Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Internal Starvation

We've learned in the previous two posts that insulin is necessary to maintain life. Insulin is your friend. We've also learned that some of us develop a condition called insulin resistance. In insulin resistance, the food we eat is not stored properly. Our pancreas responds by producing more insulin, and the food does get stored. In the case of fat, there is a complication. The food is stored properly, but the additional insulin makes it very difficult to get the fat back out of storage. Our bodies are not able to use all of the calories in the food we eat. As insulin levels rise, a percentage of what we eat is stored in our fat cells and stays there. Calories in no longer equal calories out and we begin to put on weight. Insulin is becoming our enemy. We are starting to experience internal starvation.

Imagine that a penny equals a calorie. Imagine that the only grocery store in town is your body. If you took $20.00 (2000 calories) to the grocery store every day to buy food, you would expect to receive $20.00 (2000 calories) worth of groceries. But what if the stockers in the store became "resistant" to managment and decided to change the rules? What if they decided that you would only get $18.00 (1800 calories) worth of food to use for yourself? The stockers would keep the other $2.00 (200 calories) worth of groceries stacked in the corner, but they wouldn't let you get to it. Eventually you would grow angry because you would see all that unavailable food stacked in the corner.

You might decide to cut back your budget and spend $10.00 (1000 calories) a day on groceries instead. The store would keep $1.00 (100 calories) worth of groceries and would allow you to have $9.00 worth of food. Groceries would still stack up in the corner, but at a slower rate, and you would find that you're getting hungry. Say you get tired of that and decide to spend $25.00 (2500 calories) a day on groceries for a while. You aren't hungry any more, but now the store keeps $2.50 (250 calories) worth of your groceries and the stack in the corner grows even faster.

You have figured out by now that the stack of food in the corner represents fat deposits. If you are experiencing insulin resistance, you can eat a little or eat a lot, and the fat deposits grow slowly or they grow quickly, but in the long run they always grow. With insulin resistance, even if you have iron willpower and eat exactly as many calories as you should for your height, weight and metabolic level, you will experience internal starvation. You end up looking fat on the outside, but at the same time your cells are starving for proper nutrition on the inside. You are experiencing internal starvation.


Dr Ben said...

I'm sure the answer is obvious, but if someone was experiencing this state, what is to stop a state of ketosis developing?

Stargazey said...

Hi, Dr Ben! Good question! What may well stop ketosis from developing is defective mitochondria. People who are in a state of internal starvation tend to have mitochondria that process carbohydrates poorly and fatty acids almost not at all. Because of that, these people tend to eat carbs constantly in order to allow their mitochondria to have at least a little bit of energy. The excess carbs get made into fat or (once diabetes ensues) stay in the blood and are eliminated in the urine.

For more biochemistry than you probably want to handle, see my two most recent blogposts on this topic, here and here.