Freedom from Disease
The Breakthrough Approach to Preventing Cancer, Heart Disease, Alzheimer's, and Depression by Controlling Insulin
By Peter Morgan Kash, Jay Lombard, Tom Monte
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Peter Morgan Kash
All rights reserved.
Insulin: The Key to Health and Illness
Scientists have long dreamed of the day when they would discover that single agent within the human body that causes most of the illnesses that afflict and kill us. With such knowledge, we could transform the source of disease, restore the body's biochemical balance, and thus prevent most cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and overweight — we might even prevent serious degenerative brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as conditions that afflict children, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Such knowledge could one day form the basis for effective treatments for these conditions, as well.
That remarkable discovery already has been made. Not only have we identified the underlying source of most serious illnesses, but we are learning how to manipulate it successfully to prevent and treat many of the diseases we just named. That singular, pivotal factor, which is both the source of, and the answer to, the vast majority of today's disorders, is insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows blood sugar, also known as glucose, to enter cells.
Most people know that insulin is directly involved in the creation of diabetes, an illness that now afflicts some twenty million Americans, including an ever-growing number of children and young adults. But the ill effects of insulin go far beyond diabetes. Insulin, scientists have found, is one of the body's master chemicals, regulating an enormous number of other biological functions downstream.
When maintained at balanced levels, insulin insures the steady flow of energy to your cells. It helps create a healthy body weight, supports the health of your heart and circulatory system, and protects you from many common cancers. It also maintains your emotional health and the clarity of your mind and memory.
But when it is elevated, and remains chronically high, insulin can act like a diabolical computer programmer, rewriting your cellular command codes and wreaking havoc throughout the body. Far from being just a catalyst for diabetes, elevated insulin plays a central role in virtually every major illness we face today, including overweight, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. It is also central to the creation of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mood imbalances, and mental illness. Not surprisingly, it helps determine how long we live.
This simple hormone has such a widespread effect on health because every biological act requires energy. Insulin is needed if cells are to use that energy, which means insulin is involved in all human functions. The sheer ubiquity of the hormone gives it entrée into virtually every nook and cranny, every cell, organ, and system of your body. Consequently, insulin can be a help or a hindrance in everything the body does.
To a great extent, we can control our insulin levels by virtue of the kinds of foods we eat, the quantity of calories we consume, how much we exercise, and how well we cope with stress.
Processed foods, such as bagels, muffins, pastries, candy, and soda, for example, are all rich in calories. They are also packed with the kinds of simple carbohydrates — otherwise known as simple sugars — that drive insulin levels through the roof. Foods high in fat are also rich in calories, and can also contribute to high insulin levels. By keeping insulin levels elevated, these foods contribute to all the degenerative illnesses that afflict and kill most of us today.
On the other hand, unprocessed foods — cooked whole grains, fresh vegetables, beans, and fruit — and many low-fat animal products are low in calories and keep insulin levels down. This is one of the major reasons why these foods are associated with good health and longer life.
Exercise, even a simple walk around the block, lowers insulin levels and makes cells more sensitive to the insulin that's in the blood. That means that the body utilizes insulin more efficiently — in other words, a little goes a long way.
In addition, stress drives up insulin levels, and chronic stress keeps insulin levels high. This is one of the ways stress contributes to a variety of major illnesses and premature death: It drives insulin levels up.
Only recently did researchers become aware of insulin's central role in health. But already, scientists have developed new pharmaceutical agents that protect us against the destructive chemical cascade that insulin triggers within our cells. New drugs and dietary approaches that utilize this new understanding are available to address everything from overweight and heart disease, to various kinds of cancers.
In fact, the understanding of insulin's role in health and illness is revolutionizing health care. New forms of treatment offer hope to even those of us who already suffer from one of the many diseases that have been brought about by chronically high insulin levels.
A UNIFIED THEORY
When we, the authors of this book, began our very different paths into the worlds of health and health care, most illnesses were seen as the consequence of a pathogen such as a bacterium or virus, or the result of a general destruction of the body, usually caused by an array of environmental poisons. No common cause of disease could be identified, nor was there any unified field theory concerning health and illness. Rather, scientists and doctors saw various disease states as individual conditions, most of which were unrelated to each other.
