Insulin Resistance: Symptoms, Causes, Effects and Solutions

A woman injecting insulin into her stomach to manage her diabetes.
insulin injections are a common treatment for managing diabetes in individuals with insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance, what is it? You might have heard this phrase said casually in the news, on social media, or even by your doctor but what does it mean? It’s a health condition that has drawn a lot of attention in recent years because of its link to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Understanding what insulin resistance is, what causes it, and how to prevent or manage it is crucial for maintaining your metabolic health. In this article, we dive into the nitty-gritty details of what exactly insulin resistance is and real-life solutions for combating it.

Table of Contents

    What is Insulin Resistance and How Does it Develop?

    It starts with insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows cells to take in glucose from the bloodstream for energy. That’s the ideal situation. Insulin resistance occurs when cells in the body become less responsive to insulin which leads to higher blood sugar levels. To compensate, the pancreas produces more insulin. Over time, this can lead to high insulin levels and eventually lead to Diabetes if the pancreas can no longer keep up with the increased demand.

    ancreas makes Insulin ➡️➡️➡️➡️ Insulin allows cells to take in Glucose ➡️➡️➡️➡️ Glucose inside Cells Make Energy

    INSULIN RESISTANCE

    Cells don't recognize Insulin ➡️➡️➡️➡️ Glucose stays in the blood off cells 
    ➡️➡️➡️➡️ Cells starve
    ➡️➡️➡️➡️ Glucose wreaks havoc in blood
    ➡️➡️➡️➡️ Pancreas panics make more insulin
    ➡️➡️➡️➡️Insulin levels are too high in the blood
    ➡️➡️➡️➡️Pancreas burns out = DIABETES

    Main Causes of Insulin Resistance?

    Poor Diet

    A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to large spikes in blood sugar levels which tells the pancreas to produce more insulin. Over time, cells become LESS responsive to insulin due to constant high levels of sugar in the system.

    Trans Fats and Processed Foods

    Consuming unhealthy fats and highly processed foods leads to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.

    Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Lifestyle

    Your muscles are made for use. Lack of physical activity can decrease insulin sensitivity, making it harder for cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream.

    Obesity

    Fat is not just fat, it does not just occupy space. Fat, especially visceral fat i.e. excess body fat, particularly around the abdomen, produces hormones and inflammatory substances that interfere with insulin’s action and cause insulin resistance! Your body is a well-oiled machine. It has enough blood vessels to get nutrients to every part of your body when you are at a healthy weight that it can sustain itself. Visceral fat prevents your organs from receiving adequate blood supply and is strongly linked to insulin resistance. Obesity is not just weight gain but it can be as subtle signs and symptoms like sleep issues (sleep apnea), lethargy (thyroid issues), tiredness (anemia/loss of blood) fatigue (heaviness), and loss of energy. When your body becomes too big to sustain itself it starts to break down. There are signs! 

    Genetics

    Genetics does play a role in insulin resistance, not as big a role as diet and lifestyle choices. A family history of diabetes can increase the RISK of developing the condition but does not mean you will. Having a diet and being active reduces your chances of developing insulin resistance even with a strong family history of diabetes.

    Hormonal Imbalances

    Conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to insulin resistance, but the mainstay of treatment for PCOS is the same for diabetes which is improved diet, physical activity, and weight loss!

    Chronic Stress

    High Cortisol Levels from chronic stress elevate cortisol levels. Excess cortisol in your system leads to increased blood sugar levels, which leads to your pancreas releasing more insulin, which your body does not recognize over time. Insulin resistance!

    Sleep Issues

    Let’s talk about sleep hygiene. It is not enough to get 7-8 hours of sleep! It’s got to be good-quality sleep. If you’re suffering from sleep deprivation and sleep apnea the quality of your sleep is deeply affected. This disrupts insulin regulation and increases the risk of insulin resistance. All roads lead to insulin resistance.

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    How Can You Manage or Reverse Insulin Resistance?

    Make Healthy Sexy Diet Choices

    A person with diabetes checking their blood glucose level using a glucose meter.
    Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels is essential for managing insulin resistance and preventing diabetes.

    Prioritize Whole Foods

    Focus on a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods help maintain stable blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

    Reduce Sugar and Refined Carbs

    Limit the intake of sugary drinks, desserts, and refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta. 

    Your body is your body,

    are just going to let anything inside of it?

    Increase Fiber Intake

    Foods high in fiber, such as legumes, whole grains, and vegetables, help slow the absorption of sugar and reduce insulin spikes.

    Regular Physical Activity

    Aerobic Exercise: Activities like walking, running, cycling, and swimming improve insulin sensitivity by increasing glucose uptake in the muscles.

    Strength Training: Building muscle through resistance training can also improve insulin sensitivity and help manage blood sugar levels.

    Weight Management

    The BMI scale is the Body Mass Index is an aggregated average using your height and weight to calculate the optimal weight you should be. There’s some contention between races, and cultures that people are built differently, i.e. Asian people are smaller, Nordic people are taller, Latinos are shorter, African Americans are bigger, etc. And while this all remains true if your body is bigger than the capacity it can handle, it will break down. The best chance your body has is working at a weight that has no signs of insulin resistance. 

    Insert BMI scale here

    Lose Excess Weight: Even modest weight loss (5-10% of body weight) can significantly improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of diabetes.

    Stress Management using Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help manage stress and lower cortisol levels, which can improve insulin sensitivity. Again, exercise not only helps manage weight but also reduces stress.

    Improve Sleep Quality

    Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. Good sleep hygiene practices that help optimize your sleep are maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding eating in bed, watching television, playing video games or doom scrolling in bed, preparing yourself for sleep with a bath or sleep clothes- pajamas or lingerie taking your pic, these are proven ways of creating a restful environment. You deserve it!

    Treat Sleep Disorders: Address issues like sleep apnea with medical interventions if necessary. If you have insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, nightmares, or waking up multiple times a night to urinate, see your doctor, these are unusual sleep habits and could be caused by an underlying condition.

    Medication and Supplements

    Doctor Prescribed Medications: In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications like metformin to improve insulin sensitivity. Metformin is an excellent drug for insulin sensitivity especially in people with prediabetes and diabetes but it is not without its side effects. As with all medication, diet and exercise is the foundation first! Talk to your doctor if you think Metformin would be right for you!

    Over-the-Counter Supplements: Studies suggest that supplements that treat other conditions such as magnesium (Migraines, Insomnia), omega-3 fatty acids (Fatty Liver Disease, Depression), and chromium (PCOS) may help improve insulin sensitivity too. The most important thing is to consult a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen.

    Conclusion:

    Insulin resistance is a complex condition influenced by various factors, including diet, physical activity, weight, stress, sleep, and genetics. Understanding the causes of insulin resistance is the first step in managing and preventing it. By adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, stress management, and sufficient sleep, you can improve your insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other associated health issues. Remember, small, consistent changes can lead to significant improvements in metabolic health.

    References:

    American Diabetes Association, Insulin resistance and prediabetes.

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.
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