Insulin Resistance & Sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone in the human body that controls a lot of processes within us.

When issues start to arise with this hormone, it’s a cause for many health conditions. When cells stop responding to the insulin hormone, this is known as insulin resistance, and it’s unfortunately quite common.

Usually seen in children, teens, and adults who are obese, it’s reported that around 30% of the United States suffers from insulin resistance. 

If you or someone you know suffers from this condition, there are ways they can improve how sensitive they are to insulin.

Read on to find out more about the basics of insulin, what causes it, and how to get it under control.

Insulin Explained

Insulin is a hormone that plays an important part in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. 

It regulates the amount of sugar in the blood by controlling how much glucose enters cells from the bloodstream.

Insulin lowers blood glucose concentrations by promoting the storage of glucose as glycogen or fat and prevents its release into the circulation. 

There are two types of insulin: somatic and secreted. Somatic is released from beta cells in response to changes in food intake or bodyweight, while released insulin is secreted from pancreatic beta-cells.

Insulin wants to control how much nutrients are circulating in our blood. 

If you eat a food that’s high in carbohydrates, blood sugar will increase in your bloodstream.

Your pancreas then senses the increase in blood sugar and releases the insulin hormone into your blood. When this happens, your blood sugar decreases.

Sometimes, the cells will not respond to insulin properly, causing insulin resistance. 

When your cells stop responding, your pancreas has to work overtime to try and make more of the insulin hormone to lower your blood sugar levels.

Whenever high amounts of insulin end up in your blood, this can lead to hyperinsulinemia. 

If cells become resistant to insulin, both insulin and blood sugar levels in the body begin to increase, causing damage to the pancreas.

When the pancreas suffers from damage, it decreases the production of insulin, causing a vicious cycle to occur.

Insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity are essentially the same things. If you’re insulin resistant, then you have a low sensitivity to insulin. 

If, on the other hand, you are sensitive to insulin, then your insulin resistance will be low as well.

Insulin Resistance Contributing Factors

One of the biggest factors causing insulin resistance is high levels of fat in the bloodstream. 

Studies have shown that increased levels of fatty acids in the blood will have cells not respond to insulin the correct way. (1)

Overeating and consuming too many calories each day will contribute to more body weight and increased fatty acids. 

When your body accumulates too many fatty acids over a long period, the pancreas will produce extra amounts of insulin in an attempt to regulate this excessive fat. 

With the increased production of insulin, it becomes harder for your cells to utilize glucose from the bloodstream as fuel.

It’s been shown that eating too much, obesity, and gaining weight are all factors that have been associated with resistance to insulin. (2)

Visceral fat, or the fat deep in the abdomen near your organs, is metabolically active and secretes hormones that can affect insulin sensitivity. (3)

This is one of the reasons why people with excess weight are more likely to develop diabetes.

Individuals with high amounts of visceral fat are more likely to be insulin resistant, which a fasting glucose test can measure. 

A typical person who is insulin resistant would have higher levels of glucose in their blood after eating and lower levels after eating.

Unfortunately, people at healthy weight levels can be susceptible to insulin resistance as well.

Here are a few other factors that can contribute to insulin resistance:

  • A diet high in sugar has been identified in studies for both rats and humans as a link to insulin resistance. (4)
  • Unhealthy stress levels and inflammation in the body is a contributing factor. (5)
  • Sedentary lifestyles are common with insulin resistance. (6)
  • Disruption of gut bacteria has been shown to cause inflammation.

How To Tell If You’re Resistant To Insulin

There are a few ways to find out if you’re resistant to insulin. Your doctor will be able to run tests for you so you can know for sure.

One way is to have your blood sugar levels measured in the morning and after eating.

If you consistently have low glucose levels even after having your blood sugar tested, then it can be determined that you’re resistant to insulin.

Another method for finding this out is through mathematical modeling or trial-and-error. 

Your doctor may give you a calculation ratio of how much carbohydrate your biomarker (blood sugar and/or insulin) needs in order to increase by 1 mg/dL of HbA1c. 

So if your HbA1c level is at 7%, you would need 1 mg/dL of change for every 56 grams of carbohydrates.

Some quick ways to tell if you may be insulin resistant:

  • You have a lot of belly fat or excess body fat.
  • Your skin has dark spots, which is a condition known as acanthosis nigricans.
  • Your good cholesterol (HDL) is low, but triglycerides in your blood are high. (7)

Reducing Resistance To Insulin

There are a few ways you can lower your insulin resistance by changing to healthier lifestyle habits.

You should:

  • Resistance train or exercise regularly.
  • Lose the fat around your stomach. Try high-intensity interval training to get your weight under control.
  • Quit smoking. Tobacco has been shown to cause insulin resistance.
  • Reduce sugary foods in your diet. Added sugars from drinks and food should be drastically reduced, if not eliminated completely.
  • Eating a low-carb, high-fat diet like the ketogenic diet. 
  • Get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night and reduce stress levels. Optimize your sleep cycle and try meditation.
  • Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity in studies. (8)

As you can see, the above recommendations are just about living a healthier lifestyle. 

Talk to your doctor to see if you’re insulin resistant and what your options are to get your body into a healthier state.

It’s possible to reverse insulin resistance with the proper plan in place, and a follow-through on your end.

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