Indeed, as a medical doctor and chief of neurology at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, in New York City, Jay Lombard, treated patients every day from exactly this standard medical paradigm. Major illnesses have long been seen as distinct entities that require individualized forms of treatment. There were few if any common factors that, if manipulated, could help the person with, say, breast cancer as much as it could the person with heart disease. At least that has been the thinking up till recently.
Peter Kash is a venture capitalist who specializes in creating biopharmaceutical companies that offer new and effective medical therapies, especially against cancer and other forms of degenerative illness. Each new treatment that Peter supported for one disease like prostate cancer was, in fact, distinctly different from the drugs he helped fund to treat diabetes, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or Alzheimer's disease.
Under the old medical model, doctors and pharmaceutical companies were restricted to treating the symptoms of disease, rather than the underlying cause of it. In fact, there were too many causes for scientists to identify and treat any single underlying root. Not only has our lack of understanding of the root causes of illness limited our ability to offer more effective treatments, but it has also kept us from creating new programs for prevention.
One of the most baffling mysteries of disease is how it arises. What conditions allow a tiny and dangerous flame within us to become a blazing threat to our lives? Is it true that the body, for no discernible reason, suddenly breaks down, malfunctions, and sets loose a disease process? Or is it possible that an array of poisons — many of which we control — combine to target a single weak link within us, a link that, when it breaks down, sets off a terrible chain reaction?
For many millions of us today, that is precisely what happens. That vulnerable link within us is insulin.
It was Dr. Lombard's careful reading of the medical literature that first alerted us to insulin's biochemical links to illnesses other than diabetes. What Dr. Lombard did, in effect, was back up and see the big picture. Groups of researchers have been working for some time on insulin's relationship to specific illnesses — cancer, for example, or heart disease. Each of these groups focused on its own area of expertise. Few researchers stood back and realized that insulin was a common trigger in virtually all serious illnesses. After Dr. Lombard's realization, he and Mr. Kash both began looking at the scientific literature, which showed that the effects of insulin imbalances on the body are virtually universal.
Insulin is a kind of computer programmer, determining where signals are sent within the human body. Depending on the skill of that programmer, we can experience good health, vitality, and optimal weight and brain function, or we can suffer increasing weight, internal chaos, an endless variety of negative symptom states, and eventually a serious illness.
The growing awareness of insulin's pivotal role in health is changing the way we treat disease, and bringing forth a new model for health and illness. In fact, it is even changing the way we see the human body.
Scientists now realize that the human body is literally the most elaborate and complex array of information highways ever conceived of. Your body can be seen as a living, breathing supercomputer. The health of that supercomputer depends on its ability to send life-sustaining information from one cell to another. That same information must also be transferred to specific sites within cells, so that cells function properly. Illness arises when disruptive or chaotic commands are sent to cells, which in turn cause them to behave in self-destructive ways. In short, proper functioning of the body depends on the information being sent throughout the system.
All of which brings us back to that little pancreatic hormone that we know as insulin. This chemical substance is, in fact, one of the body's central messengers, telling cells to perform an array of essential tasks.
The first job it tells cells to do is to absorb blood sugar (glucose), which is the body's primary fuel. Cells need glucose to perform their tasks, but more fundamentally, they need it to survive. Without blood sugar, cells die.
At the same time, insulin also triggers a series of internal signals within the cells, some of which eventually make their way to your genes, which in turn direct the cell to perform some kind of task. All well and good. But when insulin levels become elevated — and remain high — bad signals get passed to cells and sometimes to your genetic coding, which, once disrupted, can cause any number of serious diseases. The important point to remember for now is that insulin regulates much of the information that gets inside your cells. Illnesses such as overweight, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and brain and nervous system disorders appear to be quite different from each other. But let us imagine that each of these illnesses is a specific byproduct, a kind of terrible fruit that springs from the same tree. That tree is called insulin resistance.
HOW INSULIN RESISTANCE ARISES
Like any machine, the body needs only a limited amount of fuel to run properly. But unlike other machines, excess fuel is dangerous to the human body. As sugar levels rise, the body experiences dramatic shifts in fluid levels, increasing the risk of edema throughout the system, including in the brain. Brain swelling can lead to coma and death. At the same time, elevations in blood sugar can cause electrolyte levels to drop. Electrolytes are the minerals in cells that facilitate the flow of electrical signals throughout the system. As electrolyte levels fall, organs begin to malfunction. Among the most vulnerable is the heart, which can go into arrhythmia and heart failure.
