Much has been said about diabetes and its links to other health problems. Still, insulin resistance is also an important topic. Insulin resistance can be called the precursor to diabetes and shares many similarities.
The hormone insulin regulates many processes in the body. It is secreted by the pancreas. It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein by promoting the absorption of glucose from the blood into liver, fat and skeletal muscle cells.
However, it is mostly known for its role in regulating blood sugar levels. The cells of the pancreas are sensitive to changes of glucose in the blood—they secrete insulin into the blood in response to a high level of glucose, and inhibit secretion of insulin when glucose levels are low. Insulin enhances glucose uptake and metabolism in the cells, thereby reducing the blood sugar level.
But what is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance (IR) is a pathological condition in which cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin. This means that when blood sugar level rise, insulin is released but it does not have the same effect on glucose transport and blood sugar levels. This causes the absorption of energy to be inhibited, and the net result is that the blood sugar levels stay high.
Under this condition, your pancreas produces even more insulin to lower your blood sugar levels. This leads to high insulin levels in your blood, termed hyperinsulinemia. This may damage your pancreas, leading to decreased insulin production. All in all, it makes the whole system go haywire. After blood sugar levels exceed a certain threshold, you may be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is the leading cause of this common disease that affects about 9% of people worldwide.
Diagnosing insulin resistance
Your health practitioner can use several methods to determine if you’re insulin resistant. High fasting insulin levels are strong indicators of this condition. A test called HOMA-IR estimates insulin resistance from your blood sugar and insulin levels and is reasonably reliable. There are also ways to measure blood sugar control more directly, such as an oral glucose tolerance test. In this test, you will have your fasting blood glucose level tested, you will be asked to drink a very sweet glucose drink, and after that, your blood sugar levels are tested at regular intervals. However, it is very time-consuming—the whole test can take up to 3 hours.
Symptoms to look out for:
- Extreme thirst or hunger.
- Feeling hungry (even after a meal)
- Increased or frequent urination
- Tingling sensations in hands or feet
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Frequent infections
- Evidence in blood work
- A waistline over 102cm in men and 89cm in women
- Skin tags
- Patches of dark, velvety skin called acanthosis nigricans
You can’t know for sure until you have been tested whether you are insulin resistant or not.
The Good News
It’s relatively easy to reduce insulin resistance. Lifestyle changes are the most common indication for treating it.
- Exercise. Possibly the easiest of all measures, its effects are almost immediate
- Lose belly fat. It’s critical to target the fat that accumulates around your main organs via exercise and other methods.
- Stop smoking. Tobacco smoking can cause insulin resistance
- • Reduce sugar intake. Try to reduce your intake of added sugars.
- • Eat well. Eat a diet based mostly on whole, unprocessed foods.
- • Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats may reduce insulin resistance
- • Supplements. Berberine may enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar.
- • Sleep. Some evidence suggests that poor sleep causes insulin resistance.
- • Reduce stress. Try to manage your stress levels if you easily get overwhelmed.
- • Donate blood. High levels of iron in your blood are linked to insulin resistance.
- • Intermittent fasting. Following this eating pattern may improve insulin sensitivity
Insulin resistance may be the key driver of many chronic diseases we have in this day and age. However, you can improve this condition with simple lifestyle measures and live a longer, healthier life.