2

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What are the effects/implications of insulin release when there is no sugar in the blood?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created March 20, 2011 at 10:24 PM

I use a fair amount of stevia extract (drops). I add it to my morning coffee, sometimes I make stevia-sweetened gelatin for snacks. I have read various places that certain artificial sweeteners can cause an insulin release- so if there isn't actual sugar for the insulin to deal with, what happens? Say I eat a high fat meal, like a steak and some veggies sauteed in butter, then follow it up with a sugar-free, but sweet tasting food.

A more general way to ask it would be what happens when insulin is just straight up injected into the blood without any actual sugar present? And what does insulin resistance look like in the absence of sugar?

I know this question is sort of all over the place, I am basically question-brainstorming these concepts.

Cf5c9ba3c06cf300ae23c52778dfd317

(545)

on March 21, 2011
at 12:22 AM

The insulin system obviously serves an important function developed in a specific bio-evolutionary context. Artifial sweeteners trigger the mechanism in a manner that clearly exists outside of that context- the body can't "know" that there isn't actual sugar when secreting insulin in response to stevia/aspartame etc... so I imagine it can't be a good thing. (I actually don't know if stevia exhibits an insulin response or not, but supposedly aspartame does).

Cf5c9ba3c06cf300ae23c52778dfd317

(545)

on March 21, 2011
at 12:18 AM

"Now then, what you're asking is about excess glucose." Um no, I am asking about the exact opposite... insulin secretion with no sugar present (besides what may already exist in your bloodstream...) - such as an insulin response caused by an artificial sweetener i.e. not real sugar. I appreciate the response, but you answered just about every question related to insulin/blood sugar *except* the one I asked. And I wasn't about to 'go' "oh well then sugar must be necessary!"

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on March 20, 2011
at 11:16 PM

Very nice and detailed!

  • Cf5c9ba3c06cf300ae23c52778dfd317

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4 Answers

3
F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on March 20, 2011
at 11:11 PM

You can't exist without any sugar in the blood. You will always have some sugar in your system because some of your tissues have no mitochondria in the cells, or not enough to get by on fatty acid metabolism, so they need glucose instead. A few examples I can think of off the top of my head are mature red blood cells (no nuclei), certain types of nerve cells and certain cells in the testes, for men.

Now before you go "oh well then sugar must be necessary!", yes, in very small amounts. I believe Dr. Eades said that a healthy level of fasting glucose is equivalent to about a teaspoon of sugar for your entire body. And happily, you don't have to eat carbohydrate of any sort to produce it. Your body can make it from protein or glycerol. The definition of "essential nutrient" is "a nutrient your body cannot make but that you need to live." This is why zero-carb Paleo eaters aren't dropping dead in droves.

(Carb foods have their place, most notably for micronutrient intake, but you can live without them if you eat organ meats.)

Now then, what you're asking is about excess glucose. Your body can tolerate its own fasting level without clearing it out; the insulin release is for dealing with any glucose above that amount. But let's say you're not eating any glucose-producing foods.

Insulin is still necessary for dealing with amino acids, however. Any time you eat protein, your insulin will be elevated 'cause you've got to put those amino acids into your muscles. (Not being able to do this is why type 1 diabetics eventually die without insulin injections--diet helps the sugar problem, but they still waste away.) So any time you eat protein, your insulin will still be elevated in response. Actually it elevates in response to smelling food, too.

So it's normal for your body to deal with varying levels of insulin in the blood. That's OK, as long as insulin is not constantly elevated. What messes people up who have hyperinsulinism is that it's nearly always elevated, with deleterious effects on blood vessels and tumor growth and hormone imbalance and the like.

You don't want to inject the stuff though, not if your pancreas is already working properly. Best to let your body produce it as needed. What would happen if you injected it without a clear need is your blood sugar would drop to a dangerously low level, potentially killing you.

Insulin resistance in the absence of sugar may or may not be a problem. It depends on which tissues are insulin-resistant. As long as your muscles can still get their aminos and the cells that need glucose can still get glucose, you should be OK. Some degree of resistance is to be expected in certain medical situations (i.e., pregnancy causes a certain level of insulin resistance, which is why pregnant women are tested for gestational diabetes). If you're not dumping in a bunch of sugar on top of insulin resistance, you should be OK. What kills type 2 diabetics is the excess sugar, far more than the insulin resistance. It's possible to be type 2 but have normal blood sugar if you're eating sensibly (i.e., low-carbing, not following ADA advice!).

Cf5c9ba3c06cf300ae23c52778dfd317

(545)

on March 21, 2011
at 12:18 AM

"Now then, what you're asking is about excess glucose." Um no, I am asking about the exact opposite... insulin secretion with no sugar present (besides what may already exist in your bloodstream...) - such as an insulin response caused by an artificial sweetener i.e. not real sugar. I appreciate the response, but you answered just about every question related to insulin/blood sugar *except* the one I asked. And I wasn't about to 'go' "oh well then sugar must be necessary!"

Cf5c9ba3c06cf300ae23c52778dfd317

(545)

on March 21, 2011
at 12:22 AM

The insulin system obviously serves an important function developed in a specific bio-evolutionary context. Artifial sweeteners trigger the mechanism in a manner that clearly exists outside of that context- the body can't "know" that there isn't actual sugar when secreting insulin in response to stevia/aspartame etc... so I imagine it can't be a good thing. (I actually don't know if stevia exhibits an insulin response or not, but supposedly aspartame does).

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on March 20, 2011
at 11:16 PM

Very nice and detailed!

2
2ed23cf27c64885cde34138fd708f523

(70)

on March 21, 2011
at 12:58 AM

If your insulin goes up and there is no sugar in the blood, you will get hungry. That's why people get fat - they eat carbs, their insulin goes way up (so they're locked out of their fat stores), then they're ravenous and have to eat too much. If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie "Fat Head" for a very amusing explanation of this.

So, pay attention to your appetite on days you use artificial sweeteners and days you don't. You might consider going without for a week and doing a challenge test. A low-carber friend of mine did this with Diet Coke and she said it made her feel STARVING.

Stevia does not tend to raise insulin, from what I've read. Actually, I read that it suppresses it a little, and it is used as medicine for Type 2 diabetes in Japan to help reduce blood sugar (sorry, can't cite a reference - maybe Google it).

I hope this helps.

Amy

0
39a1a0bc7855c084ac59df60fdf9c0dd

(1505)

on March 21, 2011
at 04:18 PM

Two comments based on Dr. Richard Bernstein, the renowned diabetes specialist:

1) Bernstein says there is a difference between the pill form and the powered form of many artificial sweeteners like aspartame, etc. He says manufacturers add sugars to the powered form because the artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar that if they used only the sweetner itself it would be hard to use because there would be so little of it. He says the powdered form has carbs even though the package says it does not!

Bernstein says if you are going to use most artificial sweeteners either use the pill form or grind them into a powder in a mortal and pestle. And be sure to carry your own when you eat out.

2) Bernstein says the only sweetener to which the above does not apply is 100% Stevia. I use Stevia a lot and love it, as long as you don't over-sweeten, in which case it becomes bitter (at least to my taste buds).

0
840d227745d271a2d99d65fb5b0d13c1

(135)

on March 20, 2011
at 11:01 PM

Fat will also be directly stored when insulin levels are high. IMO stevia is a great tool for when you want to cheat or flavoring drinks when fasting.

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