Rapid Weight Gain and Insulin: What Can the Relationship between Obesity and Insulin Tell Us?

Rapid weight gain results from overeating and under exercising; weight loss results from calorie deprivation and exercise. At least, so says the Caloric Balance Hypothesis.

The Lipophilia Hypothesis, on the other hand, says that the real problem is the over-secretion of insulin. Metabolic/hormonal factors mess up the regulation of our fat tissue, and this causes us to gain or lose weight. What happens with calories (e.g. our appetite and activity levels) result from these fundamental changes in the fat tissue.

If rapid weight gain shows a correlation with insulin levels, it would suggest that Lipophilia is right.

So let's look at evidence. Does insulin really associate closely with rapid weight gain?

Here are four articles plucked randomly from cyberspace that confirm this. (And surely dozens if not hundreds more articles could also do the job.)

1. 'Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction -- a randomized trial.'[1]

Rather than getting into the details of this study, which aren't necessarily important to our purpose, let's focus on this quote from the results section:

"For each diet, decreasing levels of... insulin were significantly associated with the weight loss."

Hmm. This would seem to support the notion that insulin plays a key role in governing fat regulation.

2. 'Fasting hyperinsulinemia is a predictor of increased body weight and obesity in Pima Indian children.'[2]

Here's a quote from the abstract:

"Hyperinsulinemia is commonly associated with obesity... fasting hyperinsulinemia [excess insulin] may be a risk factor for the development of obesity in young children."

So again, this study reinforces the point that insulin associates with rapid weight gain.

3. 'Insulin, body mass index, and cardiovascular risk factors in premenopausal women.'[3]

Here's a quote from the abstract:

"This study assessed the relationship between insulin, glucose, body mass index and cardiovascular risk factors in a sample of 489 white premenopausal women... these data confirm the previous findings of a strong association between insulin and CHD risk factors."

A primary CHD (Cardiovascular Heart Disease) risk factor is obesity. So this study again tells us that insulin has a strong association with obesity.

4. 'Acute post challenge hyperinsulinemia predicts weight gain: a prospective study.'[4]

Here's a quote from the abstract:

"A high first phase insulin response to intravenous glucose is a risk factor for long term weight gain."

We also get this nice quote:

"Obesity is associated with... high fasting and postprandial serum insulin levels."

This idea that insulin levels and obesity associate certainly wouldn't surprise most researchers in public health. It's not really controversial. But WHY does this association exist? If obesity is all about calories -- if "overeating" and "lack of activity" make us fat -- then why on earth would this hormone insulin be so closely linked with weight gain? Furthermore, why do insulin levels predict risk for other 'CHD risk factors' like diabetes, arthrosclerosis, etc?

This neat and robust correlation between insulin and rapid weight gain is an elephant in the room.

Our health authorities tell us again and again and again and again that overeating and inactivity will make us fat. But the science tells us again and again and again and again that insulin -- a hormone, not gluttonous or slothful behavior -- governs how much fat we accumulate in our fat tissue. Insulin is lipogenic. It literally makes you fat!

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References


1. Michael L. Dansinger, MD; Joi Augustin Gleason, MS, RD; John L. Griffith, PhD; Harry P. Selker, MD, MSPH; Ernst J. Schaefer, MD Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for Weight Loss and Heart Disease Risk Reduction AMA. 2005;293:43-53.

2. Odeleye O. E. ; De Courten M. ; Pettit D. J. ; Ravussin E Fasting hyperinsulinemia is a predictor of increased body weight gain and obesity in Pima Indian children Diabetes ISSN 0012-1797 1997, vol. 46, no8, pp. 1341-1345 (43 ref).

3. RR Wing, CH Bunker, LH Kuller and KA Matthews Insulin, body mass index, and cardiovascular risk factors in premenopausal women Arteriosclerosis, Vol 9, 479-484, Copyright © 1989 by American Heart Association.

4. R J Sigal, M El-Hashimy, B C Martin, J S Soeldner, A S Krolewski and J H Warram Acute postchallenge hyperinsulinemia predicts weight gain: a prospective study doi: 10.2337/diabetes.46.6.1025 Diabetes June 1997 vol. 46 no. 6 1025-1029.

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