In order to avoid that fate, the body employs a number of strategies, one of which is to burn off as much of the excess fuel as it can. When there is too much sugar in your blood, the brain signals the pancreas to produce more insulin, and insulin forces the excess sugar into cells so that it can be burned as energy. Unfortunately if the cells are already filled to capacity with sugar and they don't want any more fuel, they close their doors and become "resistant" to the additional glucose. The excess blood sugar remains but if it's not taken care of, you will die. So, doing what it must, the body produces even more insulin, which can then force the excess sugar into cells. Additional insulin can overcome the cell's resistance, but as more and more sugar floods the blood stream, cells put up even more resistance. This resistance is overcome when the pancreas is signaled to make even more insulin.
When cells are persistently overstimulated by a particular signal — in this case, insulin — they eventually become inured, or insensitive, to that signal. In effect, they become resistant to it. High levels of glucose and insulin in the blood cause the insulin receptors on cells to become insensitive to insulin signaling. That's especially the case when the cell is already filled to capacity with glucose.
Insulin resistance is essentially a condition in which cells are rejecting the fuel they need to not only function efficiently but to live. Without fuel, cells die, so the organs they compose (heart, kidneys, etc.) become heavily scarred and lose their functional capacities.
As cells turn glucose and insulin away, more of both fill the blood stream. The body is forced to convert the excess glucose into fat, which accumulates in the blood and throughout our bodies. Some of that fat is stored on the waistline, buttocks, thighs, shoulders, and back, causing excess weight gain. Even more fat forms around the heart and other organs, forcing them to have to work harder to get the same job done. Meanwhile, globules of fat infiltrate the blood, cutting off oxygen supply to cells and organs and causing them to suffocate. Without oxygen, and because of reduced circulation, some tissues die, while others become gangrenous and must be amputated. Atherosclerosis arises in arteries throughout the body, including those leading to the heart. Other organs become deprived of blood and oxygen as well, leading to blindness, kidney disease, impotence, and even gangrene.
As we will see in chapter 5, insulin resistance leads to higher levels of inflammation, which further exacerbates the entire disease process.
The accumulating fat on your body, coupled with the high insulin levels, cause your fatty tissues to produce chemicals that either trigger, or promote, cancerous cells and tissues in the breast, prostate, colon, and lung, among other locations. High levels of insulin can also change the way the cells in your brain function, altering brain chemistry and creating biochemical changes that lead to memory loss and dementia. Elevated insulin levels create a domino effect that can lead to devastating damage in many systems and organs in the body.
* * *
Now that insulin has been revealed as the basis for so many health problems, scientists are investigating how they can intercept the bad commands initiated by insulin and insert new information that would cause the cell to react properly. In fact, as we will show throughout this book, new drugs are now being developed to do exactly that. And such drug development is being done in virtually every area of health care, from the treatment of overweight and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer's.
Among the more exciting possibilities is that scientists and doctors will soon be able to tailor diets and lifestyles to fit specific gene profiles and illnesses that the patient faces. Medical doctors will soon be able to prescribe specific foods, exercise habits, changes in lifestyle, and pharmaceutical remedies tailored precisely for your physical makeup and condition.
In the meantime, there is much each of us can do to protect ourselves and those we love, even without our doctor's help.
As Oprah Winfrey's medical guru and renowned Columbia University Medical Center heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, has said, "We can do a lot for the patient, but the patient can do so much more for himself or herself."
Controlling insulin is important not only from the standpoint of prevention, but also for those who are already ill. Lowering insulin levels can have a dramatic and restorative effect on health, and in many cases, help people overcome life-threatening illnesses. We can prevent disease, restore our health, and also bring our health care costs down.
But in order to do all of that, we must better understand the enormous role insulin plays in the complex and delicate communication that takes place within our bodies. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Freedom from Disease by Peter Morgan Kash, Jay Lombard, Tom Monte. Copyright © 2008 Peter Morgan Kash. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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