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Dietary Hacks to Prevent Insulin Resistance: A Review of Lipids

We're diving right into our discussion on cell membranes, seed oils, lipid classification, and insulin resistance. To begin, let's briefly explore the various types of lipids and how they relate to the composition of the cell membrane.

When it comes to lipids, we can classify them broadly into three categories: derived lipids, simple lipids, and complex lipids.

In the derived lipid category, our focus primarily shifts to fatty acids, which can be further categorized as saturated, monounsaturated (MUFAs), and polyunsaturated (PUFAs). Saturated fatty acids, such as palmitic and stearic acid, have no double bonds in their hydrocarbon chains and are typically solid at room temperature.

Moving on to unsaturated fatty acids, we encounter MUFAs like oleic acid (found in olive oil) and PUFAs, which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s encompass things like alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, and DHA, while omega-6s comprise linoleic acid and arachidonic acid.

Now, let's shift our focus to simple lipids and delve into triglycerides. These are composed of three fatty acid chains esterified to a glycerol molecule, serving as the primary storage form of energy in both animals and plants. In other words, when you consume excess calories, your body stores the excess energy as triglycerides in adipose tissue or more specifically adipocytes for later use. During periods of energy expenditure, such as when you need more energy than you've consumed, your body can break down these triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol to release stored energy.

Returning to our lipid classification tree, we'll explore an essential lipid in the complex lipids category: phospholipids. Phospholipids consist of two fatty acid chains, a glycerol molecule, a phosphate group, and a polar head group, offering a slightly different structure compared to triglycerides.

With this foundational knowledge, let's move on to the composition of cell membranes. The cell membrane comprises a lipid bilayer with embedded proteins, where phospholipids play a pivotal role. The two primary phospholipids found in cell membranes are phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE).

Phosphatidylcholine (PC): This is the most abundant phospholipid in the cell membrane. It consists of two fatty acid chains, a glycerol backbone, a phosphate group, and a choline head group.

Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE): Another common phospholipid in cell membranes. It has a similar structure to phosphatidylcholine but with an ethanolamine head group.

Omega-6 to -3 Ratio (Composition of Cell Membrane)

Now, let's examine how an imbalance in omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can impact cell membranes. Omega-6 fatty acids, like linoleic acid (LA), possess multiple double bonds in their carbon chains, introducing kinks that disrupt the orderly packing of lipid molecules within the cell membrane. This disruption reduces membrane fluidity, resulting in increased rigidity.

Conversely, omega-3 fatty acids, while also having double bonds, are strategically positioned within their hydrocarbon chains, promoting membrane fluidity, permeability, and effective cell-to-cell signaling. So, as opposed to the rigidity that the omega-6s promote, omega-3s promote fluidity (largely due to the location of the double bonds within the hydrocarbon chain).

Insulin Resistance

Now, let's connect these lipid dynamics to insulin resistance. Insulin plays a crucial role in glucose uptake into cells by facilitating the translocation of glucose transporters (GLUT4) to the cell membrane. When the cell membrane becomes stiffened due to excess omega-6 intake, it impedes the movement of GLUT4 transporters to the cell surface, leading to reduced glucose uptake and elevated blood glucose levels.

Moreover, rigid cell membranes can disrupt insulin receptor signaling, hindering downstream processes vital for glucose metabolism.

In summary, an elevated omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can stiffen cell membranes, impair insulin signaling, and decrease glucose uptake, as supported by numerous studies, emphasizing the significance of maintaining an ideal omega-6 to -3 ratio of 4 to 1.

How to Improve Omega-6 to -3 Ratio

First, grain-fed versus grass-fed meat: In one study, the n-6:n-3 ratios between grass-fed and grain-fed beef, were an average of 1.53 and 7.65 for grass-fed and grain-fed, respectively. In other words, the grass fed beef has a profile of 1.53 omega-6 to omega-3 while the grain-fed had a profile of 7.65 which is almost double the recommended ratio of 4 to 1.

Another thing: avoid most all seed oils; now, there are some exceptions especially with something like flaxseed, but even then you need to be weary of oxidation. If flaxseeds (or an oil of a flaxseed is heat treated and/or exposed to oxygen extensively, the PUFAs can become oxidized. Then, when oxidized lipids and their toxic byproducts are consumed, it can damage the cell membranes as well as lead to quite a bit of systemic inflammation.

As a result, remember that both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are susceptible to oxidation, necessitating a preference for whole, minimally processed foods, proper storage, and appropriate cooking methods to preserve their integrity.


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