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Episode 11 – Insulin Resistance & PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)


Matt: It’s Matthew Legge here today on the ATP Project, interviewing Steve Edie. Steve is a good friend of mine and one of the smartest men I’ve ever met, nicknamed the walking encyclopedia. So I’ve talked you up, Steve, but thank you for giving us your time today.

Steve: Oh, no problem at all. I hope I can live up to that hype.

Matt: Too easy, mate. We’ll make you look smart. What I wanted to talk to you about today, Steven, was insulin resistance. I know – I do a lot of work with athletes and all my time in the naturopathic clinic. Insulin was a major problem with the athletes that I worked with and just the general population. Out of all the macronutrients, carbohydrates seemed to be the most variable and the most powerful at manipulating body shape and energy levels. But you know more about the science behind insulin resistance, insulin sensitivity and how it can contribute to diseases, than anyone else I know.

So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that. So Steve, would you like to give us a little bit – everyone a bit of your background? At the moment you’re running a college, is that right?

Steve: Correct, yes. I run a college on the Gold Coast, and mostly I lecture around Australia in nutritional medicine. I do – my master’s was in natural insulin resistance. My PhD is in cardiovascular disease and diet, and that’s almost completed now, so that’s good news. Phew. Before that, I was a naturopath many years ago in complementary medicine, and I’ve been teaching nutrition for the last ten years. So it’s been a big part of my life.

Matt: Oh, that’s right. And I know right from the early stages of the [inaudible] [00:02:09] Diet’s introduction into Australia, you were a major part of that with some of the companies we worked with together. For starters, would you like – just give the listeners a [inaudible] what is insulin?

Steve: What is insulin? Yeah, insulin is a hormone that we all need to survive. Without it, we die. So I’m going to pick on insulin a fair bit today. But what I’m referring to is the excessive amounts of insulin that our body produces, and the fact that insulin doesn’t work very well in some people. And the fact that insulin doesn’t work in some people, that’s what we term insulin resistance. And there’s lots of causes to that. The thing with insulin that we’ve got to remember is that insulin is required. It’s produced by the pancreas, the beta cells. And that’s required primarily, keeping it simple, to dispose of sugars in the body.

But another role for insulin, where bodybuilders might be very interested in, is the fact that it binds with growth hormone in the liver to produce a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1, and that’s a great hormone to put on muscle. So too much of insulin can make you fat. Too little is a problem as well. So it’s all about getting the right amount of insulin produced by the body.

Matt: You mentioned that insulin helps to dispose of glucose into the body. What do you mean by that?

Steve: Yeah, sure. The way that insulin works is that it basically works like knocking on the door of a cell. The insulin comes along, and it’s pumped out by the pancreas, knocks on the cell wall, the door opens, and in goes glucose, and glucose goes into the cell to obviously be burned by the mitochondria in the [inaudible] [00:03:39] cycle to make energy. And that’s how insulin works to dispose of glucose.

Matt: And what cells, Steve? Is this just muscle cells? Or are we talking fat, brain?

Steve: Oh yeah, all cells. Insulin works in the liver cells and the muscle cells as well. Now the problem is, with insulin resistance, is for reasons that – there’s lots of different reasons – the main cause of insulin resistance is too many triglycerides in the blood that block these receptors. So what happens, of course, is that when insulin resistance occurs in any part of the body, and it occurs throughout the body, the body goes into a state of glucose – it basically thinks that there’s not enough sugar in the body. So what the body then does, it goes, oh, insulin resistance, not enough sugar. So therefore the liver actually produces lots of sugars to compensate for the insulin resistance.

So the problem is that you’re eating the wrong sorts of foods – and we’ll get to that, I’m sure – you get insulin resistance, and your body makes more sugars. Now the problem is that it makes more sugars by breaking down your muscle tissue. So there’s real problems with insulin resistance, especially if you want to build more muscle.

Matt: Yeah, right. What are the main causes of insulin resistance?

