Understanding Insulin Resistance: Part One
The conversation around blood sugar and insulin resistance is more of a household conversation than ever before. Gone are the days when we only worried about blood sugar as it related to diabetes and other chronic health conditions. These days we not only want to optimize it–but see how balancing our blood sugar is an important preventative health measure.
This is such an important topic, we are breaking it into a miniseries. Before we go much further, let’s cover the basics.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is one of the leading contributors to chronic disease. In order to maintain a healthy hormone balance, metabolism and low inflammatory state, preventing or reversing insulin resistance is critical. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels. Normally, insulin moves glucose into cells to make energy. The majority of glucose gets moved from the bloodstream into your muscle, with lesser amounts in the liver and fat cells so it can get used for energy or stored for later use. Insulin levels increase in response to high glucose levels in the bloodstream. As long as the pancreas can keep up with insulin production to overcome the cell’s weak response, blood sugar levels will be balanced. When the cells become insulin resistant, blood glucose levels begin to increase which leads to diabetes, fatty liver disease, weight gain, heart disease, among others. Whew, a lot–we get it.
In an energy deficit where you burn more energy than you are taking in, you should be able to process glucose. In a hypercaloric state with a large consumption of processed carbs, high glucose leads to insulin surge which blunts insulin receptors, thus body stops responding to insulin, leaving those cells starving for glucose and lacking energy. The cells then send a signal to the body to create more glucose, which happens in the liver. That surplus gets stored as fat in the liver and as fatty tissue. With extra fat accumulation in the liver, it sends an inappropriate signal to overproduce sugar. Factors that place a person at higher risk of insulin resistance include lifestyle habits, genetics, ethnicity, and sex.
RELATED: Why Low-Sugar Meals are Trending & What You Should Know About Them
Signs you may have insulin resistance
The natural next question–how do I know if I might be insulin resistant? While we always want you to consult with a practitioner, here are some high level signs to recognize.
You’ll look for weight gain, increase in your waistline, fatigue (especially after eating), skin tags, darkened skin in your armpit, back, and sides of the neck. If you have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL, or high blood sugar those can also point to issues with insulin resistance.
How to test for it
Simple blood test of fasting insulin level in the morning. It is also good to test markers like fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1C for an average glucose, stress hormones, and other labs personalized to the individual. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) may be necessary to identify more specifically what may be causing blood sugar to spike.
Next month I’ll be back to break down what to do about it, some common interventions, and habits that negatively affect it. Stay tuned!