What is Insulin Resistance and what can you do about it?

Updated: Mar 30

By Dr. Shreya Batra, ND

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by our pancreas. It is released in response to glucose in our blood. When we eat, the increased glucose from our food signals our body to release insulin which allows this glucose from our blood to enter our cells and be used as fuel. Given this process, you can imagine that the highest amount of insulin in our body should be immediately after we eat and then it declines once the glucose has been removed from the blood stream.

However, we live in a society where we are constantly snacking throughout the day and a lot of our daily food choices are high in artificial sugars, fructose syrups, simple carbs, and just straight-up sugar. You can only imagine the amount of glucose that must run through our blood, and thus, the amount of insulin being produced by the pancreas. However, overtime, our cells stop reacting to the increased insulin and the cells don’t uptake all the glucose for energy and instead, some of that glucose starts being turned into fat for storage. This is what is called insulin resistance. When the cells stop reacting to the insulin being secreted, the body tries to create more insulin to compensate.

Lab work:

Initially, there may not be anything significant on your blood work, however, blood insulin levels may be higher than normal 2-3 hours after eating and fasting insulin levels will be higher

If this continues, your blood work may show increased blood sugar levels followed by an increase in HbA1c, which is a marker for diabetes.

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance:

Similar to the lab work, at first there may be no signs or symptoms. However, if it continues for a long period of time you may experience the following:

  1. Fatigue/lethargy, especially after eating

  2. Cravings for sweets/sugar throughout the day

  3. Increased weight gain or stubborn weight around the abdomen

  4. Increased hunger soon after eating a meal

  5. Difficulty concentrating –> brain fog

  6. Increased symptoms of anxiety, moodiness

  7. Hair thinning and acne

More serious symptoms (which may indicate diabetes) may include:

  1. Increased blood pressure

  2. Increased cholesterol levels

  3. Increased urination

  4. Increased thirst

  5. Blurred vision

  6. Dizziness

Who is at risk and what are some cases that insulin resistance should be investigated?

  1. Overweight or obese individuals

  2. Sedentary lifestyle

  3. A diet that is high in calories, sugar, simple carbohydates

  4. Chronic stress

  5. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

  6. Some medications (ex/steriods for a long period of time)

  7. History of Gestational Diabetes

What happens if Insulin Resistance continues for long-term?

Insulin resistance is the biggest indicator for diabetes in the future. It can even be an indicator of diabetes years in advance of diagnosis.

The biggest indicator for insulin resistance is the stubborn abdominal weight gain. The increased abdominal weight gain will also increase chances of cardiovascular disease (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes). The increased insulin resistance and fat storage may also influence the progression of fatty liver disease, certain cancers, autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases.

That being said, determining your insulin status early on may help prevent chronic diseases, and you absolutely can reverse your insulin resistance to better your health.

How to treat your insulin resistance:

  1. Get moving! Ensure that you are moving throughout the day and that you are getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity where you increase your heart rate.

  2. Limit your intake of simple carbs and sugar-rich foods. Avoid foods that are made of simple carbs (white breads, white pastas, baked goods, cereals, granola bars…etc), these foods will spike your blood sugar levels and your insulin levels as well, and promote insulin resistance.

  3. Determine if time restricted eating (or intermittent fasting) is beneficial for you. *ensure you speak to your ND about this first!). Multiple studies have shown that this may be very beneficial for balancing your insulin and blood sugar levels – blog post about this to come soon!

  4. Stress management – ensure that you are managing stress levels appropriately as those with chronically high stress levels are at high risk for insulin resistance.

  5. Ensure you are getting restful sleep. Those who don’t get a restful sleep are at higher risk of insulin resistance, increased inflammation, and decreased bodily repair.

  6. Get your blood work done and a physical exam done by your health care practitioner. Get the appropriate blood work that may be necessary for you and get a physical exam which would include; weight, waist and hip circumference, blood pressure and more.

What’s Next?

If you think that you may be experiencing symptoms of insulin resistance or have any of the risk factors, or are simply looking for ways to decrease your chances of chronic disease, book an appointment to see what you can do! Let’s start with a complimentary 15 minute call to see what your steps should be.

References:

  1. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance#insulinresistance

  2. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/insulin-resistance.html

  3. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.01219.2001

  4. https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(10)00542-X/fulltext

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174139/

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20086073

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