Richard G. Petty, MD

Insulin Resistance in the Brain and What It Means for Dieters

Most people have been taught that increasing weight is the cause of insulin resistance, which in turn may cause an array of different health problems. That is only half true: insulin resistance may contribute to the development of obesity, and once we start gaining abdominal fat then that may indeed contribute to insulin resistance. So a vicious circle is established in which insulin resistance helps cause obesity, which in turn causes more insulin resistance.

Another thing that we have been taught for half a century that the brain is an insulin-insensitive tissue. What that means is that the uptake and use of glucose by the brain is not affected by circulating levels of glucose and insulin. That has always seemed a bit strange, because insulin is very important in cognition. Some experts believe that disturbances of insulin and closely related hormone – insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) are involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.

When someone is insulin resistant, they have high circulating levels of insulin, and an obvious question is whether these high insulin levels may interfere with the normal functions of the brain. This is not a new idea. It has been known for many years that high levels of triglycerides, that may be a marker for insulin resistance, may be associated with cognitive impairment in people with type 2 diabetes.

Now colleagues in London have found that people who have peripheral insulin resistance also have brain insulin resistance especially in two brain regions – the ventral striatum and prefrontal cortex – that are involved in appetite and reward.

It looks as if one of the reasons why people with insulin resistance become obese is that the normal link between the control of food intake and energy balance is broken.

This is yet more evidence that a simple diet will not work in the long term. If the problem is metabolic and involves damage to the mechanisms that control eating, the only way to help is to use a combined approach that deals not only with the composition of the diet, but the precise time when people should eat, and the psychological and social barriers that are left over from millions of years of evolution. I outline a comprehensive and highly successful weight management technique in Healing, Meaning and Purpose. Over the last few months I have had an enormous number of requests to expand that material into another book, and in between writing this blog, I am hard at work on completing a full account of exactly what we do to help people manage their weight.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.


2 Responses to “Insulin Resistance in the Brain and What It Means for Dieters”
  1. Lyn says:

    Hi everyone, I came across some information about cinnamon that is relevant to PCOS and insulin resistance. A pilot study at Columbia University showed that consumption of cinnamon reduced insulin resistance in fifteen PCOS women. It sounds like taking cinnamon extract may be a good idea, according to Dr. Nancy Dunne.

  2. Richard Petty says:

    Dear Lynn,

    Thank you so much for your comment.

    The cinnamon story has been going round for almost twenty years since it was first reported that Ayurvedic physicians had been using it for treating diabetes.

    Some studies like the one that you mentioned have been positive and there is also some animal work to suggest that it may help both insulin resistance and hypertension. Unfortunately other studies have failed to find that it helps, at least in Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

    Cinnamon is one of half a dozen unorthodox approaches that we have looked at in diabetes, insulin resistance and PCOS, and so far I’ve not been impressed. But one snag with many studies of herbs and nutraceuticals is that it can be hard to ensure that you have a batch that contains the right mixture of active ingredients. That’s often been why different studies produce different results. It is also important for people to know if they want to try a herb or supplement: make sure that you get one that has been made by a reputable manufacturer.

    I have listed a few of the manufacturers that I like on the left hand side of this blog. I don’t have ties with any of them, I have just been very pleased with their products. I shall continue to enlarge the list as I check out other manufacturers.

    Kind regards,


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