If you find that you have a “slow metabolism”, struggle with irregular periods, feel that you should have grown out of your acne by now, feel that your energy is low and you get strong cravings for carbohydrate rich foods or “hangy” if you have not eaten in a while, you may have the early signs of insulin resistance. Blood work can confirm the diagnosis and track progress using a combination of tests that give a good picture of what is going on together. These tests include a fasting glucose test, a fasting insulin test, and an hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) level, which provides a snapshot of your blood sugar levels over the past three months.
Insulin resistance is a condition that occurs when cells in the body fail to respond properly to the hormone insulin. When we consume food, the carbohydrates in it are broken down into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. Insulin then helps to transport glucose into the cells of the body, where it is used for energy or stored for later use. In people with insulin resistance, the cells in their body become less responsive to insulin. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to compensate for the decreased sensitivity. This can lead to high levels of insulin in the bloodstream which, when chronically elevated, creates inflammation and over time, can lead to a range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
There are several conditions that are associated with insulin resistance. These include type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity), and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Chronic high insulin levels in the blood can also cause premature skin aging, skin tag development and acne. In addition, insulin resistance has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer.
If you have insulin resistance or are looking to prevent it, there are several steps you can take to encourage balanced insulin levels. The first step is to make dietary changes, including reducing your intake of processed and sugary foods, and increasing your consumption of whole, nutrient-dense foods and specifically increasing protein-rich foods. In addition, regular moderate intensity exercise can help to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of diabetes. Other good habits to practice include: avoiding snacking between meals, reducing alcohol consumption, eat dinner at least 3 hours before bed and aim for a 14 hour fast between dinner and breakfast, and get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. If you already fall into the insulin resistant category, it may be helpful to add some herbal/supplement support for a few months to encourage your metabolism to shift back to a healthy state.
With the right lifestyle changes and medical interventions, it is possible to reverse insulin resistance and reduce your risk of developing diabetes and other chronic conditions. Working with a naturopathic doctor can keep you on track and guide you through the process of supporting your metabolic health with lab tests, supplements and herbal remedies, and encouragement on your health journey.
Article by: Dr. Christina Holmquist, ND