Steve: Yeah, the major cause in Australia is having too many fats in the blood called triglycerides. Now these are often measured by your doctor. It’s a risk factor for heart disease. But triglycerides or fats in the blood, we used to think 20 years ago, when I did my first training, was that it was caused by eating fats, because that makes sense. But what we now know is it’s an excess of eating carbohydrates. So if you eat an excess of carbohydrates, then your body will have to turn those sugars – because carbohydrates turn into sugar – into fats, and those fats make insulin resistant, in other words, causes insulin resistance.

So if you think of the typical Australian diet, probably not so listeners here because they’re all healthier, but an average Australian may be up and have a bowl of Weetabix for breakfast or oats, which is full of carbohydrates, which end up as sugar. Then for morning tea, they might have a muffin or something, or a sugary banana. Lunch, they may have a sandwich, which is full of carbohydrates again, and then dinner may have potatoes and all those sorts of things. And that can be very problematic as well. So eating all those sugars caused the triglycerides or fats in the blood to rise, which cause insulin resistance.

Matt: And for body composition – so obviously, if someone’s got a lot of fat cells, that would be releasing a lot of fat into the bloodstream. So obesity can contribute to insulin resistance?

Steve: Oh, absolutely. The worst place to have fat is around the abdomen because the abdomen fat – and we’ll call it visceral fat because that’s the term of it – it’s different than subcutaneous fat, which is the fat under the skin – the visceral fat around the trunk causes – is continually what we call metabolically active. In other words, it’s continually spewing out fat into your blood stream. Now of course that causes heart disease and lots of other problems, but of course it also causes insulin resistance. So that further perpetuates people’s extreme fatigue, and also they’ve got no energy to exercise. And of course it causes insulin resistance, which causes them to think they’re starving in sugars, and this causes them to eat more sugars because they’re craving more sugars.

Matt: So this will explain a lot of the research that shows if you’ve got a bad waist to hip ratio, for example, if you’ve got a large gut, but you have a lot of visceral fat and not much subcutaneous fat, you’re at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and that sort of thing. Is that mainly because the subcutaneous fat is not releasing much triglycerides back into the bloodstream?

Steve: That is correct. The subcutaneous fat is the fat that – and a lot of women suffer a higher amount of subcutaneous fat – the fat that sits on the thighs and buttocks of women, is non-metabolically active. In other words, it’s very hard to shift. Now a lot of women know this already. They work out, they try really hard, and it’s very stubborn fat, very difficult to remove. And that’s a bad thing in that area. But it’s actually a good thing because if you get too many fats released into the blood stream, then you get high triglycerides and you get insulin resistance.

It is really the fat around the stomach and the trunk area that’s metabolically active, called visceral fat, which causes the insulin resistance and all the problems associated with heart disease and all the higher risks associated with cancer. So it’s a very dangerous type of fat to have.

Matt: Yeah. So with the insulin resistance, we’ve mentioned that the long-term complications can contribute to such things as diabetes, a Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease. Insulin resistance can be caused by obesity, yet can lead to obesity as well. What other problems with insulin resistance are we seeing? We constantly are hearing people with these cystic problems, whether it’s a polycystic ovarian or a cystic acne. Is this all associated with insulin resistance? Which comes first, the insulin resistance or the obesity?

Steve: Great question. It’s usually the insulin resistance because insulin resistance is driven by – can occur immediately after you eat a high carbohydrate or a high sugar meal. So if you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, then you’re going to develop insulin resistance for a temporary amount of time, depending on the glycemic index of the food. Because your body will have to burn all those sugars first. Because sugar is toxic for the blood. Your body doesn’t like sugar levels rising very high. So it will do everything it possibly can to force down those sugar levels. And one of its main claims to fame is it can pump out loads of insulin, which forces blood sugar levels to drop.

And that’s the No. 1. So what comes first is the insulin resistance. Now if that occurs once and you ate one meal of – you won’t get fat. But can you imagine if you ate for years and years, grains – like they’re the biggest offenders – grains every single day, then you’re going to get insulin resistance every single day, and eventually, you’ll put on body fat. And in fact, that’s what we do to cows. To make cows – marble cows – we feed them grain, and we often call it grain-fed beef. And that grain-fed beef causes the fats to settle in the arteries and all the veins throughout the body of the cows.

