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Insulin Resistance and the Bogalusa Study

Scientists from the National Institutes of Health decided to study the population of Bogalusa, Alabama, in order to draw important conclusions about how that community’s health during childhood, and how those children fared as they grew up.

The first study began in 1982. It included about 16,000 subjects, and measured a great number of variables in order to assess the subjects’ weight, cardiovascular state, diabetic state, blood pressure and heart rate. Most of the subjects were between the ages of 6 and 19.

These patients were then followed in two subsequent visits, one in 1992 and one in 2002. The oldest subject in the data collection is now 38 years old. Although most cardiovascular disease doesn’t appear until one reaches the age of 55, there are already some interesting conclusions one can draw from the data collected in that Alabama town.

It was here in the Bogalusa study that doctors developed what they called “Syndrome X,” or a combination of factors which (1) seemed to go together, and (2) seemed to create problems with heart disease and other circulatory disorders.

Syndrome X consists of four factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight or obesity, and insulin resistance. As you might expect, all four tended to go together in the population. If someone had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, for example, they were also likely to be overweight.

The most interesting conclusion from the data was that insulin resistance and obesity seemed to have the highest correlation. The reason for that might be that obesity is a major causative factor for insulin resistance. The medical reason has to do with the mechanism of action of insulin resistance, plus the lack of exercise that particularly befalls the obese person.

The medical reason for the coexistence of obesity and insulin resistance is fairly straightforward: when we eat too much, our livers are overwhelmed, and we pump out too much sugar in the form of glucose into the bloodstream. This higher level of glucose spurs the pancreas to secrete more insulin than it normally would. The increased amount of insulin tells the cells to burn more sugars. Since the cells don’t actually need the sugars in the amount that the insulin is telling them to burn, the cells gradually acquire ‘insulin resistance.’ Put another way, the cells need more insulin to elicit the desired response – to burn more sugar.

If one remains insulin resistant for a longer period of time – say five or ten years – one risks becoming a Type II diabetic. In the past, it used to be true that only obese adults would fall prey to Type II diabetes. Now, however, we are even seeing this affliction among teenagers. The CDC estimated in 2002 that 15% of all teenagers are overweight, as compared to 2/3 of all adults. The more grossly overweight the teen, the more likely that he or she will suffer from insulin resistance, and could contract a lifelong case of diabetes. This disease, formerly unheard-of amongst children and teens, is now growing in epidemic numbers in the United States.

Scott Meyers is a staff writer for Its Entirely Natural, a resource for helping you achieve a naturally healthy body, mind, and spirit. You may contact our writers through the web site. Follow this link for more information on Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.