Insulin Resistance: Is There a Link to Dairy Products?
A considerable amount of research has been aimed at isolating the contributing factors in the development of insulin resistance and looks to discover better ways of controlling and preventing the onset of this disorder.
We already know that diet plays a significant role. In fact, diet is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes: the outcome of unmanaged insulin resistance. Resistance to insulin can also occur in other metabolic/endocrine disorders, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) that affects up to 12% of the female population in North America. In more recent years, an increasing body of evidence is finding that dairy consumption has an adverse effect on insulin production, and may, in fact, be contributing to insulin resistance.
What the studies are finding:
• A 2015 Brigham Young University study found “…a significant relationship between dairy consumption and reduced insulin sensitivity… suggesting that higher intakes of dairy products may be associated with greater insulin resistance." 
• Research conducted in the Netherlands also found that there was a significantly higher fasting glucose level found in participants who consumed dairy products. 
• A more recent Iranian study found that the branched chain amino acids found in dairy products may be at the root of increased insulin resistance. 
What does insulin do?
In order to understand what insulin does, we need to examine why we need it. Insulin regulates our body’s glucose supply. Glucose is our body’s most readily available source of energy and is derived from the foods we eat. Certain foods, like simple carbohydrates and refined sugar, expose our body to a high amount of available glucose all at once. This glucose spike in our bloodstream triggers the release of insulin, which acts as a key to unlock cellular absorption of this glucose. Whatever glucose that isn’t turned into energy within the cell is stored in our livers and muscles as glycogen, and the overflow is converted to adipose tissue, also known as fat.
When a person develops insulin resistance, the cells in his or her body are essentially resisting the “insulin instruction” to absorb glucose. The cells stay closed and glucose builds up in the blood. To counter the excess glucose in the bloodstream, the pancreas – the organ responsible for producing insulin – makes more and more insulin. However, over time, the pancreas can wear out. When this happens, the resulting disorder is type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, higher insulin resistance leads to higher amounts of unused glucose, and without depleting your glycogen stores (most commonly through exercise and fasting), the excess glucose has nowhere to go other than to be converted to fat.
Dairy and its effect on insulin
Dairy is still often considered a low glycemic food source. In other words, it is thought that low-fat dairy is safe for individuals with insulin resistance or diabetes to consume in moderation. However, as we are discovering, in people experiencing insulin resistance – whose pancreases are already working overtime – the insulin-producing properties of certain properties in dairy, like whey and carbohydrates, can have an adverse effect on insulin sensitivity.
Specific amino acids found in dairy products can cause insulin spikes. Certain foods, like yogurt, kefir, and milk (particularly the low-fat varieties), which are higher in milk proteins, seem to contain higher amounts of insulinogenic amino acids. Higher fat dairy products, like butter or good quality aged cheese, appear to contain fewer problematic proteins and sugar.
Everything in moderation
To avoid insulin spikes, consume dairy in moderation and skip the low-fat varieties. There are many readily-available alternate sources for the beneficial components found in dairy products:
• Kale, broccoli, and spinach are excellent sources of calcium; broccoli, in particular, is also high in fibre.
• Substitute kombucha or coconut kefir for yogurt or milk-based kefir for good sources of probiotics.
• Wild caught fish, like salmon, or shiitake mushrooms are healthful vitamin D options.
There are many factors that can contribute to insulin resistance – diet being the main component. In order to effectively halt or reverse the effects of insulin resistance, or to answer your questions, please feel free to contact Toronto Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282 to schedule a consultation today!