Treating Insulin Resistance In Chronic Illness

Most Lyme disease sufferers know that avoiding the ingestion of sugar is important for recovery, because sugar causes inflammation in the body and tends to feed borrelia, candida and other critters. Table sugar (sucrose) is especially harmful, as it also suppresses the production of lymphocytes and other immune cells, and you need those immune cells to fight the bugs!

But there is another reason why you should avoid sugar in Lyme disease, that is no less important than any of those mentioned above.

Most people with Lyme disease suffer from HPA-dysfunction, which causes disturbances in the production of cortisol and other hormones. Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is involved in blood-sugar regulation, along with insulin and other hormones such as glucagon. When adrenal hormone production goes askew, so does blood-sugar regulation. This can put the Lyme disease sufferer at risk for insulin resistance and/or diabetes.

It’s like this. Cells need glucose (obtained from food) in order to function properly, and insulin is the hormone that brings glucose into the cells. The function of cortisol, in a broad sense, is the opposite to that of insulin. It inhibits glucose transport into cells in order to prevent too much glucose from flooding the cells, and it also stimulates the release of glucose from cells so that it can be utilized by the body for energy. In addition to cortisol, the adrenals produce norepinephrine, another hormone that is involved in blood-sugar regulation. Norepinephrine aids in the release of glycogen from the liver. Glycogen is used by the body for energy whenever glucose levels in the blood get too low. In adrenal fatigue (and Lyme disease), when cortisol and blood sugar levels are low, the body often reverts to releasing norepinenephrine (especially at night) so that the body is ensured a constant supply of sugar. This further stresses the adrenals, and the end result (besides adrenal burn-out) is high levels of insulin. This is because cortisol balances the activities of insulin, and when cortisol levels are low, insulin will tend to rise. This sets the stage for insulin resistance (a condition whereby the cells become resistant to insulin and glucose), and subsequently, diabetes.

Hypoglycemia, a condition that is relatively common in those with adrenal insufficiency (and Lyme disease!), is a warning sign that your body isn’t handling glucose properly, and if not addressed, can, over time, lead to diabetes. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include shakiness,dizziness, weakness and irritability when hungry, and the need to eat often in order to ensure a constant supply of glucose to the body.

Earlier this year, I performed a fasting insulin test and was a bit alarmed when the results were outside of range, on the high end. I thought, How is it possible for my insulin to be high when I eat a diet that is low in carbohydrates, especially simple sugars?

I then reasoned that it was because of my low cortisol levels, which were causing an excess of insulin.

As Lyme disease sufferers, we can do several things to combat hypoglycemia and insulin resistance. First, we need to strengthen the adrenals (see my other posts on adrenal fatigue for ways in which to do this. You can find these by doing a search on my blog using the words “adrenal fatigue” or “adrenal insufficiency”).

Second, we need to ensure a constant supply of glucose to the cells. The best way to do this is by eating small portions of protein, along with a veggie or some nuts, every three to four hours. Protein stimulates the release of glycogen from the liver, which is then converted into glucose for use by the body. Protein doesn’t stimulate the pancreas to produce as much insulin as carbohydrates do; for this reason, it is preferable that those with high insulin and adrenal fatigue obtain a significant portion of their body’s glucose from protein, instead of carbohydrates.

Indeed, many Lyme physicians and some adrenal fatigue doctors believe that the high levels of carbohydrates that are found in bread, pasta and starchy veggies and which cause a blood sugar spike, stress the pancreas and adrenals, (and furthermore, feed Lyme infections!), should be avoided.

Until your cortisol levels are normal and your infections are under control, you may want to stick to a diet that includes only veggies, animal protein, nuts and limited amounts of fruit. In a healthy human body, grains and heavier carbohydrates are often needed to balance the effects of protein. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, and protein stimulates the release of cortisol, and both hormones are needed by the body for properly metabolizing food. However, since cortisol levels tend to be low and insulin levels high in those with chronic illness, the rules change, and a diet that emphasizes protein over high-glycemic carbohydrates (which stimulate greater amounts of insulin) becomes more important.

Indeed, such a diet is thought to help prevent insulin resistance, and aid in your recovery from Lyme disease.