BYU professor of physiology and developmental biology Benjamin Bikman addressed BYU students on the dangers caused by insulin resistance and what measures can be taken to avoid them during the university’s forum on Tuesday.
Bikman started the forum with a grim assertion: “We are sick.”
He continued by listing the various conditions and diseases that affect millions of people in the world. Bikman said about 10 million people die from cancer and 20 million people die from heart disease each year.
Alzheimer’s disease affects almost 50 million people, and diabetes affects about half a billion people. Forty percent of men over age 45 have low testosterone, and 10 percent of women experience menstrual irregularities and infertility, Bikman said.
“All of these disorders and more have one thing in common — each of them, to varying degrees, is caused or exacerbated by a change in the actions and levels of the hormone insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance. And you might have it. Odds are you do — it is the most common disorder worldwide,” he said.
Bikman explained that insulin resistance is so common in the world because of an incorrect historical perspective.
Centuries ago, when diabetes was first discovered and researched, physicians and scientists focused their attention on the symptoms of extreme urine production and the urine’s sweet taste, Bikman said. As a result, it was determined that diabetes mellitus, both type 1 and type 2, is a disease of glucose or blood sugar.
“However, this perspective is also why type 2 diabetes, which is overwhelmingly most common worldwide, has become epidemic. Because it’s wrong. Diabetes mellitus is not a glucose disease,” Bikman said.
If the early physicians and scientists had focused on other symptoms, such as the scent of the patient’s urine and his or her breath, it is probable that their attention would have turned from glucose to fat. The scent they noticed is caused by acetone, a product and sign of excessive “burning” of fat in the body, Bikman said.
This occurs when insulin is sufficiently low or altogether absent as with type 1 diabetes, Bikman explained. “Such a perspective would be valid and much more accurate. Diabetes mellitus is an insulin disease.”
Bikman explained the benefits of treating type 2 diabetes as a problem of excess insulin rather than a problem of excess glucose — the disease can be identified earlier and be treated more effectively.
Elevated insulin levels can be detected decades before blood glucose levels start to rise, enabling doctors to diagnose patients years earlier.
Bikman also said an essential aspect of understanding type 2 diabetes is recognizing “the disease is simply a prolonged state of elevated insulin and a progressive loss of insulin’s actions, or, in other words, insulin resistance.”
The current strategy to treat type 2 diabetes patients is to combat glucose levels by injecting more insulin, which increases the insulin’s already elevated state, resulting in an insulin resistance.
“Thus, in a way, treating type 2 diabetes with insulin is comparable to treating alcoholism with another glass of wine; we are adding more of the very substance that caused the problem,” Bikman said.
The world’s modern dietary habits further add to the problem of elevated insulin levels.
“We break our brief night-time fast in the morning with insulin-spiking cereal, toast or bagels, then nibble on insulin-spiking snacks every two to three hours throughout the day, before ending the day with an insulin-spiking treat in the evening,” Bikman said.
Diabetes is not the only disease that results from elevated insulin levels. “Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, almost every chronic disease, including lethal disorders, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and less lethal, though relevant, disorders, like obesity and infertility, is either caused or made worse by too much insulin and an ever-growing selective resistance to the insulin,” Bikman said.
Bikman said insulin resistance negatively affects three central parts of the body: the heart, the brain, and body fat.
Although there are genetic and environmental reasons that undoubtedly affect the reach of these diseases, Bikman reminded students that the horror story of diseases can have a happy ending. Bikman said those at risk must control insulin to control metabolic health. He further advised attendees to control carbohydrates, prioritize protein and stop fearing fat.
As there are countless opinions on how to control insulin, Bikman recommended attendees do their own research.
“Just as one seeking a testimony of the Book of Mormon should read the scriptures, a person that is seeking to learn the truth of the most effective lifestyle changes to control insulin and health should search the scientific scriptures — that is, published research articles,” Bikman said.
He also said to “test what you learn” and “be patient and endure the initial discomfort that comes with any change.”
“I am confident that as we direct our desires towards better health, we can discover scientifically sound strategies to guide us in modifying our habits to improve health and enable us, like King Benjamin, to labor with all the might of our bodies and faculty of our souls,” Bikman said. “May we appreciate that our bodies can be a tool to help us develop divine attributes that prepare us for eternal progression.”
The next devotional is scheduled for July 31. MPA Director and professor of public management Lori Wadsworth will address BYU students at 11 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall.