The Health Secret
There is a little-known health fact that could literally save your life.
When I wrote my first health book five years ago, on the cover I promised to reveal ‘the secret to weight loss and a healthy long life’.
Since then, I have identified how to simplify the health secret to longevity, condensing 400 pages to fewer than 4000 words. I am buzzing with excitement about sharing it with you right now…
A hundred years ago
Early death was mainly caused by infectious diseases. At the turn of the last century, the biggest five causes of death were:
Modern medicine, sanitation, and vaccinations resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of people dying from several infectious diseases.1
Research suggests the top five causes of early death are:
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Heart disease and strokes
- Medicine and medical errors2
The problem we are about to discuss has been well-documented in lots of scientific literature over recent years, but for commercial reasons it has been pretty well-concealed. Hidden from public knowledge.
How big is the problem we are about to discuss? In the US, researchers have estimated that 88% of adults over the age of 60 are not completely physically well and the rest of the modern world is not far behind. Sadly, today more than 60% of adults are living with a chronic illness and over 40% of that group have two or more chronic conditions!3 Yet a hundred years ago, these illnesses were very rare indeed.
Put simply, today we are living with and dying from the plague of prosperity or (perhaps more aptly) the plate of prosperity.
Some say the reason so many are suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease is because we are living longer. However, this is not the case. In fact, a male adult alive in Britain in the 1870s had a longer life expectancy than a British male adult today.4 Yes, when you remove childhood deaths from the data, in the 1870s, when there was a decade of over-farming and every class had access to real food, if you reached adulthood as a male, then your life expectancy was greater than it is today. And it’s not just about life expectancy. In the modern world, the number of years we live without illness has also tragically and dramatically reduced. More adults are living with the consequences of these chronic diseases than without.Our nationwide suffering from cancers, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s is not because we are living longer, it is because something has changed in the way we are living.
The current approach to fix the pandemic of modern chronic illness (the plague of prosperity) is to try and use pharmaceutical drugs. But despite vast expense and medical diligence, this solution doesn’t appear to be working and as a result, health and social care systems are collapsing. Not just in Britain, but around the world too. The core fundamental reason being: whilst medications can often work well for acute diseases such as infections, they do not and simply cannot fix chronic diseases.
Let me begin to unveil the health secret
'Homeostasis' describes the body’s systems as being in and staying in balance: in harmony.
To remain physically well, we must spend most of our time in healthy homeostasis. The good news is that our body will work hard to maintain harmony, to stay in balance.
Now, here is the crunch and the reason why many nations around the world are facing a tsunami of these chronic diseases and why so few people are not achieving their desire of living healthily into old age. If homeostasis is challenged too much for too long, then we get sick, and these modern chronic diseases begin to develop.
The health secret I can’t wait any longer to tell you about is a simple biological process that links virtually all chronic illnesses together. It’s called ‘insulin resistance’, and you need to know how it links to your metabolic health. This process is often the direct cause of chronic conditions. On the rare occasion it is not the primary reason for chronic illness, it still plays a leading role.
One of the key tasks of homeostasis is to tightly regulate how much sugar we have in our blood. Do you know what your normal blood sugar level should be? Don’t worry if you don’t, because other than those in the medical profession, or who have to check their sugar levels daily, I have yet to meet anyone who does!
The answer is between 4–6.1 mmols per litre of blood. Let’s select the middle of that range to keep it simple: 5 mmols per litre. But don’t worry if that still means nothing to you.
The average adult has 5 litres (8 pints) of blood in their body.
Let’s look at the maths: 5 litres of blood and 5 mmols of sugar per litre would equal around 25 mmols of sugar in our entire bloodstream. When we convert 25 mmols to grams, the amount of sugar in our entire bloodstream is surprisingly small.
Just one small teaspoon (5g) of sugar in our entire bloodstream.
Thankfully, your blood sugar homeostasis works really hard to keep your blood sugar at this very low level. Why? Because a high blood sugar level could kill you much sooner than you would think. Even a mildly elevated level of blood sugar over a long time can be seriously harmful. Currently, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when your fasting blood glucose level is at 7.1 mmol per litre – or just 1.5 teaspoons of sugar in the entire blood volume. Yes, remarkably just half a teaspoon, or a tiny 2 to 3g increase in the amount of sugar in your blood and you are diabetic.
Now, let’s look at what challenges our blood sugar homeostasis. When we take on food, we need to burn it or store it to ensure the body remains in harmony. No matter what we throw at the body, it tries its best to keep in homeostasis. The body has several control mechanisms to maintain normal blood sugar levels, but its key tool is a hormone called insulin. Virtually every cell in the body responds to insulin and while it performs many different roles, two of its key tasks are: to maintain our overall blood sugar level at around one teaspoon, and to promote the creation and storage of fat in the body.
In brief, when we eat sugary food or foods that turn into sugar (carbohydrates), insulin is released from our pancreas. The insulin travels around the body in our blood and instructs cells to 'open their doors' to let sugar out of the blood and into the cells.
This allows the blood sugar level to return to normal. If the whole body is in a happy and harmonious state, then blood sugar homeostasis occurs relatively easily. However, if blood sugar is frequently challenged by sugary food and foods that turn to sugar once digested (carbohydrates – all of them), then gradually over time, the cells can become 'over-stuffed'.
Over-stuffed cells don’t want to open their doors so easily. So, instead of a small amount of insulin politely knocking at the door, the pancreas must now release a larger army of insulin and batter at cell doors, trying to force them to open and let the sugar in. This internal war is known as insulin resistance. And until recently, in healthcare this is where the story may have ended. You simply needed more insulin to get the job done. And if your pancreas couldn’t summon enough insulin you could inject it yourself with insulin.
Insulin resistant cells cause your pancreas to compensate by making even more insulin, leading to elevated levels of insulin in the blood, a condition known as hyperinsulinemia. Consequently, because insulin’s other major role is to store fat, hyperinsulinemia drives the body hard into fat storage mode.
For hundreds of thousands of years, we had no issue with insulin and never really experienced elevated levels. We ate fruit only in the autumn: it turned to sugar and insulin was summoned to store it as body fat to get us through the winter. Perfect.
Unfortunately, in our modern sugary world, sugar has become plentiful and available all year round. Our food environment has been hacked and we are truly suffering from the plate of prosperity. As I mentioned earlier, only 12% of US adults are metabolically healthy. Why? What is the secret? Well, here it is. Most people living in the world of prosperity, where food is available 24/7, are challenging blood sugar homeostasis several times a day, 365 days a year. There is no longer internal harmony: we are experiencing an internal civil war.
Hopefully by now you are thinking, 'Ok I get it Steve, but how do I prevent or reverse insulin resistance?' Or you might be asking, 'How do I know if I have it?'
As well as over-consumption of sugary or sugar-releasing foods, insulin resistance can also be caused by stress, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, vegetable and seed oils, poor muscle mass, and a few other things. If you would like to discover the biological pathway for each of these, you will be pleased to know we discuss them all in other articles. But right now, what is crucial to understand is that insulin resistance is caused by poor diet and that insulin resistance drives virtually all of the chronic diseases that may prevent you from living the long, healthy life you deserve.
Nowadays, most people are aware that sweets, ice cream, fizzy pops, cakes etc are loaded with sugar. Pair this with your new-found understanding of insulin resistance, and you can probably appreciate how these food types challenge homeostasis. But let’s now look at a few food items that also drive insulin resistance that might surprise you.
If the amount of sugar a baked potato or a bowl rice turn into shocks you, then let’s now look at some breakfast staples that many people currently feel are probably healthy options. Thank you to my good friend, Dr David Unwin, for the use of his sugar infographics.5
Next look at what might be perceived as a typical 'healthy' British breakfast:
Looking at the above infographics, you can see how a healthy-looking British breakfast has the same effect on your blood sugar levels as eating 16 teaspoons of sugar. Alternatively, if you ate eggs and bacon, and had a cup of coffee, tea or water instead of the fruit juice, there would be little to zero effect on your blood sugar levels.
And, for someone eating fruit as a mid-morning snack, changing the banana for strawberries would make a big difference.
Now let’s add some more staple foods to the list with a chart I adapted for my book Fat and Furious.
Data courtesy of Dr David Unwin *calculated by Health ResultsNext, if you swap your regular rice for cauliflower rice with your evening meal (we have several great cauliflower recipes on our free Health Results app), you would avoid the effect on your bloodstream of eating 10 teaspoons of sugar!
Now, consumed infrequently, in smaller portions, most of these foods probably won’t cause problems for healthy individuals. However, this isn’t the case for 88 out of 100 adults in the modern world: after a short overnight fast, the onslaught of cereals, orange juice and toast for breakfast, followed by sandwiches for lunch, then pasta, spaghetti or rice with their evening meal, insulin has been knocking on their cell doors for such a prolonged period, that many of their cells have gotten fed up. They don’t listen, they are too full already. They are currently experiencing insulin resistance, which in turn causes elevated levels of insulin.
The body is now facing an internal war as it desperately battles to stay in homeostasis. With insulin resistance in full flow, as we eat foods that turn into sugar, homeostasis releases even more insulin. So, now we have elevated levels of insulin in the blood (hyperinsulinemia) and eventually when it can no longer successfully cope with the load, we may also have a dangerously elevated level of blood sugar. A body stuffed full of insulin can’t burn fat, because insulin’s responsibility is to store fat, rather than burn it. You see, you can’t burn fat, lose weight, beat obesity, and get lean when you have lots of insulin in the body. It’s biology!
