What is Insulin?
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that is primarily created in the pancreas and that helps our bodies to efficiently process and use sugars that we eat. The sugar that the insulin help to break down are those that we get from eating carbohydrates. The main function of insulin is to help the body use and store the glucose, or sugar, future use in the body. When our bodies are either deficient of insulin or our bodies become insulin resistant, blood sugar can spike both high and low causing a myriad of health issues. Insulin is a necessary hormone and it is essential that it be in balance in our bodies and that our bodies are able to use it properly as well.
How Does Insulin Work to Control Blood Sugar?
Blood sugar is something that does tend to vary from person to person but there are generally accepted levels that are considered the norm no matter who you are considering. That being said, insulin is the main hormone that is used within the body to help regulate blood sugar. It is helpful to note that glucose, or sugar, is entirely necessary for cell respiration which is necessary to keep the cells alive. This means that when you either have too little insulin in your blood or too much, you sugar levels can be thrown off causing a large number of potentially deadly complications.
Insulin is secreted by the pancreas and helps to control the overall amount of sugar that is in the blood. The way that insulin helps to regulate blood sugar is that its production is dependent on the spikes and falls of your blood sugar. When your blood sugar spikes, like when you eat something sugary, your pancreas creates more insulin to help neutralize the sugar and return your blood to the normally acceptable level. It also helps to store the sugar you have eaten for later use. Similarly when your blood sugar is too low, the pancreas releases glucagon to help add more sugar to your body using the sugar that the insulin had previously stored.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Those that do have insulin resistance are dealing with a very serious issue that is the result of an overactive pancreas. Insulin resistance means that the body is not able to properly use and utilize the insulin that is being created. When the body is insulin resistant it tries to cope by producing more insulin which to help the muscles and fat to absorb the much needed sugar that is being taken into the body.
Since the body does not respond to insulin properly, blood sugar is not lowered and the sugar that is left in the system leads to high blood sugar and can even lead to type 2 diabetes. When insulin resistance is in its early stages, the pancreas can often keep up with the increased need and demand for insulin by the body. The real issue comes when the pancreas can no longer keep up and the body starts to store excess glucose in the blood raising blood sugar and the potential for diseases like diabetes and prediabetes.
Insulin resistance can make you very lethargic, can contribute to unexplained weight gain, can change your skin, and can make you feel as if you are ill. In many cases, the insulin resistance is not going to display any symptoms until you are pre-diabetic or even diabetic.
7 Causes of Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is a fairly common ailment in our society and there are many risk factors that can lead to its development. Most people are not born insulin resistant and instead have risk factors that make it more common or more probable that they will suffer from it. Since insulin resistance is mainly an acquired disease, it is helpful to pay attention to potential risk factors.
1. High Fat Diet
One of the biggest contributors to insulin resistance is a diet that is high in fat. Those diets that are high in fat, sucrose, and lipids can easily cause your muscles and body to become insulin resistant. The reason for this is that your body is only able to process a certain amount of fats and when you take in more than you need, the surplus has nowhere to go. The body then struggles to catch up and may become insulin resistant and can even become inflamed. You may also have damaged mitochondria within the cells and a lipid overload.
2. Fake Carbohydrates
Another element that may be causing insulin resistance are what dieticians consider fake carbohydrates. The good carbohydrates that your body can take sugars from for later use are those found in fruits and vegetables. These can be eaten with minimal preparation and are great for those that want to make sure their body can healthily process carbs. Fake carbohydrates are found in processed foods and are refined. This means they have been altered from their original state and no longer have the great nutrients that we need to be healthy.
3. Over Processed Foods
Over processed foods can also lead to insulin resistance. Those foods that are high in carbohydrates and that have been processed and refined can easily make it difficult for your body to process sugars. Things like rice, potatoes, bread, and even artificial sweeteners are so refined that they no longer have the great nutrients that are needed to keep our bodies healthy. When you introduce something like a processed food into your diet your body has a difficult time responding and working out just how to use what you have eaten.
4. Lack of Exercise
The body needs exercise, there is no way to get around it. We need to stay active to help our muscles grow and to help them properly store and burn fat and glucose. Those that do not exercise and that eat high fat and high processed food diets are very much at risk for insulin resistance. When you exercise you allow your muscles the chance to use the glucose that has been stored in the body and you also open up the space and opportunity for more glucose to be absorbed from the bloodstream so that your blood sugar will then go down.
5. Metabolic Syndrome
You may be experiencing insulin resistance as a side effect of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of different issues like high blood pressure, high or low cholesterol, increased abdominal fat and more. These are all related directly to age, weight, and relative activity levels. As we age our metabolisms slow down which can lead to metabolic syndrome and then to something just as serious, insulin resistance. Often, those that suffer from metabolic syndrome will have insulin resistance as well which will make a huge difference in how healthy you are overall.
For some, insulin resistance is an inherited trait that cannot be avoided. For those that do suffer from genetic linked insulin resistance, you can always speak with your doctor to talk about how to deal with this issue. Those that have genetic linked insulin resistance are more likely to have type 1 diabetes and their symptoms can often be taken care of with exercise, diet, and medication. This is not an incredibly serious form of insulin resistance but it should still be monitored by your doctor.
