Insulin as a Biomarker

Blood sugar regulation is one of the top priorities of the body. Anything that disrupts the blood sugar handling mechanisms will disrupt all aspects of our physiology—metabolically, hormonally and neurologically. This disruption has the power to affect our mood, sleep, weight, energy levels, susceptibility to disease and, most importantly, the degree of inflammation in our bodies. Blood sugar regulation is truly a foundational part of what makes our bodies healthy.

Blood sugar dysregulation typically occurs on a spectrum and is a progression of dysfunction that happens over time if the root cause is not addressed. Hypoglycemia is so prevalent in our society that we talk of “crashing” after eating or needing coffee to keep us going in the afternoon as though it were normal. However, these are some of the first signs that blood sugar dysregulation is occurring. When left unchecked, this condition can progress to insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.

Blood sugar management is a finely balanced dance of hormones, with insulin being the most well-known of these hormones. Insulin is released from the pancreas, one of the three key organs that manage blood sugar. The sugar, or glucose, circulating in our blood supplies our cells with the energy needed to keep us moving throughout the day, but there is a Goldilocks amount of sugar each body wants—just enough, but not too much.

The body is always trying to maintain a very narrow range of how much sugar is circulated in the blood. Insulin’s role is to help lower blood sugar when it becomes elevated. When something high in sugar is consumed, for example, insulin is released to tell the cells to store sugar, decreasing the amount of sugar in the blood. That sugar is stored in the cells of liver tissue, muscle tissue and ultimately fat tissue, contributing to weight gain and obesity. Insulin also increases cholesterol production, directly connecting blood sugar handling to cholesterol levels.

Monitoring particular markers in a blood chemistry panel can give some clues as to whether a individual is on the path to diabetes. For instance, an elevated HbA1c marker is used as an indicator of blood sugar imbalance and can indicate the early stages of hyperglycemia long before a disease as progressed as diabetes manifests. This gives a critically early opportunity to reverse blood sugar dysregulation.

Functional medicine professionals evaluating blood chemistry panels are not looking at the individual biomarkers in isolation. They evaluate the numbers in relation to each other, looking for patterns and trends. Markers that are out of the functional ranges have to be put in the context of the whole person. For instance, biomarkers such as glucose, insulin, HbA1c and LDH can suggests blood sugar dysregulation, but inflammation and cholesterol markers can indicate how far the dysregulation might have progressed. These comparisons helps determine a proper restorative plan. A functional nutritionist, for example, viewing these results might create a plan focusing on nutrient-dense foods that balance blood sugar, combined with specific, targeted supplements to support that balance.

Blood chemistry panels are offered at various wellness establishments in communities across the country. Consumers should check carefully for credible certifications.


Michelle Shaughnessy is a functional nutritionist at the Idaho Functional Health Alliance, 203 W. Fort St., Boise. For more information about their comprehensive wellness blood chemistry panel, their next Restart detox program or any other services, call 208-863-0209 or visit January 2019

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