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Insulin Resistance and Morbid Obesity

Aug 17, 2007
We are suffering an obesity epidemic in the United States. About 66 million people are classified as 'obese,' which means that they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30%. That means that a person's body is over 30% fat.

Morbid Obesity: An Epidemic

Even more concerning is the number of 'morbidly obese' people in the US. One in six, or over 10 million people, is defined in this category. That means that they have a BMI of 40 or greater. When you assume that a healthy person has a BMI of 20 or less, a morbidly-obese person has over twice the body fat of a person at a healthy weight.

We all know that morbid obesity can cause heart problems and strokes. What many don't know is that morbidly obese people suffer from high rates of diabetes. For the most part, their diabetes emerges because they don't exercise enough and eat too much.

How the Body Processes Food

The body has a clever way to process the food we eat, as long as we eat in a healthy way. The food we eat is converted by the liver to glucose (for energy) and fat (for fat storage). If the body needs energy, our cells can process the glucose circulating in our bloodstream. As we 'burn' those sugars, the body sends signals to the pancreas to produce more insulin.

Our cells absorb the increasing insulin in the bloodstream, which tells them to absorb more glucose. Falling glucose levels stimulate the liver to send more energy to the cells. The liver 'decides' between converting more food to glucose, or converts the fats in our body to glucose.

That's how it works in a well-functioning body.

Our Systems Can Break Down

If we become morbidly obese, this self-correcting mechanism can go haywire. Obese people eat too much food, especially sugars and starches (breads, sugary drinks, candy, etc.). The liver, overwhelmed, pushes too much glucose into our bloodstream. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin, and the cells end up absorbing both glucose and insulin.

Over time, your cells-brain, muscle, other body cells-becomes oversaturated with insulin. That means that the cells need more and more insulin to evoke the same glucose-absorbing response. This need for more and more insulin stems from 'insulin resistance,' or the increasing need of your body's cells to have insulin in order to function normally.

A good counter to insulin resistance is to exercise. Even if we're obese, exercise causes the cells to absorb more glucose, and the insulin resistance drops.

Diet and Exercise for the Morbidly Obese

Another way to reduce this problem is to eat less, or eat differently. If we eat fewer starches and sugars, our liver is likely to be less overloaded, and pushes out less glucose. The pancreas is stimulated less to produce insulin, and the cells' insulin resistance falls.

How about doing both? Even if you retain your body weight, insulin resistance can go down with better diet and exercise. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for morbidly obese people to exercise, and they're also more likely to eat food that overloads their system, for physical and psychological reasons.

What does insulin resistance do to the body? It narrows the arteries, cutting off circulation in the heart, the lungs, and the extremities. Left long enough, it will permanently damage the pancreas and lead to insulin-dependent diabetes. Diabetes is especially bad for the morbidly obese, who generally suffer from many problems at the same time.

What do you or someone you love do if you suffer from morbid obesity and insulin resistance? Even if you've tried to lose weight and can't, change your diet to reduce sugars. Exercise as much as you can. Your body will grow healthier without any other changes, and your chances of developing chronic diabetes will go down.
About the Author
Scott Meyers is a staff writer for Its Entirely Natural, a resource for helping you achieve a naturally healthy body, mind, and spirit. You may contact our writers through the web site. Follow this link for more information on Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.
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