Can Insulin Cause Us To Fatten?

What is insulin?

It’s a critical signaling hormone secreted in the pancreas in the islets of Langerhans. It is used by the body to detect and react to increases in blood sugar.

What else does it do?

A lot of things. For one, it stimulates the body to manufacture glycogen from glucose. Glycogen is a polysaccharide (long sugar) the body can either store or use immediately as fuel. It also binds to dedicated receptors on certain cells’ membranes to help the cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream to carry out critical biological functions.

What are some common associated disorders?

Type 1 Diabetes -- This condition involves the inability of the body to make enough of the hormone. Patients cannot effectively absorb sugars and often must rely on exogenous insulin (made outside of the body) to avoid serious medical complications. Many Type 1 diabetes patients appear emaciated because of their inability to absorb glucose properly.

Type 2 Diabetes -- This is a far more common disease today. In fact, it may be fair to say that there we’re in the midst of an epidemic of Type II diabetes. The condition results when the body becomes resistant to the compound. In other words, hormone produced endogenously (inside the body) becomes insufficient to control blood sugar levels. Many patients inject exogenous hormone to keep their blood sugar under control.

Many Type 2 diabetes sufferers are also overweight; these people in a sense suffer malnutrition and obesity simultaneously. Their cells are malnourished because they can't get enough glucose; yet they appear “over-nourished” because they're obese.

(This is a pattern that occurs again and again when you look at trends in obesity, by the way: malnutrition and obesity coexisting.)

When was the hormone discovered?

In the 1920s, by two researchers named Banting and Best. They won the Nobel Prize for their efforts. Interestingly, Best et al also pointed out that insulin seemed to drive the formation of fat. In the 1960s, the hormone was used to treat anorexia.

Does the hormone really have a lipogenic effect? That is, can it make us fatten?

Yes. Irrespective of how many calories we eat, it can drive the accumulation of fat in the fat tissue. This notion may seem strange, but it is not really controversial. It was once considered the null hypothesis for why human beings get fat.

In the early 1970s, a researcher by the name of David Kipnis, one of the leaders in the field of diet and health, published a widely-received paper suggesting that the hormone causes the deposition of fat.

What kinds of exogenous hormone are commercially available?

  • Synthetic hormones
  • Hormones derived from or made entirely from human insulin
  • Bovine or porcine derived compounds

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