Did you know that the cyclical changes that occur in your metabolism as a result of the season changes can influence the development of diabetes? By observing what is going on in nature we can predict our body’s functions and help balance these changes in our metabolism to fit our modern lifestyle. Observing how animals survive long seasons of food scarcity and how glucose is supplied to the brain during that time can provide us with crucial information.

Winter running - Young woman running cross-country outdoors on a cold winter day (motion blurred image, color toned image)

Insulin resistance in the winter

Like other animals, the human body naturally changes to create an insulin-resistant state. This helps our system be more fuel-efficient and go for long periods of time with a smaller amount of food. It is a naturally occurring seasonal event in all vertebrates. This survival mechanism has been preserved for almost 400 million years of evolution and is essential to regulate our metabolism.

Storing fat

During the late Summer period and early Fall our brain tells our body to increase its insulin resistance. Our liver can increase fat production, and our adipose and non-adipose tissues can store fat to prepare for winter. Yes, human beings naturally and unknowingly prepare for winter by storing fat in the body.

Our central nervous system is in command and control of our peripheral fuel metabolism functions, such as liver glucose and lipid metabolism, adipose metabolism, muscle physiology, pancreatic insulin and glucagon secretion. Our liver is commanded to increase glucose production and send blood glucose to the brain, which needs it the most. The brain also controls the peripheral tissues that can decrease glucose use and increase fat.

Switching to hibernation mode

The command-and-control center of the brain is located deep in the spot between our eyebrows, near the hypothalamus. This lower brain area, which controls the hypothalamic dopamine activity, is the key player for the insulin-resistance state in humans. It may sound unusual, but a low level of dopamine activity has been linked with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

For some people, this annual cycle of insulin resistance reverses back to an insulin-sensitive state around late winter and early spring to get ready for summer and an abundance of food. For others, the circadian dopamine input to the brain, particularly the biological pacemaker called SCN, is lost. When that happens, we lose the key regulator of this annual cycle of peripheral glucose and lipid metabolism and remain in our hibernation mode summer and winter, all year round.

Seeing the cycles of your metabolism

If you have diabetes and use insulin as your main therapy, you might have noticed these cyclical changes. For instance, have you ever noticed that your blood sugar levels suddenly are higher in early fall? Or in early spring, have you noticed that you start having more hypoglycemia despite using the same insulin amount, physical activity and food? This could be related to your metabolic cycle.

Best advice

Watch what you eat and stay active. If you have diabetes, avoid weight gain during the holidays, improve and control blood sugar levels by controlling your portions and exercising.