Insulin is produced by our pancreas and is released in response to eating carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates eventually get broken down to glucose and circulate in our bloodstream. Insulin then comes along and helps put this glucose into the cells of our liver and muscles where it can be used for energy. With Insulin Resistance, the muscles and liver “resist” the action of insulin, hindering glucose getting into these cells, and the body has to make more of it in order to try and keep the blood glucose levels in a normal range. Over time though, this creates a lot of problems, as the body cannot keep up.

A vicious cycle can then be created: a primary energy source is not getting to the cells where it is needed, so fatigue sets it, along with cravings for carbohydrates, which only then exacerbates the blood sugar issue even further. Because there is excess glucose in the blood that cannot be used by the cells, it either gets stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, or converted to adipose tissue (fat) – mainly around the abdominal area. Remember, most fat is just stored energy waiting to be used!

What are some of the signs or symptoms you may have IR?

  • Abdominal weight gain: measure your waist. Men whose waist measures > 102cm and women > 88cm are at greater risk. Ideally waists for men should be < 94cm for men and < 80cm for women.
  • Elevated blood pressure: > 130/85 mmHg
  • High fasting blood glucose (pre-diabetes) and high insulin levels
  • High serum triglycerides, high LDLs (bad cholesterol) and low HDLs (good cholesterol)
  • Fatigue
  • Increased inflammation
  • Hormonal dysregulation: women can have menstrual irregularities and men may have prostate problems. Both sexes may lose libido and have fertility issues.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Skin can develop ‘tags’, especially under the arms, and become rough and darker.
  • Depression

What contributes to the risk of IR?

  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle: lack of exercise plays a huge role
  • Family history, eg of diabetes or cardiovascular disease

Stress Insulin Resistance (IR) is a termed that gets brandished around, but what does it mean? It is a medical term used to indicate a condition when insulin, a hormone needed to control blood sugar levels, is not working as effectively as it should. It is not a disease, but is linked to increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes type II, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease to name a few.

  • Alcohol and Smoking
  • Poor diet: high calorie intake with lots of carbohydrates

Prevention is the key!

It is important to know that most people with IR may have no signs or symptoms. If you have some of these signs (or even if you don’t), now is the time to start making changes to ensure IR does not become a problem for you, as it can be reversed:

EXERCISE: increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. It can also help to lower blood pressure and improve your blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides). At least 3 hours of activity per week helps (can break this into 30 minute slots) and incorporate weight “resistant” training. It also helps reduce stress levels and encourages weight loss.

DIET: a diet high in natural wholegrain foods, vegetables and fruit ensures plenty of fibre and nutrients, including those much needed antioxidants. Have 2 pieces of fruit per day, and 4-5 cups of vegetables. Ensure you have a protein source with each meal as this helps stabilise blood sugar levels (fish is ideal, eggs, lean meats, legumes, nuts/seeds, natural yoghurt). Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, softdrinks, cordials etc) and limit saturated fats such as fatty meats and full cream products). Avoid processed foods – these tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients, and have bad trans fats which promote IR. Limit alcohol consumption to less than 2 standard drinks per day, and have at least 3 alcohol free days per week – my advice is to avoid alcohol altogether. Watch those portions! Drink 1-2L of water per day.

QUIT SMOKING: this increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer and affects your blood sugar levels.

STRESS: incorporate some stress reduction techniques into your lifestyle – exercise, massage, yoga, “me time”.

Lifestyle changes is the most effective therapy you can undertake, not only to avoid or reverse IR, but to enjoy a life of wellness.

Cassi Cowlam, Naturopath, BHSc (Nat), D.Th.D, D.Iridol, D.N.Med, The Medical Sanctuary


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