Breaking Down Insulin: What Is Insulin Resistance and How Does It Affect the Body?
November is Diabetes Awareness Month so we thought it would be timely to take a look at Insulin and more specifically, insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels in the body. However, sometimes the body may become resistant to the effects of insulin, resulting in a condition known as insulin resistance. This can have serious implications for overall health and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So what is insulin resistance, how does it affect the body, and what can be done to manage and treat it? Whether you have been diagnosed with insulin resistance or are simply curious about this condition, read on to learn more about this important aspect of our body’s functioning.
Understanding Insulin: Its Function and Importance in the Body
When we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into glucose (sugar), the glucose enters our bloodstream and causes our blood glucose levels to rise.
The body’s response to an increase in blood glucose is to secrete a hormone called insulin from the pancreas. Insulin’s job is to move the glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells, where it can be used for energy. Any excess glucose is stored in the muscle and liver (as glycogen) or is converted to fat and stored in adipose (fat) tissues around the body. These steps cause blood glucose levels to drop again.
When you haven’t eaten for a few hours blood glucose levels drop below normal and the pancreas releases a second hormone, called glucagon, which has the opposite effect of insulin. Glucagon converts the glycogen (out of the liver and muscle cells) back to glucose to use for energy and encourages fat burning.
Unfortunately for many people this process is disrupted by a condition called insulin resistance.
What Is Insulin Resistance? What Causes It & What Are The Symptoms?
Insulin resistance is when the body stops responding to insulin; it ignores all the insulin your pancreas is making, which results in high glucose AND high insulin in the bloodstream.
Not only does high blood glucose make you feel awful… but it is also dangerous and can cause:
- Weight gain
- Irritability & depression
- Poor concentration & memory
- and if not addressed, Type 2 diabetes and / or heart disease
But what causes this condition, and what are the symptoms to watch out for?
The exact causes of insulin resistance are not fully understood, but several factors are believed to play a role. These include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet (high in refined carbohydrates and sugars), genetics, and certain medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
While carbohydrates are vital to our survival, it’s the types of carbohydrates we chose and the amount we eat that is important.
Carbohydrates with a low GI (Glycaemic Index) rating are better for stabilising blood glucose levels as they release glucose more slowly into the blood stream. This means blood glucose doesn’t spike too quickly and send the pancreas into a panic releasing too much insulin, which your cells might then become resistant to.
Better Health Victoria has a great webpage describing how the Glycaemic Index (GI) is calculated, how to choose the right carbs, how to prepare them and how to combine foods to help stabilise blood glucose levels. For example, combining low GI foods such as protein, fats or acidic foods with high GI foods can lower the overall GI of a meal and reduce the likelihood of a blood glucose spike.
If you suspect you may have insulin resistance, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional who can administer tests to confirm the diagnosis. There are several tests for insulin resistance, including the fasting glucose test, oral glucose tolerance test, and the insulin resistance test.
Understanding the causes and symptoms of insulin resistance is the first step towards managing and treating this condition.
Insulin Resistance Treatment
The good news is that insulin resistance can often be managed and even reversed with the right treatments and lifestyle changes.
One of the most effective ways to manage insulin resistance is through lifestyle changes. Regular physical activity, such as aerobic exercise and strength training, can help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. A healthy, balanced diet that focuses on whole foods, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates can also make a significant difference. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and managing stress levels are crucial for managing insulin resistance.
If you believe you are struggling with blood glucose regulation or have insulin resistance, book in with Nyanda, one of our Clinical Nutritionists, who will review your current symptoms, identify if an insulin resistance test is required and support you to get your health back on track and avoid any potential further complications.
We offer Naturopathy and Nutritional Medicine consultations
at 2 convenient locations, Brisbane CBD and Graceville