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The Relationship Between Insulin - Mitochondria - And Brain Health

Want to get smarter?

Have a better memory?

Reduce brain inflammation (and thus reduce your risk of alzheimer’s disease)?

I know I do…

This is why research focusing on metabolic dysfunction and insulin resistance, is a HOT topic in the realm of anti-aging brain specialists like Valter Longo, PhD (author of the “Longevity Diet”) and Terry Wahls, MD (author of the Wahls Protocol), among others.

Because of this, insulin is a hormone that is near and dear to my heart!

In-fact, it should be near and dear to all of us as it is SOOO important.

Let’s review the basics:

Insulin is a hormone, released from our pancreas, designed to help us regulate our blood sugar by moving glucose out of the blood and into our tissues where it can be stored for future energy expenditure needs.

This is all well and good as long as the body remains SENSITIVE to insulin’s effects at low levels (~ 5uIU/mL fasting).

When we eat high amounts of carbohydrates, particularly simple carbohydrates like sugar, we require higher amounts of insulin to pull blood sugar out of the blood to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Overtime, we need more and more insulin to do the same job if our body doesn’t maintain its sensitivity to the signals.

This could be due to:

  • Inactivity

  • Stress hormones

  • Poor dietary choices

  • In addition to a sprinkling of certain genetic predispositions which can influence our body’s energy stores.

The lack of insulin sensitivity is what leads ultimately to type 2 diabetes mellitus and often contributes to metabolic syndrome & weight gain.

There is also ample scientific research demonstrating the link between insulin resistance and impaired cognitive function.

What is still being sorted out is the mechanisms (there are likely many) which contribute to this change

One of the stronger hypotheses suggests that damage to mitochondria, cellular energy producers, can lead to impaired brain communication signals. This reduction of “synaptic transmission” can lead to impairment of thought speed, processing, and recovery.

Mitochondria, as brilliant as they may be, are highly susceptible to damage by free radicals, which are naturally produced in the cell

However, insulin resistance and high levels of “glucotoxicity” or sugar toxicity, and inflammatory fat can reduce the amount of ANTIOXIDANTS produced to combat these molecules and ultimately the mitochondria does not manufacture enough energy for the cell. When this happens, the cell may die or have reduced function to perform its many job requirements.

My favorite approaches to keep our insulin resistance low and mitochondria STRONG

My favorite techniques to keep our insulin resistance low & mitochondria strong to support brain health:

Intermittent Fasting

No caloric consumption (but staying well-hydrated) for a 16 hour time period 1-2 days per week can reduce insulin resistance and encourage mitochondrial function.

Low-Carbohydrate Food Plan

Another strategy is a PHYTO-NUTRIENT DENSE low-carbohydrate food plan. What does this look like?

  • Lots of veggies

  • Omega oils

  • Rich proteins like buffalo, salmon, grass-fed meats, and mackerel

I am a fan of ketogenic food plans as well...however, not when we replace our breads and pastas for high amounts of inflammatory saturated animal fat and dairy, leaving our colorful veggies behind… #eattherainbow

Mitochondrial Support Supplements:

My favorite supplements include:

  • COQ10

  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid

  • NAD+

  • N-Acetyl Cysteine

Eat your FAT:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids like olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, and of course the Omega 3s found in fatty fish are all amazing for brain health and mitochondria.


Aerobic and resistance training combinations seems to be the best approach for encouraging oxygen utilization AND teaching our muscles to be efficient with energy. I really do love the combo classes of strength training, yoga, and cycling…!

Other resources (No financial affiliations)

  • Consider looking at the Wahl’s protocol, written by the incredible Terry Wahls, MD, for a comprehensive approach to food and brain support.

  • Look at the Fasting Mimicking Diet by Prolon

Do you have further questions about the relationship between insulin - mitochondria - and brain health? Let me know in the comments below

PMID: 27810402, 25689563, 31191293, 30347877, 19407331, 22327367, 23720280, 23720280, 30781611, 28389469, 31194997

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