10 ways to know if you have insulin resistance
By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Insulin is an important hormone that controls many metabolic processes in your body. Unfortunately, problems with this hormone are incredibly common and are at the heart of many modern health conditions. Sometimes the cells of your body stop responding to insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance, and is very common.
Most people think about diabetics when they see the word insulin, but problems with insulin can occur in a number of different conditions, in people with normal blood sugar. You have probably heard of insulin resistance; it is a significant health problem because it’s associated with an increased risk of obesity, heart attacks, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cancer and other serious conditions. People with insulin resistance usually have excessively high blood levels of this hormone, because it doesn’t work properly. We are seeing an increasing number of patients who have been diagnosed with insulin resistance by their own doctor, yet they don’t fully understand what this term means.
How would you know if your insulin level is too high?
There is a blood test that can measure your fasting insulin, but it isn’t always reliable and many doctors are not willing to order this test. This is a shame because elevated insulin is bad for your health and shortens your lifespan.
Insulin has many important roles in your body. People with too much insulin in their bloodstream are said to have insulin resistance, syndrome X, metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. They are all interchangeable terms.
Due to modern diets and lifestyles, nearly everybody produces more insulin in their pancreas than they should. This is a problem because if blood insulin levels have been high for years, the cells of your body start to ignore it. The insulin becomes less and less effective at its important job in your body (getting glucose inside your cells so you can burn it for energy).
Knowing whether or not you have too high insulin is important because it can allow you to make some changes and avoid some serious health problems in the future. Luckily there are several tell tale signs or clues that your body gives you, alerting you to this problem.
The role of insulin in your body
Insulin is a hormone that your pancreas secretes into your bloodstream after you have eaten. It enables the glucose from your food to enter your cells, where it is burned for energy. If insulin is not doing its job properly, less glucose will be burnt for energy and more of it will be converted into fat.
Some of the fat is stored around your body, just under your skin, and some of it accumulates in your liver. Having too much fat in your liver (fatty liver) is a classic sign of elevated insulin. There are plenty of other signs and symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of chronically elevated insulin
- Abdominal obesity. As the waist grows larger, insulin becomes increasingly ineffective in your body, therefore levels of this hormone rise. If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll know your insulin is getting lower as your waist circumference gets smaller.
- Hunger and cravings for sugar or carbohydrate rich foods. People with high blood insulin are hungry and nothing will satisfy their appetite like carbs!
- Elevated blood sugar. A fasting blood sugar level greater than (5.4mmol/L) usually indicates insulin resistance.
- Acne and large pores on the face. Insulin and its cousin insulin-like growth factor 1 promote higher levels of the male hormone testosterone and increase the sensitivity of your face to testosterone. That means you’re more likely to experience acne and greasy skin.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Scalp hair loss in women in the male pattern (front and sides).
- Skin tags.
- Acanthosis nigricans – look at these pictures to see what I mean.
- High blood pressure.
- Swollen ankles. Insulin tells your kidneys to hang on to sodium and water, therefore you will look more puffy. You can experience fluid retention anywhere on your body, such as your fingers, face and abdomen.
Clearly having too much insulin in your bloodstream is not a good thing. Luckily there is a great deal you can do to reverse this scenario.
A healthy liver is very important for blood sugar control. This is because the liver can store glucose and fat, and also produce glucose and fat. You want your liver to be good at fat burning. People with a healthy liver have a fast metabolism and don’t gain weight as easily. Unfortunately a lot of people have a fatty liver and their liver is doing the opposite of what it should be doing – it is very busy making fat.
A healthy liver also helps to control your blood sugar level. If you have not eaten for several hours, your liver is supposed to release some stored glucose into your bloodstream to give you energy and keep hunger at bay. People with a sluggish liver struggle with this and they often feel excessively hungry, weak or irritable if they have gone several hours without food. It makes sticking to a diet extremely difficult! To help improve your liver health I recommend you follow the diet in Dr Cabot’s book Fatty Liver You Can Reverse It. It is not a difficult eating plan to stick to and you should not feel hungry.
Insulin resistant people cannot handle common levels of carbohydrate in their diet. They over secrete insulin in response to eating carbs and they are less likely to feel satisfied after a meal, therefore tend to over eat. That means carbohydrate needs to be restricted in the diet. It is best to get your carbohydrate from vegetables, along with small amounts of fruit, nuts and seeds. There is an easy to follow low carbohydrate eating plan in Dr Cabot’s book I Can’t Lose Weight and I don’t know why.
Protein is the most important nutrient for those wanting to lose weight and reduce their blood insulin level. It is critical to eat protein at every meal because it is extremely satiating. It will help to make you feel more full and satisfied after a meal, and keep you feeling satisfied for longer. This way sticking to a healthy diet won’t be so much of a struggle.
Examples of protein include eggs, seafood, poultry and red meat. Dairy products, nuts and seeds contain smaller levels of protein. Protein powders can be extremely helpful for those wanting to lose weight because they provide a quick, tasty and easy meal option for busy days. A protein powder smoothie can also make a delicious and filling snack mid morning or in the afternoon, when you might be struggling with sugar cravings.
There are specific nutrient deficiencies that can also worsen insulin resistance. Correcting those deficiencies can improve health and make weight loss much easier.