Did you know that insulin is a cancer growth factor (a protein that stimulates cancer cells to grow)?
Most of the cells in our body use glucose (blood sugar) as their primary source of energy…and cancer cells are no exception. They gobble up glucose to give them the energy they need to growth, divide and spread.
When you eat a meal, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin to transport the glucose into our cells so it can be used as energy. As long as receptors on our cell walls remain sensitive to insulin, the channeling of glucose out of the bloodstream occurs relatively quickly and without excessive insulin production.
In certain circumstances, however, the cells become resistant to insulin’s effects (this is known as “insulin resistance”). When this happens, the pancreas pumps out increasing amounts of insulin in an attempt to force the glucose into the cells. In advanced stages of insulin resistance patients become diabetic (type 2 diabetes), a condition that is associated with obesity, systemic inflammation, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Insulin resistance is a silent killer:
Most people have no idea that they have insulin resistance. In the vast majority of cases there are no obvious symptoms until you develop full-blown diabetes.
Although most patients with insulin resistance are overweight, I’ve seen quite a few patients in my practice who appear to be in good physical shape and have normal blood sugars, and yet they are walking around with insulin resistance. Without testing there would be no way to know this.
Physicians generally do not look for the earliest stages of insulin resistance in their patients. When you go in for your annual physical exam and labs, most physicians only evaluate to see if you have the most advanced stage of insulin resistance (diabetes) by testing your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugars are normal and yet they still suspect you might have diabetes, they may order a “glucose tolerance test” (also known as “oral glucose tolerance test” or OGTT) Unfortunately, by the time your blood sugar goes up in the OGTT, you likely will have had insulin resistance for years…thereby exposing your body to high levels of insulin for a long time. In the next few paragraphs I will tell you about a much better test.
For my patients who want to read more about insulin resistance, I highly recommend the book, The Blood Sugar Solution, by Dr. Mark Hyman.
Insulin resistance needs to be tested for in all patients with a current or previous diagnosis of cancer.
Only recently we learned that insulin is a cancer growth factor (stimulates cancers to grow).
You can see in the cancer cell diagram (below) that there is a cell membrane surface receptor called “IGF-1R” (insulin-like growth factor receptor). This receptor is able to be activated by three different hormones: IGF-1, IGF-2 and insulin (IGF-1 and IGF-2 are known cancer cell growth factors). When IGF-1R is activated by insulin (or IGF-1 or 2) it signals a cascade of events inside the cell that both shut down apoptosis (cell death) and increase proliferation (cell growth)…that’s a bad combination! The bottomline is that elevated levels of insulin (due to insulin resistance) may lead to cancer cell growth.
The most sensitive test to identify insulin resistance very early on and highlights the need for more aggressive approaches to treatment and care is the “glucose tolerance test with insulin” (also called “insulin response to glucose test“).
This is a specific type of two-hour oral glucose tolerance test, with measurements of both insulin and blood sugar checked after taking a 75-gram load of sugar (the equivalent of two sodas). The lab will first measure both fasting glucose and fasting insulin levels. Then you take the sugar drink and measure glucose and insulin 30 minutes, one hour, and two hours later. Some labs will measure the glucose and insulin levels at one hour, two hours and 3 hours after the sugar drink has been administered. My preference is to have them do the measurements with the shorter test (30 minutes, one hour and two hours) as this is more convenient for my patients and it is equally effective in diagnosing insulin resistance.
The following levels are considered optimal and ideal:
Blood Sugar Levels
- Fasting blood sugar should be less than 80 mg/dl
- Thirty-minute, one-hour, and two-hour glucose should not rise above 110 mg/dl
- Fasting insulin should be between 2 and 5 mIU/dl
- Thirty-minute, one-hour and two-hour insulin levels should be less than 25 mIU/dl to 30 mIU/dl. Anything higher than 30 mIU/dl indicates some degree of insulin resistance.
Order The Lab Test Today:
- Ask your physician to order this test.
- If the test is not available to your physician or they are not familiar with this test, you can order it directly from the lab.
How Does Dr. Lawenda Manage Insulin Resistance?
During your consultation, I assess numerous potential risk factors that can lead to insulin resistance (ie. being overweight, systemic inflammation, exposure to environmental toxins, stress, cortisol hormone abnormalities, not exercising enough, not getting adequate sleep, low vitamin D, etc.). Once these have been assessed (there are a few other important labs I will also need to check), you and I will develop a personalized care plan to address these risk factors. Lifestyle modification, supplements and medications (if diabetic) are the key to reversing insulin resistance.