We kill the cow, cut the cow up, and it’s got marbled or fat throughout the body. Now unless humans want to be marbled, you better restrict the amount of grains that you’re consuming.

Matt: Now with our athletes, in particular, our bodybuilders that are prepping for competition, and they’re trying to improve their muscle definition, the marbling of the meat that Steve was referring to, that’s fat in between your muscle fibers, fat between your muscle and your skin that’s going to ruin your definition. So we’re not too much different. If you go on a grain feed lot yourself, basically consuming this, you’re going to get that marbling. You’re going to get that fatness. So a big part of our body shaping campaign is to actually not be on a grain feed lot.

So how does polycystic ovaries work, Steve? Because as I asked that question before about which comes first, insulin problems or obesity, I was just thinking, man, I’ve met a lot of skinny girls with polycystic ovaries. So if polycystic ovaries is associated with insulin resistance, well, that must be the answer.

Steve: It is. Insulin drives the thicker cells in the ovaries to pump out more androgens or testosterone, and guys might be going woo-hoo, let’s get more testosterone. Women don’t want too much testosterone because testosterone causes growth, like it grows your muscles, but if you get too much testosterone in women, it causes growth on the hormone sensitive tissues, such as the ovaries, and that’s where we get polycystic ovarian syndrome from. And that’s driven primarily by insulin.

And in fact, the No. 1 treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome – we call it PCOS, so excuse me if I use the term PCOS – the No. 1 treatment for that is in fact an anti-diabetic drug called Metformin. So the way we treat or medicals treat polycystic ovarian syndrome is using a diabetes treatment called Metformin, and it’s one of the most common treatments. So that’s how intimately linked the high amounts of sugar is to polycystic ovarian syndrome, and the high amounts of insulin is to polycystic ovarian syndrome. Now I’m a nutritionalist, so guess what I’m going to say?

I’m going to say that you stop eating the sugars in the first place, so you don’t have the high insulin that’s released because of the high sugars you’re eating. And I mean carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, brown, pink, whatever color it is – it doesn’t matter what color it is. Brown rice, white rice, purple rice – it’s all turning into sugar, and that insulin is going to be pumped out as a response to a high sugar meal. And that’s what needs to be curtailed. Of course the other side of treating polycystic ovarian syndrome is, of course, to burn the fat off and burn the sugars off. So in other words, get out there and do some pretty intense exercise.

And that’s an excellent treatment. Yes, for PCOS, but also for many other disorders.

Matt: Yup. With the PCOS people that I have consulted with, I’ve noticed a major problem there with acne and weird abnormal hair growth. How does that link?

Steve: Yeah. It’s very interesting. Firstly, when we get a lot of androgens or testosterone produced from the high levels of insulin that’s stimulating the ovaries to produce testosterone, testosterone also can be converted into another more active testosterone called dihydrotestosterone. And the receptors for the – you’ve got parlo sebaceous units on the skin or parts of the skin where the hairs come out, and parlo sebaceous units are required to produce oil to keep the hair in good condition. And that’s all wonderful. But if you get too much dihydrotestosterone in the body, then you can produce too much oil in the parlo sebaceous unit.

And if there’s too much oil produced, then you can get a bacteria that feeds off that oil. And that bacteria is called propionone bacteria and acne, which is a bit scary because that’s the bacteria that drives acne. And that’s why a lot of treatment – I’ll just silence that – a lot of treatment is aimed at getting rid of the acne in the skin, the bacteria. My philosophy is well what’s causing that bacteria to overgrow? Because the propionone bacteria in acne is already on the skin. So it’s the excess oil that causes all that trouble. So that’s the best way to treat that.

The other side of things is insulin itself – remember I said insulin produces insulin-like growth factor 1, well that also causes the skin cells to overgrow in the skin and cause a blockage at the parlo sebaceous unit. So you get a build-up of oil under the skin. You get acne, the propionone bacteria and acne in there, and that causes, of course, the pimples you see on everybody. And I mean most people. Because about 80, 90 percent of people get acne. Interestingly, the only people – or the only cultures that don’t get acne are the people that consume a traditional grain-free, dairy-free diet, which are found in the Islands, and they turn just to Paleolithic diet, and no acne is seen in these groups, which is very interesting.