7. Racial background
As strange as it seems, some ethnic groups are more likely to be insulin resistant than others. Those that are part of the Latino, African American, Native American, or Asian American race are more likely to be insulin resistant than other groups. This does not mean that if you fall into this category you are automatically going to be insulin resistant, simply that you are more likely to be. Again, you can speak with your doctor and find out which diet, exercise, and medication solutions are going to work best for you and for your individual needs.
These are just a few contributing factors. If you feel like you may have insulin resistance it is always best to take the time to consult a physician that can help you to better pinpoint and fix the issues at hand.
5 Ways to Treat Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance, though a serious disease, is not something that has to put your entire life on hold. There are a number of different treatment and approach options that can help you or someone you know overcome. Here are five different methods to treat insulin resistance.
Diet is and will always be the first line of defense and treatment for insulin resistance. Your dietician will likely help you to work out a food plan that is high in good carbohydrates like fruits and veggies and low in processed foods. Dairy, fats, and processed foods can contribute to lipid overload which leads to insulin resistance. Often losing weight or simply eating the right foods is the fastest way to increase insulin sensitivity in the body and get things back on track. Your doctor will also suggest that you stop smoking and that you avoid alcohol as well since it is high in calories and high in sugars and carbohydrates that your body really cannot use.
Your doctor will also likely suggest that you start an exercise regimen. Exercise is another fast way to increase insulin sensitivity in the body and to help get blood sugar under control. Paired with a great diet you can use exercise instead of using drugs or other, more drastic measures to control your insulin resistance. The body is a truly amazing machine and with the right routine you can help your body process the excess glucose and get your blood sugar down as well as your overall body fat and weight issues that have led to insulin resistance.
This is often the easiest step and is used when resistance is high and things like diet and exercise have not helped. Medications like metformin that help to reduce hepatic glucose output and to help the body tissues take in more can often help. These drugs are considers insulin-sensitizing or antihyperglycemic and help to remove the excess glucose from the blood stream safely, quickly, and effectively. This is the type of drug that your doctor might prescribe is you are trying to lose weight and get your insulin resistance under control with diet and exercise. This is a great solution and with the right doctor supervision, it can work wonders.
Another extreme measure may be surgical intervention. This is not a surgical intervention to treat the insulin resistance per se, but rather to treat underlying issues that might be a contributing factor. A good example is weight loss surgery. Bariatric surgery to place gastric bands, to reduce the size of the stomach, or even to remove excess fats may help. This treatment is best for those that are severely overweight and that simple weight loss is not going to help the insulin resistance or other diseases that the patient might be suffering from.
If all else has failed and your insulin resistance seems to be related to something other than your diet and weigh, you may want to consult an endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is a doctor that specializes in hormones in the body and insulin is one of the most prolific hormones that we need. An endocrinologist can perform necessary tests, blood tests and more to determine if your issues are related to weight or if there is a more difficult issue to contend with. They can also help diagnose diabetes if your insulin resistance has led to it.
These are just a few ways to get your insulin resistance under control. With the right doctor you can get your body back on track and start to feel great again. Insulin resistance can cause a large array of issues and getting it under control is the best way to start feeling great again.
How to Lose Weight if You Are Insulin Resistant
Dieting is difficult for all of us but for those that have underlying health issues, losing weight can be even more difficult. For those that struggle with insulin resistance, it might seem nearly impossible to lose the weight that you need to lose to increase insulin sensitivity in your body. There are a few different ways that you can meet your weight loss goals.
The first is to make sure that you are eating whole, unprocessed foods or foods that have been overly prepared. This means eating more raw fruits and vegetables or eating fruits and veggies that have been minimally prepared. An apple that has been baked in sugar and syrup for example is not going to help you lose weight but a raw apple will. Similarly, vegetables that have been fried or smothered in cheese are not going to do you any favors.
You should also be choosing meals that are varied and high in fiber, protein, and that have good carbohydrates. Try eating meals that are well balanced and that have high fiber options, that are low on things like rice, bread and pasta. You can still eat dairy you just need to find the right dairy. Dairy is great for the body but you should opt for low-calorie and low-fat options like low fat 2% milk and low-fat yogurt. You can also try things like almond milk and coconut milk.
When you do eat grains you want to focus on whole grains that are high in fiber and high in minerals. Whole grain bread is a great alternative to starchy white bread and it can also help you to avoid blood sugar spikes. Lean proteins are also a great way to help with weight loss when you are insulin resistant. Things like fish and grilled, skinless chicken are wonderful to help reduce blood sugar and help you feel great.
In concert with your new healthier diet, you should try to get active and exercise at least three times a week. Exercise helps to burn off excess glucose and allows the muscles to take in more glucose from the blood stream. Start small with a ten or fifteen-minute walk then gradually build yourself up as you begin to lose weight and are able to do more. Losing weight is already an uphill battle, it does not have to be impossible even if you do suffer from insulin resistance.