By Louise O’Connor, Naturopath
Insulin Resistance Syndrome develops over time as the body slowly loses the ability to control blood sugar levels effectively.
If you have Insulin Resistance Syndrome, your blood glucose and insulin levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis to be made. Although Type 2 Diabetes usually develops if Insulin Resistance Syndrome is left untreated.
Insulin Resistance Syndrome is now recognised as the leading cause of all major health issues affecting developed countries. The outcome of Insulin Resistance Syndrome is cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes and even cancer.
Treatment of Insulin Resistance Syndrome, and the health issues associated with this condition, is centered on improving your blood glucose control.
Insulin Resistance Syndrome is also known as Metabolic Syndrome and Syndrome X.
Blood Glucose Control
Glucose is derived from the breakdown of carbohydrate foods and is the preferred fuel source of the body. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to control glucose utilisation by the cells.
Insulin controls glucose uptake by binding to insulin receptors on the surface of cells. Like a key opening a door the insulin activates the receptors to allow transport of glucose into the cells where it is then used for energy.
By activating the insulin receptors on cell membranes, insulin has the ability to provide cells with glucose for energy and prevent blood glucose levels from becoming elevated.
In addition to its effects on carbohydrate metabolism, insulin also influences the metabolism of fat and protein.
Insulin Resistance and Weight Gain
Weight gain results when there is an excess supply of glucose and/or the insulin cannot stimulate glucose transport into the cells. The unused glucose rapidly converts to body fat, especially around the abdomen.
Only a limited amount of glucose can be transported into the cells to meet energy demands. The excess is stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver, or it is converted to fat and stored. A diet high in sugary foods supplies too much glucose.
The over consumption of sugary foods also places a huge strain on the action of insulin. The more processed and refined our food is, the more insulin we require to metabolise it. Over time our cells become less sensitive to the action of insulin. At this point your body becomes resistant to insulin. This leads to the cells being starved of glucose, so you feel exhausted and crave carbohydrate foods to provide energy.
Do You Have Insulin Resistance?
The common signs of Insulin Resistance Syndrome are:
- increased blood glucose and insulin levels
- obesity (particularly in the abdominal region)
- high blood pressure
- low levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol
- high blood levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol
- elevated levels of triglycerides
- abnormalities in blood clotting
- increased inflammatory markers
Your risk increases is there is a family history of diabetes, heart attacks or stroke.
Some Other Signs of Insulin Resistance Syndrome
Insulin Resistance Syndrome may be responsible for other symptoms that you may be experiencing. These symptoms include:
- Skin: Typical skin features include a darkening and a roughness of the skin and skin tags
- Women: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), early puberty, infertility and an irregular or absent menstrual cycle
- Men: Impotency, low libido and prostate problems
- Nervous System: Depression, migraines, headaches and memory loss
- Sleep: Snoring and sleep apnoea (the cessation of breathing while sleeping). This leads to fatigue and daytime sleepines
What Causes Insulin Resistance Syndrome?
Many factors are responsible for the onset of Insulin Resistance Syndrome.
It is primarily due to the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. A lack of exercise, poorly managed stress, and a diet that is high in calories and refined carbohydrates, but deficient in nutrients will lead to Insulin Resistance Syndrome.
Poor diet and lifestyle factors throw your body out of balance, resulting in an inability to regulate the level of fat and glucose in your blood. This causes many of the symptoms associated with Insulin Resistance Syndrome, such as elevated blood pressure, insulin levels and triglycerides.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?
The good news is that Insulin Resistance can be reversed by improving your nutritional and lifestyle habits.
If Insulin Resistance Syndrome is not managed appropriately it can lead to damage to your heart, arteries, kidney, liver and nervous system.
Keep Your Waistline Trim
Maintaining healthy body weight is vital. Insulin Resistance Syndrome strikes those who are overweight, especially if the extra weight is around the abdomen. Body fat in this area is sitting close to vital organs and creates more stress on the heart.
What Your Waist Measurement Reveals
A simple way to assess your risk for Insulin Resistance Syndrome is to take your waist measurement.
Use a flexible tape to measure your waist at the point between the bottom of the ribcage and the top of the hip bone.
A healthy waist measurement for women is below 80cm and below 94cm for men.
A measurement above 88cm for women and a measurement above 102cm for men places you at greater risk of Insulin Resistance Syndrome.
Nutritional & Lifestyle Guidelines for Insulin Resistance Syndrome
- Avoid refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks, biscuits, cakes, chocolates, sweets and sugary breakfast cereals as these foods cause rapid spikes in blood glucose levels, placing more stress on insulin action.
- Increase consumption of fruit, vegetables and salad greens in your diet. Organic if possible. Ideally you should consume 2-3 pieces of fruit and 3-4 serves of vegetables daily.
- Choose wholegrains that are high in fibre. Wholegrain foods contain all parts of the grain. Example: oats, corn, rice, wheat, barley, rye, triticale and millet. Limit processed grain based foods. Example: boxed breakfast cereals, white bread and pasta.
- Fibre is abundant in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. There is a strong link between a high fibre diet and a reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes, some cancers and cardiovascular disease.Protein foods such as fresh fish, lean red meat, free range or organic chicken, organic eggs or secondary protein such as whole grains and legumes should be eaten 1-2 times daily.
- Fish is an ideal protein source as it does not contain saturated fat. Eat local, fresh fish 2-3 times a week if you are not a vegetarian.
- The type of fat in your diet plays an important role in assisting with insulin reception at the cell level. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are important structural components of cell membranes. When incorporated into cell membranes they improve permeability and sensitivity of insulin receptors embedded within the cell membrane. Cold water fish, free range eggs, avocadoes, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil and raw nuts and seeds are foods that are rich the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.The typical modern diet is much higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that the omega-3 fatty acids assist in reducing cardiovascular risk markers such as high triglycerides and LDL and VLDL cholesterol.
- Limit the intake of saturated fats that are found in red meat, chicken, deli meats and dairy foods.
- Avoid trans fats found in margarine, commercially prepared foods and deep fried food. When cell membranes contain these synthetic fats insulin receptors cannot work effectively. The insulin key does not fit the lock of the insulin receptor. Your body then has no choice but to push glucose into fat cells, which do not require an insulin receptor.
- Resist sprinkling salt on your food. Only use small amounts of sea salt or Celtic salt with cooking.
- Ensure you eat regularly and choose healthy snacks mid morning and mid afternoon to balance your blood glucose levels. Fruit, nuts, seeds, fresh juices, protein shakes and natural yoghurt all make healthy snacks.
- Quit smoking. Smoking reduces your ability to control your blood sugar levels and cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals that are damaging to the body.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol places stress on the liver and is damaging to the cardiovascular system.
- Manage stress and anxiety. Cortisol is the major hormone released in response to stress. It causes weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Stress also raises your blood pressure.
- Stay well hydrated by drinking 1.5 – 2 litres of filtered water daily.
- Get Moving. Perform light to moderate exercise 3-5 times a week.