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Insulin Affects Cholesterol

by Karyn Michelle Wofford

When I received my December lab results in the mail two days ago, I went into panic mode. My LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, was through the roof. My HDL, “good” cholesterol, was at least in range. I could not understand why. My diet is mainly plant based, I am of average weight, I exercise and I am only 26. But I do have diabetes mellitus.

I know that conditions that cause type 2 diabetes, like obesity, poor diet and inactivity are the same things that lead to an imbalanced cholesterol profile, or diabetes dyslipidemia. But if that diabetic does not have those risk factors, and their cholesterol still shoots up, what causes it?

Scared blonde adult female with hands up by face

Scared blonde adult female with hands up by face

The Connection

68% of diabetics over the age of 65 die from heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. It doesn’t say only overweight diabetics or type 2 diabetics. Studies show diabetes lowers good cholesterol (HDL) and raises the bad (LDL). So what’s the deal?

The National Institute of health has reported that insulin sensitivity influences cholesterol more than obesity does. There is a link between insulin resistance and high cholesterol. When a person is insulin resistant, more insulin is floating around in the body. An elevated amount of insulin changes the particle sizes of cholesterol. Insulin resistant fat cells also give off free fatty acids, which process through the liver and convert to LDL.

In my case, I am type 1, and have to receive insulin in more of an indirect way than if my body produced insulin itself. This requires me to take more insulin, thus putting more of the hormone into my blood stream, triggering high LDL levels. After 15 years of insulin therapy, I have also experienced a development of insulin resistance, so my cells may be putting off free fatty acids.

What Can Be Done?

Well the situation more than stinks. Diabetes is a tough battle. However we do have tools to fight it and I personally feel I can always do things a little better. You have to take baby steps.

  1. I can increase and change up my exercise routine. I ride a stationary bike about 5 times a week and do light yoga on my off days. Changing my routine and adding a little more intensity will help with insulin sensitivity, reducing the amount of insulin I need, then hopefully reducing my LDL.
  2. I can reduce the sugar. I am on a plant based diet, but I love sugar, natural sugar though. Natural sources of sugar, like fruit, still require insulin. I acknowledge that I should substitute some of my fruit servings for non starchy vegetables, and will try to do just that.
  3. I should add more foods that improve insulin sensitivity. I will admit that I am often in too much of a hurry to throw some cinnamon on my oatmeal, and that is nuts. It takes two seconds and it can help.
  4. I will start drinking more water. Water helps everything work better, it helps cells metabolize and can also flush excess sugar. Right now, I drink my eight glasses, plus one for every cup of coffee. Usually, I still feel a little dehydrated, so I promise to myself to add at least one more cup daily.

I am not going to lie, I am pretty down about my lab results. Diabetes is more complex than most people know, it isn’t just about sugar. It affects our metabolic systems dramatically, and diabetic dyslipidemia is a great example of that. However, all diabetics know they can change something else for the better. It’s hard and you shouldn’t try to do everything at once. It is a very gradual transition.