What is Insulin Resistance?
To understand insulin resistance, it helps to understand a little about how insulin works and its function in the body. Insulin is an essential hormone created in the pancreas, which is involved in the metabolism of sugars in the body. Without it, we are unable to convert the food we eat into usable energy.
When we eat something, much of the digested food is broken down into glucose, the body’s main source of energy. The pancreas then responds to the increased blood sugar levels by secreting insulin into the blood stream. Most cells in your body contain insulin receptors which help to bind the insulin to the cell. Once insulin is attached to the cell, other receptor sites are activated, which allows the glucose to enter the cell and provide it with life-sustaining energy.
Insulin also plays other vital roles in the body such as the storing of excess nutrients and magnesium, the retention of sodium and the management of various other hormones in the body including growth hormones, testosterone, and progesterone. Insulin is also responsible for stopping the liver from releasing any fat, a potential metabolic fuel, into the blood after a meal.
Insulin resistance occurs when despite the body producing sufficient amounts of insulin, the cells in the body become resistant to its effects. When this happens, the body requires more than the normal amount of insulin to have an affect, and as a result, the pancreas produces more insulin.
As long as the pancreas can keep up with the high insulin demands, blood sugar levels will remain normal, however, the increased insulin levels can have other negative health effects such as weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, fatty liver disease and hormone-related conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If the pancreas can no longer keep up with the insulin demands, Type II Diabetes is likely to develop.
Diagnosing Insulin Resistance
Diagnosis of insulin resistance is not based on solely on insulin levels, but rather includes a very thorough medical history and physical examination. Your doctor will want to check your blood pressure, measure your body fat or abdominal circumference, and run some tests to measure glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride and fasting insulin levels.
What Causes Insulin Resistance?
There are a number of possible causes of insulin resistance and it is a condition that tends to have a strong genetic factor and therefore often runs in families.
Causes of Insulin Resistance
Other causes of insulin resistance include:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Infection or illness
- Steroid use
- Side-effect of certain medications
Help for Insulin Resistance
The primary treatment for insulin resistance is exercise, weight loss and lifestyle and changes which reduce the bodies need for insulin.
Reducing glucose and carbohydrates in the diet and opting for low glycemic index carbohydrates instead of high G.I carbohydrates is the first step in managing insulin resistance. Low G.I carbohydrates break down at a slower rate and so glucose is released slowly, reducing the need for high levels of insulin.
In addition, exercise and weight loss improve sensitivity of the cells to insulin by increasing the rate in which glucose is absorbed into the body cells. Medications such as Metformin (Glucophage) and thiazolidinediones, such as Actos and Avandia which are often used in the treatment of type II Diabetes are sometimes recommended for insulin resistance as they increase the cells sensitivity to insulin. While many of these medications are reasonably effective, they often have unwanted side effects such as gastrointestinal problems and liver toxicity.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the use of carefully chosen herbal and homeopathic remedies and dietary supplements can help to both prevent diabetes and to keep it under control in those who have already developed it.
Along with the correct lifestyle changes, herbal remedies and dietary supplements can reduce or eliminate the need for prescription medication and can also aid in preventing some of the tissue and organ damage associated with uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Herbs such as Gymnema sylvestre, Galega officinalis and Bilberry are a few of the herbs that have proven successful in the control and treatment of diabetes while the mineral Chromium picolinate has been proven to improve the effectiveness of insulin.