Insulin resistance has featured prominently in research focusing on the prevention of chronic illness, since this condition causes the onset of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. A fascinating new book by Dr. Ronesh Sinha, MD, entitled The South Asian Health Solution, focuses on the fact that South Asians are one of the leading populations to suffer from insulin resistance. Dr. Sinha claims that a combination of high stress, inactivity, and a diet characterized by an excessive consumption of vegetable oils, grains, processed and high-sugar/high-salt foods, are causing those of South Indian ancestry to contract life-threatening diseases at a much younger age.
Heart Disease: Not Just a Concern for the Elderly
Dr. Sinha, who exclusively attends to South Indian patients at his clinic in Palo Alto, California, noted his initial inspiration for his research into risks for South Asian patients: “Based on my medical training, I believed that chronic conditions like heart disease affected older people who smoked and ate red meat. However, I recall seeing a 31-year-old vegetarian, non-smoking South Asian software engineer who had his first heart attack. I thought it was an anomaly until I started seeing more of these patients. Then I realized that early-onset insulin resistance, characterized by diabetes, obesity and heart disease, was becoming the norm. I did more research and discovered that Asian Indians have one of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease in the world, occurring at a much earlier age.” His book aims to help those of South Indian ancestry combat these trends through a healthy and active lifestyle.
The South Asian Health Solution: Key Points
Dr. Sinha provides a host of highly useful advice in his book. Some of the most important pieces of advice given include:
- Get inactive white fat to start behaving like brown fat: Dr. Sinha notes that there are two types of fat in the body: brown and white: “White fat is relatively inert and fits our traditional impression of fat cells as inactive fat storage depots that make us fat, but brown fat cells are actually calorie-burning metabolic machines.” In addition to burning more calories, brown fat uses triglycerides (a significant risk for heart disease) and glucose in the blood as fuel. Dr. Sinha notes that South Asians have lower amounts of brown fat than Caucasians, yet there are ways that we stimulate white fat cells to burn calories like brown fat. These include exercise, which releases a hormone called irisin that promotes calorie burning. In addition to encouraging white fat to function similarly to brown fat, exercise can also curb obesity and even strengthen our vision. Kwikmed.org notes that we can even protect our vision by exercising regularly and generally embracing an active lifestyle: “Regular exercise doesn’t simply keep your heart and lungs in good condition and help you to maintain a healthy weight, it may also offer protection against age-related macular degeneration. Even though this is still a relatively new area of research, scientists demonstrated in animal studies that an hour of exercise on 5 days of the week protected the structure and function of the retina when exposed to conditions likely to induce damage.” Like our other major organs, our eyes benefit greatly from sound nutrition, a trim, lean figure and the absence of dangerous habits like smoking or an excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Keep stress at bay through yoga and mindfulness meditation. Yoga and mindfulness meditation have been shown to lower levels of cortisol (the ‘fight of flight’ hormone) and increase vitality. Pilates has also been shown to reduce stress in recent studies.
- Do not consume excessive amounts of ‘anti-nutrient’, phytic acid: Phytic acid, found in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, can lower your nutritional intake, since it binds to important vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D and iron, stopping your body from absorbing their benefits. Dr. Sinha does not recommend removing these foods altogether from your diet, but he does warn that they should not form the bulk of a healthy eating plan. In addition to interfering with nutrient absorption, high-carbohydrate diets can also lead to excessive fat storage and promote insulin resistance. Best-selling Health Author, Leslie Kenton, echoes this thought: “Grains and grain products are probably not good for you – except only occasionally in very small quantities. However, for more than 75% of the population of the Western world, they appear to be no good at all. Why? They quickly turn to glucose, lower your energy levels, create cravings and addictive eating behavior, and trigger insulin release contributing to metabolic syndrome – as well as fostering all sorts of other health issues including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity and celiac disease.”
- Keep moving throughout the day: Dr. Sinha notes that engaging in physical activity three or four times a week is simply not good enough if we continue to sit at our desks for hours on end. We should aim to get up from our desk and move as much as we can throughout the day to improve circulation and keep serious conditions such as the formation of blood clots and/or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), at bay.