Insulin resistance contributes to common infertility disorders, according to Dr. Ben Bikman
According to a study published by the University of North Carolina, 88% of Americans are metabolically unfit, a hallmark sign of insulin resistance. Dr. Ben Bikman, BYU professor and metabolic scientist, warns of the dangers that accompany this sobering statistic.
In his book Why We Get Sick, Bikman explains that insulin resistance is the culprit for many chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, fatty liver disease, and even common infertility disorders. As he puts it, “The scope of [insulin resistance] can’t be overstated.”
Like many, Bikman once thought managing insulin was only relevant to those at risk for type 2 diabetes. However, his own research proved him wrong, and he has since dedicated his career to conducting further research on insulin resistance and educating others in the process.
Insulin resistance—as Bikman describes it–-is a two-sided coin. On one side, the hormone insulin is not working as well as it once did in some cells of the body. Bikman is quick to mention, however, that other cells may process insulin as well as ever.
Complementing insulin resistance—the other side of the coin—is a phenomenon known as “hyperinsulinemia,” or the chronically elevated insulin levels in the blood. Anyone struggling from insulin resistance experiences both insulin resistant cells and hyperinsulinemia.
In reproductive health, insulin resistance affects both males and females, but one side of the coin is more apparent in each.
In females, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the primary disrupter in fertility. A hallmark of PCOS is the overabundance of male hormones, which can lead to abnormal menstrual cycles and ultimately infertility. Bikman describes PCOS as a “disease of too much insulin” or “hyperinsulinemia,” because the hormone insulin actually inhibits testosterone from converting to estrogen.
All estrogen began as testosterone, in both men and women. With normal insulin levels, testosterone converts as expected. Managing insulin levels may be a safer and more effective way to treat PCOS–and decrease infertility—than by medicating with additional hormones.
In males, erectile dysfunction is the most common cause of infertility. Bikman says erectile dysfunction is “not a disease of the hyperinsulinemia per se, but it's insulin resistance.” Normal levels of insulin induce the expansion of blood vessels or “vasodilation,” a necessary function for erection to occur. When the blood vessels are insulin-resistant, however, they will remain constricted despite insulin’s best efforts.
In the case of erectile dysfunction, even copious amounts of insulin could not expand the resistant blood vessels. However, as Bikman teaches, insulin resistance is never present in the absence of hyperinsulinemia. Because the blood vessels have received excess insulin for so long, insulin’s dazzling effect has worn off.
“Too much of something will cause a resistance to that something,” Bikman explains. “This is a fundamental biological principle. This occurs in instances of chronic alcohol consumption, or bacteria exposed to excessive antibiotics. The same occurs with insulin.”
Primary causes of insulin resistance include an increase in stress hormones, inflammation and, as Bikman emphasizes, chronically elevated insulin levels.
With a desire to regain control over personal health or improve infertility, reducing chronically elevated insulin levels is the best place to start. Bikman encourages everyone to control carbs, prioritize protein, and not fear fat. Following this instruction may save one’s life or, at least, significantly improve it.
To learn more about insulin resistance and its solutions, listen to the Y Health podcast or read more about Bikman’s research here.