Matt: That is interesting. With acne as well, why is zinc – for the listeners out there, can you explain how zinc and zinc deficiency is so important in controlling the acne and these hormones?

Steve: Absolutely. Zinc is responsible for regulating the conversion of testosterone through to the more potent and the more acne-genic hormone, dihydrotestosterone. And the enzyme there – and I don’t want to – people are going to phase out here, but it’s called 5 alpha reductase – that’s the enzyme that converts the testosterone to the active or the very active dihydrotestosterone. And zinc regulates that. Now the other thing with zinc, of course, is it’s very good for your immune system, and your immune system could kill some of the propionone bacteria in acne that causes, guess what – acne, and also of course, zinc is very, very good for keeping your connective tissue in your skin in good shape as well.

Well it does many, many functions in the body, but that’s the basic reason why zinc is so important. And the other problem with zinc is that men lose zinc a lot quicker than women, and I don’t know if this has got a G-rating episode, but the way that we, men, lose zinc, is by ejaculating, and we lose a lot of zinc that way.

Matt: Okay. Apparently it’s about 5 milligrams of zinc every ejaculation. I worked out that fact actually when I tried to work out an alternative scenario for zinc supplements. Dihydrotestosterone, it contributes to the darker hair growth. I’m interested to know if there’s a link between insulin problems, dihydrotestosterone and male pattern baldness. This is something I’m just considering right now.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. Dihydrotestosterone is the hormone responsible for male pattern baldness, so that’s one other thing. So zinc can be very good for that. And in fact, one of the main drugs used to treat male pattern baldness is propecia, or there’s a few of those ones. And they are specifically 5 alpha reductase inhibitors in those. It’s 5 alpha 1, 5 alpha 2, but don’t get [inaudible] [00:17:16] there. The drug [inaudible] from this drug also inhibits that particular conversion. So yes, it’s very good for male pattern baldness.

Now in women, of course, they get [inaudible] because yes, they have testosterone, but if insulin drives testosterone to be converted through to more dihydrotestosterone, which is a more potent testosterone, then they’ll get more potent hair growth like men do in facial areas and areas women don’t want extra hair. And that can be a big problem for women too. So insulin, of course, drives that forward. Now another thing too, of course, is that the chemicals found in grains, such as [inaudible], bind with zinc and cause zinc depletion in the body.

So that’s another reason why we need to avoid eating a lot of grains.

Matt: That’s interesting. So just to summarize for a sec, so with the insulin resistance, we get an accumulation of testosterone in ovaries, like skin cells, hair follicles. They will contribute to cystic conditions by building up an accumulation of a particular oil. In the case of hair and skin cells, that allows bacteria and organisms to move into that oil and trigger an infection. In some instances, that may contribute to such things as acnes, cystic acne and boils. It can also contribute to perciatism, with the darker hair. An interesting thing is if that dihydrotestosterone accumulation and that grease accumulation can also contribute to male pattern baldness.

So through the one process, you can have too much hair on your back and your arms and everywhere else, and male pattern baldness is not just affecting males. So we can also have women losing hair in a male pattern baldness fashion – not a fashion as if you choose to do it because it’s the new thing for spring – but in the same pattern of hair loss that a man would see. And this can all come from an insulin issue. So we need to look at diet. We need to look at lifestyle and exercise.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely.

Matt: And supplements, Steve. So we’ve talked about zinc. In your studies, is there any other nutrients that have been shown to be a common deficiency or a therapeutic tool that we can use?

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. The classic one is chromium, of course, because chromium makes insulin work better. Magnesium does the same. But also there are some innovative things that you can pop in with your protein powder, such as cinnamon. Now when I have protein powder, I put cinnamon in there because I like the taste. But it’s also great for insulin resistance. There are other supplements you can use. Another classic one is lipoic acid, and that’s another terrific thing that helps insulin work. The other thing you can take is a spoonful of cement [inaudible] [00:20:17] get to the gym and exercise because that’s excellent for improving your [inaudible].

