Whether you are going to use an Assisted Reproductive Technique to get pregnant or achieve a pregnancy naturally, having a peaceful internal body chemistry to nurture the very beginning of a new life cannot be over-emphasized.
When Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931) famously said “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease” he was really onto something that is proving to be more accurate with each passing day.
Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC) said “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which dates back 2000 years, places tremendous emphasis on the state of the digestive system or gut for the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease.
Recent research articles state that chronic inflammation in the body, caused and perpetuated by the food we eat, is the precursor of many disease states including infertility. Research shows that chronic inflammation in the body will result in different disease states in each individual. This variation depends on our genes; however, the causes are basically the same.
In an excellent paper entitled “Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk – a meta-analysis of observational studies” published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,1 the authors conclude “the findings support the hypothesis that higher postprandial glycemia is a universal mechanism for disease progression.”
What causes this state?
“Higher postprandial glycemia” means that after a meal we have abnormally high blood sugar levels for a prolonged timeframe. This statement means first, that insulin, which is supposed to take glucose derived from the food we have eaten and digested out of our bloodstream and into our cells for energy, isn’t doing its job. And second, that we need to lower the total number of calories we eat in a meal, as other studies have proven.
After we eat a large meal, why is glucose circulating in our blood in excessive quantities? Why doesn’t it get into our cells? How can we starve our cells to death after eating a large meal? Here is an analogy to explain how our blood glucose remains high after a meal. After the recent tragic earthquake in Haiti, countries around the world immediately sent ships with aid supplies to the devastated country. However, the loading docks of the shipyards were destroyed in the earthquake so although ships with aid and food supplies were near the shore, they were unable to unload their cargo, and people couldn’t access the needed supplies. This is exactly what happens in our body.
This sounds serious! Why isn’t insulin working? Why are our loading docks destroyed? Why can’t the glucose reach our cells?
Research shows that because of the inflammatory nature of the food we have eaten over a long period of time, our cells have become resistant to the effects of insulin. So our pancreas releases the insulin in response to the meal we’ve just eaten, but it doesn’t do anything. Our insulin receptor cells are unreceptive!
Here is an analogy of what has happened to the insulin receptors. Rather than an earthquake, think of acid rain over the years gradually destroying the loading docks, into an eventual state of inoperation. Think of the inflammatory foods in our diet as acid rain, slowly and gradually eroding the loading platforms and transport systems that allow insulin to work and get glucose into our cells. Now we have the perfect storm and this is how Syndrome X; the metabolic syndrome, occurs. Once we have this perfect storm raging internally, many other disease states begin to manifest, one of which is infertility.
The end result of the destruction of these transport systems and loading platforms is that we have hyperinsulinemia (high insulin) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and we are exhausted, because we are not getting any food into our cells and they are starving.
Not only that, but these high levels of glucose circulating in our blood, unable to enter the cells, injure our organs and we don’t even know it! Glucose begins to sugar-coat things that aren’t supposed to be sugar-coated.
How do I improve insulin sensitivity?
The drivers of Syndrome X and hyperinsulinemia are foods that have a high “glycemic index” and a high “glycemic load”2, along with low potassium intake,3 low magnesium intake,4 high intake of refined vegetable oils,5 excess body fat,6 and low vitamin D levels.
High glycemic index (GI) foods are ones that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. The highest glycemic index is 100, and anything over 70 is considered high. Some high glycemic index food are rice pasta 92, cornflakes 84, waffles 76, and white bread 71.
Medium glycemic index foods have a glycemic index between 55-70 like boiled potatoes 56. Low glycemic index foods have a glycemic index under 55 such as cherries 22, pears 36, and zucchini 15.
We can improve insulin sensitivity by eating moderate quantities of low glycemic index foods. We can also reduce blood lipids, improve our sense of satiety and increase our athletic performance by eating low glycemic index foods.7
Glycemic load (GL) is a very helpful measure that takes into account how much carbohydrate is in a serving of food. Because some foods typically have a low carbohydrate content, Harvard researchers created the GL, that takes into account the amount of carbohydrates in a given serving of a food, and so provides a more useful measure. Glycemic Load also has a scale. Low is 10 or less, Medium is 11-19 and 20 or greater is considered High.
