The term “Insulin resistance” has become a hot topic of late. Especially given the hefty role it plays in type 2 diabetes. In this article, I'll explain what insulin resistance is, and show you how to prevent your pancreas from over producing it.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin Resistance is a condition wherein the cells in your body don’t respond correctly to insulin. Without insulin, your body can’t access the nutrients in your bloodstream which triggers elevated glucose levels. Those levels, in turn, tell the body to make more insulin and thus the cycle of insulin resistance is born.
While insulin resistance can happen to anyone, people with type 2 diabetes, have an 83% chance of struggling with insulin resistance. If you also have high blood pressure and high blood lipid levels, the probability of insulin resistance soars even higher up to 95%. Those percentages make this no small matter!
What are the Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?
Insulin, though produced in the pancreas, is a hormone that impacts all areas of the body. As such, symptoms can appear almost anywhere. It might take some lab work (fasting insulin) from your doctor to really hone in on some of the physical effects of insulin resistance, however, the most common symptoms are:
Increased abdominal size index (waist circumference in cm: height in cm)
Acanthosis nigricans - Dark spots on the groin, armpits or neck
High triglyceride levels and low HDL (good cholesterol)
Hyperinsulinemia - elevated insulin levels in the blood
Elevated percentage of fat in the liver
Unexplainable Weight Gain
High blood pressure
What Causes Insulin Resistance?
If left unchecked for too long, the pancreas can be exhausted and some of its cells will pause insulin production. This reduced insulin production, in combination with ever-increasing sugar levels, is usually the time type 2 diabetes gets discovered. Luckily, we now know many of the causes of insulin resistance...and knowing is half the battle!
Genetics: Genetic predisposition plays an important role in whether or not you will wrestle with insulin resistance. For example, if a parent is affected by type 2 diabetes, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 38% higher.
Lifestyle: The good news is that we are not completely determined to have diabetes by our genes. With our lifestyle, we can influence epigenetically whether certain genes are “switched on” or not! An oversupply of calories, especially sugar or carbohydrates, which we cannot process sufficiently due to a lack of exercise, can trigger insulin resistance.
In 2017, the DiRECT study showed that by reducing calories and weight after 12 months, almost half of the study participants had such good sugar values that diabetes medication was no longer necessary. This is only one of countless studies that show how an unhealthy lifestyle is a cornerstone in the development of insulin resistance.
Body Shape: Fat stored in the organs and in the abdomen is called visceral fat and this typically increases insulin resistance. In particular, this central concentration of fat can prove challenging for the liver.
The liver naturally wants to get rid of the excess fat reserves. It does this by loading excess fat into small “transport boats” (so-called VLDL particles). These “boats” move the fatty acids through the bloodstream to the muscle cells. But if the body is already struggling to accept nutrients due to insulin resistance, those transport boats end up dumped back into the bloodstream, accumulating on the arterial walls. This leads to inflammation and clogging of the arteries.
Bacteria & Inflammation: Inflammation in general is bad when it comes to insulin resistance, but inflammation of the gums in particular, is especially bad. The inflamed gingival pocket holds bacteria that can pass into the bloodstream causing an inflammatory response that increases insulin resistance.
There is also evidence that a disturbance in the bacterial environment in the intestine can cause inflammation, which aggravates insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.
10 Ways to Combat Insulin Resistance
While we can’t do much to alter genetics (if only we could catch up to those sci-fi movies) there are lots of things we can control to offset the lifestyle, body shape, and inflammatory factors that cause insulin resistance:
1. More Movement
Everything counts, be it climbing stairs, cycling, or even simply walking more. It does not have to be a competitive sport, but regular movement is important. Strength training is also great for continuous fat burning and activating the power plants of the cells, the mitochondria.
2. Fewer Sweets
Consume as little added sugar as possible. Especially avoid sweetened drinks. Xylitol, erythritol or stevia can be alternatives but in moderation. Be mindful of natural fruit sugars as well as fructose since you can easily over consume them!
3. Eat the Rainbow
Focus on whole, unprocessed foods and lots of fresh vegetables. The more color the better! Eat a handful of nuts and oily fish regularly too!
4. Gut Matters
Plenty of fiber and fermented products should be added to the diet. The bacteria contained in yogurt promotes good intestinal bacteria as well. Avoid artificial sweeteners as they can promote inflammation.
5. Up the Omega-3
Consuming at least 2g of omega-3 fatty acids per day can reduce insulin resistance, lower blood triglycerides, and improve insulin-resistance.
6. Avoid Grazing
There should be a break of at least 4 or 5 hours. Also intermittent fasting has proven to reduce insulin sensitivity.
7. Whole Oat Days
Benefit from having oat days in your diet to improve insulin resistance. You can find more info here.
8. Clean Those Teeth
Professional cleaning and regular dental checks keep teeth and gums healthy and help reduce the chance of gingival bacteria flaring up and contributing to insulin resistance.
9. Get Good Sleep
Evidence shows poor sleep increases insulin resistance.
10. Lower Stress
Cortisol, a stress hormone, increases insulin resistance.
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