When the European Football Cup finals were on in 2021, the BBC showed a documentary of the 1966 World Cup. One clip showed tens of thousands of fans arriving at Wembley and I said to my wife, 'Look, not one person seems to be overweight'. Then, they showed crowds walking to the new Wembley arena, and everyone seemed to look overweight. Indeed, statistically the average British adult has put on 2.5 stone (16kg) in just 50 years! Why? Because too much insulin in our blood has led to hyperinsulinemia. The plague of prosperity has caused whole nations to become insulin resistant and therefore store more and more body fat.But what does insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia look like? What are the symptoms associated with this internal civil war? Elevated insulin levels, caused by insulin resistance, over a sustained period of time typically leads to a large belly, which results in internal fat accumulating in and around our organs.
This fat is the unhealthy fat. This is the fat that is linked to inflammation.
Insulin resistance and inflammation are not just linked to type 2 diabetes, big bellies and obesity, but also heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, fatty liver disease, kidney disease, migraines, gout, osteoarthritis, PCOS, high blood pressure, and many more modern illnesses. I won’t discuss the individual link to the biological pathology for each right now, but we cover them in great detail in other articles.
All these illnesses are simply just branches of the same tree, the tree being insulin resistance. They have the same root disease but manifest in different ways. For my dad it developed into diabetes, for my mom it developed into Alzheimer’s, and for my lovely auntie Avis it developed into a fatal cancer.
GPs and doctors across the country now spend most of their working day dealing with the consequences of insulin resistance. In many hospitals, most beds are tragically being occupied by a patient with a condition derived from insulin resistance. And statistically, it will most likely be insulin resistance that will be responsible for you not living the long, healthy life you deserve.
But enough doom and gloom. Now the good news. Insulin resistance can be both prevented and reversed. It can be reversed really quickly: as in, potentially within just a few weeks. For example, by addressing the root causes, type 2 diabetes can be reversed within weeks, with many improving their blood sugar levels so well, that they can be deprescribed their medication. For many, their blood pressure also improves, belly fat is lost, their joints feel better, and they generally feel well again. They also become less prone to many horrible modern diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which in just a few decades we have come to see as almost common in our ageing population.
Other than an enlarged waistline, how else do you know if you currently have or are becoming insulin resistant? Well, there are five health markers you can look at, that are relatively easy to measure:
- Waist to height ratio
- Blood pressure
- Blood glucose level
- Blood triglyceride level
- HDL cholesterol
The easiest of these to measure at home is your waist circumference. This measurement is far more meaningful than knowing your BMI (body mass index). First, take a piece of string and cut the length to match your height, from the floor to the tip of your head. Next, while breathing normally, wrap the string around your waist at belly button height. If the string will not wrap around twice then this is an indicator that you may have an issue with insulin resistance.
While this is not the only indicator, I detail it here because it is the easiest one to measure. The other four all require certified medical devices to measure the health markers, but they are well worth investing in if we want a true picture of our metabolic health.
Health Results, which I founded in 2020, specialises in providing these measurements. We call it the Health Results Metabolic Score, or HRM Score for short. Our dream is to help people live healthier and happier, enabling them to achieve their own dreams by unlocking their health potential, while at the same time helping to rebuild and even save both our social and healthcare systems.
Think how we rallied to support the national effort to 'save our NHS' during COVID. While I am in no way downplaying the severity of COVID, an even greater concern is that both the NHS and those of us living in the UK will regrettably be touched by the hidden consequences of insulin resistance. And as an organisation, we are not only trying to help individuals reverse it, but also raise awareness of this elephant in the room.
The 2002 annual report from the World Health Organisation stated that 60% of world deaths were 'clearly related to changes in dietary patterns and increased consumption of fatty, salty and sugary foods'!6
But it’s not just WHO, it’s also the United Nations who are finding similar dietary patterns. In 2011 they brought world leaders together and they calculated that 36 million deaths occur worldwide from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. A non-communicable disease is the opposite of an infectious disease, as it is not transmissible directly from one person to another. Measures to be taken to prevent these deaths included “cut[ting] the harmful consumption of alcohol, promot[ing] overall healthy diets and increas[ing] physical activity”.7
Looking back, we were healthier one hundred and fifty years ago and lived longer too. I hope that in the future we will see the past hundred years through a lens where our society underwent three historic transformations in healthcare and social care. The first was the defeat of acute or infectious illness, which we will rightly attribute to the success of biomedical medicine. The second was how for several generations we incorrectly believed that the same biomedical concept of disease would somehow work for modern chronic illness and how we incorrectly saw them all as separate diseases. And then, the third and final transformation: how globally we recognised that the creation of ultra-processed foods led to a plate of prosperity, which resulted in a pandemic of insulin resistance, which drove virtually all modern diseases. And how this recognition instigated the need to start to implement solutions to support people to change diets and lifestyles and to measurably improve their health.
Health Results exists because insulin resistance is measurable and improvable. Together, we need to accept that we have little evolved since our ancestors and get back to fuelling our bodies with a human diet, living a lifestyle our bodies need to live, and empowering everyone to achieve their dreams of a longer life spent in good health. By adapting these simple, effective, and long-lasting changes, we can all make lifelong improvements to our metabolic health.