A useful chart of glycemic load values for all food types can be found here. http://www.carbs-information.com/glycemic-load.htm#food
Increasing potassium intake can improve insulin sensitivity. The best sources of potassium are green leafy vegetables like steamed broccoli, romaine lettuce, kale and spinach.
Magnesium is a mineral we most likely will have to supplement, taking at least 400-1000 mg/day. Magnesium is found in vegetables, fish, nuts and whole grains. We need more than 25-35 g of fiber per day which will be easily met if we eat lots of fruits, and plates full of green leafy vegetables to get our potassium quota. Vitamin D levels should be measured before supplementation is started, but especially in the winter months, most people can benefit from supplementation of 1,000-10,000 IU/day.
Omega-6 fatty acids are drivers of inflammation in our body. Omega-3 fatty acids are metabolically distinct and have opposing physiologic functions. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease elevated levels of circulating inflammatory chemicals, and decrease disease activity.8 Disease driving Omega-6 fatty acids are found in great quantities in all grains, oatmeal, white and whole wheat bread, corn chips, potato chips and all vegetable oils; corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and peanut oil, grain-fed meat and grain-fed chicken (unless we use very lean cuts with virtually no fat). Anti-inflammatory foods with high Omega-3 fatty acids are broccoli, kale, lettuces, white potato, sweet potato, grass-fed meat, wild game, fresh fish, bacon, dairy and flax seeds.9,10, 11
And finally, we need to avoid soft drinks. The caramel in soda is pro-inflammatory and may lead to insulin resistance.12
Additional research and dietary information can be found at:
Dr. Sears, author of “The Zone,” also has a very informative website. Here is an excerpt:
“There is a growing consensus that the underlying cause of most chronic diseases is increased inflammation. Not the type of inflammation that causes pain, but a much more subtle and insidious type of inflammation that is below the threshold of pain. I call this silent inflammation. Although silent inflammation can be measured by blood testing, there is no drug that can reverse it. However, an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Zone Diet can. This is the foundation of anti-inflammatory medicine and becomes your first line of action to return to a state of wellness. This is why I see the future of health care will focus on the practice of this type of medicine.”
“The Zone is not some mystical place or some clever marketing terms. It is a real physiological state in your body where the hormones that control silent inflammation are maintained in a zone that is not too high, but not too low. This requires treating food as if it were a drug to be taken at the right dose and at the right time. However, saying food is a drug is actually derogatory to food since your diet affects hormones that are hundreds of times more powerful than any drug. In many respects, food will be the most powerful drug you will ever take because you are using this drug at least three times a day for the rest of your life. Thus your diet can be your greatest ally or worst enemy because the hormonal rules for humans haven’t changed in the past 150,000 years, and they probably won’t change tomorrow.”
My next article will detail how exercise (another proven method to improve insulin sensitivity), acupuncture can assist in “Keeping the Peace Within.”
Special thanks to George B. Elvove, M.D., P.C., who contributed to this article.
- Barclay AW, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk—a meta-analysis of observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr.2008;87(3):627-37
- Cordain L, et al. Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just syndrome X. Compar Biochem Physiol 2003;136:95-112
- Demigne C, et al. Protective effects of high dietary potassium: nutritional and metabolic aspects. J Nutr. 2004;134:2903-06
- Lopez-Ridaura R, et al. Magnesium intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in men and women. Diabetes Care. 2004;27:134-40
- Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):560S-569S
- Grimble RF. Inflammatory status and insulin resistance. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2002;5:551-559
- Jenkins d et al. Diet factors affecting absorption and metabolism. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia:WB Saunders;1994: p. 583-602
- Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002;21(6):495-505.
- Hands ES. Nutrients in food. Lippincott Wiliams & Wilkins; Baltimore: 2000.
- Enig MG. Know your fats. Silver Spring: Bethesda Press; 2000: p.123,142,280-292.
- Cordain L et al. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: Evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56:181-191.
- Dhingra R, et al. Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adult community. Circulation. 2007;116:480-88