That’s what I tell my family members, what to do to lose weight, just to take that. That’s another thing that you can do, of course, and I’m probably preaching to the converted here. The other thing I want to add to that is your remark about women’s “fashion.” The problem with the higher androgens also is that women tend to put on weight at the waist. So in other words, they become more apple shape or android shaped. They lose their feminine hourglass figure, and they tend to accumulate weight around their waist, which a lot of women I know – and I’ve treated them – are very, very emotional about because that’s a very nasty thing they don’t want.

So that’s another problem we can get with too much testosterone and too much insulin.

Matt: Yeah, right. So I’m going to have Chris Thomas and Tony Freeman, a couple of well-known and very experienced body builders and coaches that are going to come on and do a separate segment, talking about timing of day of training, and the time of day for your carbohydrates and the type of carbohydrates. So we’re going to give you a lot of practical information on diet, exercise and lifestyle stuff from those guys, with a strategy. Supplementation, we’ve talked about the B vitamins, the zinc, the chromium, lipoic acid.

Oil, Steve. We mentioned that triglycerides are a major problem contributing to insulin resistance. How do we use – I understand oils aren’t oils. Is there a way of offsetting the triglycerides with other oils? I don’t know. Can we use oils to help insulin sensitivity?

Steve: Absolutely. And probably the best one is fish oils, or if I can be a bit more specific, EPA and DHA, and that’s eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, EPA and DHA they’re commonly called. And what they do is they change the cell membrane. Because each cell has got a fat layer around it, and if you can supplement your diet with fish oils over a longer period of time, that makes the cell membranes more liquid, so as you can get more insulin and more things can pass through those particular cellular membranes. So the one at the top of the list there is fish oil. Krill oil is very good. And of course, other oils which are very good too, medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil, for example.

And also other oils such as olive oil is also very good for insulin resistance.

Matt: An interesting point there, back to the grain bashing thing, is most of the world’s Omega 3 oils come out of grass and plankton. So it’s an interesting thing when Steve was talking about grain feed lots. Animals we would normally eat as a source of Omega 3 oils were all the grass-fed animals or ocean-caught seafood. If we’re starting to take those natural sources of Omega 3 off those foods and put them onto a grain feed lot, seeds are dominated by Omega 6 oils. So what’s happening with the grain feed lot is their Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios, or the grass-fed animals, should be about 2 to 1. It can go up to over 30 to 1 after a couple of weeks on a grain feed lot.

So those Omega 3 oils are very important. So they come from grass-fed animals, free range chicken and free-range eggs, and seafood that comes from the ocean. So look for those sort of foods as well, and avoid a really high Omega 6 diet. A big problem with fat cells is people believe that they are nothing more than just a storage form from fat. But they pump out a lot of chemicals called adepecoins. Now these chemicals contribute to inflammation. They contribute to hormonal problems. So another reason why it’s very important for us to get rid of this excess fat is that fat cells are secreting out inflammation.

So is that how anti-inflammatories is also a very powerful way of improving insulin sensitivity? And what anti-inflammatories could we use, Steve?

Steve: Well that’s absolutely correct. Fat cells are very pro-inflammatory, and there’s some terrible side effects for those fat cells that release hormones. One of the classic ones is leptin. So if you are obese or carrying excess body fat, your body will pump out a of leptin. And leptin itself damages the joints directly, and also drives up inflammation. So that can cause people to be achy and get joint problems. We used to think that people that were overweight got joint problems because they were overweight, but it’s because of the fat cells creating leptin. So it is extremely important that we get rid of the excess body fat of people.

It’s no longer – if I can get on my soap box for a sec – sorry, mate. Go ahead.

Matt: Oh, I was going to interrupt there because leptin, my understanding is that leptin, if I got a heap of leptin, I’m going to burn a heap of fat and not want to eat. Isn’t that what leptin does? Doesn’t leptin make me burn a heap of fat and suppress my appetite?

