Friday, March 29, 2013

Sugar isn't just making you fat, it's killing you.

WARNING: This post is a little heavy on the science jargon. Important and interesting, yes, but if you don't have the patience for a little pop-culturified hard science you might want to skip this one.

Still here? Good. Lets do this.

This article was linked to on the CrossFit homepage and it got the gears turning in my head a little bit. There's a couple of issues here, although it's not exactly the authors fault. He found some solid information that is in fact very important and wanted to disseminate it to the general public. What I find troubling is the fact that this was news to him, or anyone.

Physiology lesson time, folks. Don't worry. I'll be gentle. Promise.

Insulin is one of the two main hormones that regulates your blood sugar levels. The other is glucagon. They essentially have opposite functions.

Insulin is activated when your blood sugar is elevated and it signals your body to take sugar and other nutrients out of your bloodstream, thereby lowering your blood sugar levels.

Glucagon is activated when your blood sugar levels drop, and it initiate the break down of glycogen (storage form of glucose in your muscles) releases it into your bloodstream, thereby raising your blood sugar levels. It also plays a role in lipolysis (breakdown of fatty acids) but apparently the exact mechanism by which it does this is still under debate.

This is pretty oversimplified but bear with me. Even at it's simplest level you guys should be able to see why this article is troubling.

So, we've got insulin. The main function of this sumb*tch is to regulate blood sugar levels. Thats point 1.

Then we have insulin resistance syndrome, or pre-diabetes.When the proteins responsible for recognizing insulin are over stimulated, their ability to achieve the same effect from the same amount of insulin is impaired. Think of it like alcohol tolerance - the more you drink, the more you need to drink to get buzzed. While the cellular mechanisms are different ultimately the effect is the same. The more insulin you use, eventually the more you need to achieve the same effect. This is point 2.

So now we have full on diabetes of which there are two types, 1 and 2.
Type 1 is genetic and basically the insulin factory (beta cells) in your pancreas just don't work. You can't produce insulin naturally so you have to monitor your blood sugar levels yourself and inject insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is caused mainly by lifestyle choices. As with anything involving the human body there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances but I don't have the time to address them all here.  A steady, high intake of sugar causes insulin resistance. Eventually it gets to a point where your body can not produce enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. Chronically elevated blood sugar leads to the production of a bunch of inflammatory cytokines (read: bad sh*t) and prevents the secretion of glucagon which makes losing weight that much harder. This is point 3

So. Insulin, blood-sugar levels and sugar consumption are all intrinsically, inescapably connected. This is a very brief overview but you can probably still see that this is the case.

This article, which was published last month, states that, "it’s not just obesity that can cause diabetes: sugar can cause it, too, irrespective of obesity. And obesity does not always lead to diabetes." Well. Yeah. No sh*t dude. That's like saying that alcoholism can lead to cirrhosis. F*cking really? 

On a side note it's totally worth mentioning that there is a gigantic body of evidence that most type 2 diabetes cases can be reversed through dietary intervention and exercise. Yeah. It really is that fixable. 

This all goes back to my earlier post on educating yourself. The human body is an incredibly complex, beautiful machine. We still don't understand how it all works but we have a pretty good grip on the basics. Manipulation of insulin/glucagon levels through dietary regulation of blood sugar can actually be a really powerful tool for burning fat and building muscle if you understand the mechanisms. Stimulating production of insulin isn't always a bad thing. It's all about balance. 

I just want to make one last point in conclusion. So, the fitness world has to some degree demonized carbohydrates of late. We're now finally getting into the frame of mind that we should distinguish between good and bad carbohydrates which is a positive shift from all carbs being bad. While the distinction can be difficult for some, in the language of this post the difference is incredibly simple. Bad carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to spike and cause immediate, significant production of insulin. These would be things like high fructose corn syrup or any other concentrated, simple sugar. Again, consuming some simple carbohydrates before or after a workout for the purpose of fueling yourself or causing a post workout insulin spike that accelerates recovery isn't such a bad thing, but that's another post for another time.

TL;DR Sugar can f*ck your world up if you're not careful and diabetes is bad. Thanks for reading. Cheers.

Todays Workout:
Dynamic Warm-Up - 10-15min

Deadlift 5x5 (80% 1RM)
Bench Press 3x5  (175,185,195)

Met con:
10 KB swings (1.5 pood)
10 Dips
10 Burpees
Rope Climb (1 ascent)
8 rounds for time

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