Insulin resistance is the condition where the insulin levels in your blood are chronically elevated. That means that they have been elevated over a sustained period of time. There is a one in two chance that you may suffer from insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone that stimulates the cells of the body, especially the liver and muscles to store glucose away. Normally, the cells sense the insulin and respond by storing the glucose. People with insulin resistance have cells that don`t recognise the insulin so well and so in effect, don`t answer the door to let the sugar in. Because of this, the body senses that there is a rise in blood sugar and so it pumps out more insulin from the pancreas in an attempt to get the cells to recognise the insulin in a more concentrated form.
Insulin resistance can develop from a diet that is too rich in refined carbohydrates and sweet foods but some people are born with a defect on the gene responsible for the process.
Why is this bad?
Insulin is an important hormone, essential to life and physiological homeostasis (balance). However, elevated levels of insulin are inflammatory to the body. It is a type of inflammation known as meta-inflammation as it is a metabolic condition. Over a sustained period of time, increased levels of insulin can cause a whole host of problems including many reproductive problems such as:
PCOS Fibroids Male pattern baldness Acne Hirsutism (facial hair) Heavy bleeding Painful periods Irregular periods Thickened uterine lining Hot flashes High cholesterol Memory problems Risks of osteoporosis, dementia and heart disease. Increased risk of breast cancer.
When insulin is raised, oestrogen rises and therefor all the problems related to oestrogen dominance ensue. Raised insulin also causes elevated levles of cortisol so we can feel very stressed or anxious as well as possibly reaching the stage of burn - out . It is also very common to experience allergies and histamine reactions with elevated levels of insulin.
How do I know if I have insulin resistance
As a naturopath, I will have a good idea whether you are experiencing insulin resistance by your symptoms but there is a way you can check at home, although this doesn`t apply to everyone. Get a tape measure and measure the circumference of your abdomen at the level of your tummy button. Now measure how tall you are. Your waist should be less than half of your height. If it isn`t there`s a good chance you are insulin resistant. Insulin resistant people tend to store abdominal weight in an apple shape around their middle to upper body.
Like i say, this doesn`t apply to everyone as some very slender people within the correct measurement range can still be insulin resistant.
Other signs of insulin resistance are
PCOS Hirsutism Diabetes type 2 Skin tags Fatigue Sugar cravings High cholesterol High triglycerides Fatty liver Armpits, groin and neck folds that are darkened
What can I do about it?
Insulin resistance is usually entirely reversible. The best way to regain your correct insulin balance is through your diet. It is important to familiarise yourself with the glycaemic index, a way of looking at foods in different categories according to their conversion to glucose. You can read more about the glycaemic index here. It is essential to eat foods that are low to middle on the glycaemic index.
Every meal should have a source of protein and a healthy fat. This slows the conversion of food to glucose, therefore slowing the need for insulin.
Intermittent fasting is hugely beneficial to insulin resistant individuals. This is where you allow the body 12 - 14 hours of digestive rest each night. An easy way to start this is to have absolutely nothing to eat or drink (other than water) after 7pm until 7am. You can read more about intermittent fasting here.
Consider cutting out the dairy, especially if you have menstrual irregularities and DEFINITELY if you have PCOS. Dairy has a molecule called insulin growth factor 1 in it, which mirrors human insulin. Studies have shown that consuming dairy regularly causes more problems for those suffering with PCOS and other hormonal conditions. You can read more about dairy here.
Drink plenty of water. Water stabalises blood sugar and is needed by every cell to maintain its electrolyte balance. When the balance goes askew, calcium enters the cell in greater numbers which causes blood sugar to become imbalanced. Not only this, but dehydration causes raised cortisol, which in turn causes blood sugar levels to rise and a need for insulin.
Many people have turned their lives around and relieved themselves of debilitating symptoms just by regulating their insulin levels. I should know, I`m one of them!
Thrive Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health Eve Morley N.T Society of Naturopaths AMNNA FNTP NFPTA