Steve: That’s what it’s supposed to do. Leptin is designed to be released from [inaudible] [00:25:24] when they become full to tell the body to stop eating. It doesn’t work because you can end up with – and this is going to sound a bit déjà vu-ish – with leptin resistance. And that’s again, due to the high triglycerides because of the high sugars that people eat. And that’s why a lot of people who eat a lot of sugar end up eating more and more, and get addicted to carbohydrates because they become leptin-resistant as well. Now leptin is supposed to increase your basal metabolic rate by reducing a chemical in the brain called neuropeptide Y, and if you reduce that chemical, you can regulate your appetite and regulate your metabolism.

So grains in high sugar diets also suppress the metabolism, and also, of course, cause you to overeat. And that’s why obese people tend to overeat a lot more, because of the high levels of leptin resistance in the body. If leptin worked again, you could regulate your appetite and you wouldn’t get these incredible cravings. And a lot of people get these cravings after they finish dinner, they feel like eating more. They need dessert to fill them up. They just feel like sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet. And that’s one of the key signs of leptin resistance. So you’ve got to be careful of that.

And of course, leptin is pro-inflammatory as well. So to answer your question before, other anti-inflammatories, fish oil, krill oil are very good. I’ve mentioned those. But also ginger and turmeric possibly. Those things are great anti-inflammatories to take in the process as well.

Matt: Yup. And all of those things, all of those things can be added into your foods. Like you just listed off. Like for example, even zinc, selenium, you know, three or four Brazil nuts, half a cup of almonds, you can get your zinc levels up. We make a product called T432. We’re always getting people questioning us about polycystic ovaries and what is the best thing to use to get rid of their testosterone and that sort of thing. We always go back and say, “The cause is insulin. It’s not the testosterone, the dihydro, all that sort of stuff is a consequence of the insulin issue.

The priority is targeting the insulin.” We make a product called T432 that’s got the cinnamon, it’s got the yerba maday, it’s got the zinc, all those sort of things for insulin sensitivity. And that actually has a better effect for people with polycystic ovaries than screwing around with estrogen and testosterone ratios. The other thing that is in that product T432 is a herb called dugong. Not many people are familiar with dugong. It’s used in Chinese medicine as a yang tonic, and used to stimulate metabolism and drive. But what it is in the formula for, is it’s one of the only things I’ve found that actually controls the adepecoins.

It’s a very powerful anti-inflammatory on fat tissue, and can actually stop fat cells from secreting the chemicals that contribute to insulin resistance, estrogen dominance, other hormonal problems. So with polycystic ovaries, we change the diet. We can incorporate some products like T432, add the cinnamons, the gingers, the turmeric. Add all of those spices and everything into your protocols. Thank you so much for that information, Steve. I really want to get you back more often to talk more about a lot of these more chemical sort of things that need further explanation.

Because what we’ve found is we’ve been so tricked by all of the information out there that’s designed to sell products and protocols directly, that every once in a while, we just need a refresher and a reminder from the experts that can just sit back and say, “This is what the research shows. This is what the evidence suggests,” without having all of the hype and everything behind it. That’s our whole plan. So we definitely want to get you back on the show, Steve, and do a lot more.

Steve: Yup.

Matt: But I think for today, that has been a lot of information for everyone to take in. Thank you very much for your time, Steve. Was there anything else? Can you think of any other last piece of advice that you can give to someone, if they believe they’ve got insulin problems?

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. And the first thing is get your diet right. Take T432. That’s brilliant. That’s got a brilliant array of herbs, and I think that’s terrific. And that will supplement you. And also get out there, and I don’t want to pre-empt the next talk, but try and exercise first thing in the morning. But remember, if I can leave you with this, the only dangerous time to exercise is never.

Matt: [Inaudible] [00:29:44] I always ask her what’s the best time to exercise, and she always says, “Well when are you going to do it?” I always thought that was pretty cool.

Steve: Absolutely.

Matt: Well thank you, again. Thanks again for your time, Steve. And we’ll definitely have you back on the show.

Steve: Always, Matt. I look forward to it. Thanks for your time.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 30 Minutes



Stephen Eddey is the Principal of Health Schools Australia. If you are interested in a career in Natural Medicine please check them out: