What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance occurs when cells in your muscles, body fat and liver start resisting or ignoring the signal that the hormone insulin is trying to send out—which is to grab glucose out of the bloodstream and put it into our cells. Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the body’s main source of fuel. We get glucose from grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and drinks that bring break down into carbohydrates.
How Insulin Resistance Develops?
While genetics, aging and ethnicity play roles in developing insulin sensitivity, the driving forces behind insulin resistance include excess body weight, too much belly fat, a lack of exercise, smoking, and lack of proper sleep.
As insulin resistance develops, your body fights back by producing more insulin. Over months and years, the beta cells in your pancreas that are working so hard to make insulin get worn out and can no longer keep pace with the demand for more and more insulin. Then – years after insulin resistance silently began – your blood sugar begin to rise and you develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. You may also develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a growing problem associated with insulin resistance that boosts the risk for liver damage and heart disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is usually triggered by a combination of factors linked to our eating habit, excessive body fat, weight, age, genetics, being sedentary and smoking.
- A large waist – The best way to tell whether you’re at risk for insulin resistance involves a tape measure and moment of truth in front of the bathroom mirror. A waist that measures 30 inches or more for women, 35 or more for men increases the odds of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, which is also linked to insulin resistance.
- You have additional signs of metabolic syndrome – According to the National Institutes of Health, in addition to a large waist, if you have three or more of the following, you likely have metabolic syndrome, which creates insulin resistance.
- High triglycerides – Levels of 150 or higher, or taking medication to treat high levels of these blood fats.
- Low HDLs – High density lipoprotein levels below 50 for women and 40 for men – or taking medication to raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.
- High blood pressure – Readings of 130/85 mmHg or higher, or taking medication to control high blood pressure
- High blood sugar – Levels of 100-140 mg/dl (the prediabetes range) or over 140 (diabetes).
- High fasting blood sugar – (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.
- You develop dark skin patches – If insulin resistance is severe, you may have visible skin changes. These include patches of darkened skin on the back of your neck or on your elbows, knees, knuckles or armpits. This discoloration is called acanthosis-nigricans.
Health Conditions Related to Insulin Resistance
An estimated ~40% of world adults have prediabetes; ~30% will go on to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes. In addition, up to 80% of people with type 2 diabetes have NAFLD. But those aren’t the only threats posed by insulin resistance.
Thanks to years of high insulin levels followed by an onslaught of cell-damaging high blood sugar, people with insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Insulin resistance doubles your risk for heart attack and stroke – and triples the odds that your heart attack or ‘brain attack’ will be deadly, according to the International Diabetes Federation.
Meanwhile, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are also linked with higher risk for cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, cervix, pancreas, prostate and uterus.
The connection – High insulin levels early in insulin resistance seem to fuel the growth of tumors and to suppress the body’s ability to protect itself by killing off malignant cells.
Research has also found a strong association between insulin resistance and memory function decline, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
How You Can Reverse Insulin Resistance?
Losing fat, getting regular exercise and proper sleep can all help improve your insulin sensitivity. Don’t rely on so called eat less, exercise more alone.
In one fascinating University of New Mexico School of Medicine study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, overweight people who lost 10% of their fat through proper (LCHF) diet plus exercise saw insulin sensitivity improve by an impressive 80%. Those who lost the same amount of weight through diet alone got a 38% increase. And those who simply got more exercise, but didn’t lose much fat, saw almost no shift in their level of insulin resistance. Researchers have also found that just one night of sleep deprivation boosted insulin resistance as much as eating high-sugar foods for six months.
So, take up a holistic approach towards your health to eradicate the root cause “Insulin Resistance” for most of the above mentioned lifestyle diseases.