently, the rate of fat synthesis would go down.

This occurs because lowered levels of insulin leads to lowered rates of fat synthesis. Additionally, the factors that stimulate the degradation and release of fat from the fat cell, such as epinephrine, can easily over-ride the effects of insulin (facilitation of fat synthesis) when insulin level is low.

If the increase in insulin sensitivity removes the individual from being insulin resistant to insulin responsive, then normal metabolic activities and responsiveness to insulin can resume. It would then become easier to lose body fat and control body weight. Proper diet and exercise can be used to improve insulin sensitivity and restore it to normal.

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