What You Need To Know About Insulin Resistance
by Ashley Harvard, BB&W Health and Wellness editor
November is National Diabetes Month. We all know that diabetes, specifically the type-2 kind, is spreading like wildfire across all demographic groups in the U.S. It’s a serious disease tied to many serious health conditions like heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension.
More troubling is the fact that according to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 25% of black women over the age of 55 have diabetes. Wow.
This is pretty alarming to me. This is because I understand (as you will too by the end of this post) that the onset of type-2 diabetes is slow, usually taking years to progress into the full-blown disease. Before being diagnosed with diabetes, the majority of these women will have been unknowingly living in a pre-diabetic state with a condition known as insulin resistance. Millions of others will never develop diabetes but will still suffer from insulin resistance.
Although insulin resistance often leads to type-2 diabetes, it’s a harmful condition in and of itself. Dr. Mark Hyman, one of the leading physicians in the U.S., writes in his book The Blood Sugar Solution that “insulin resistance is the single most important phenomenon that leads to rapid and premature aging and all its resultant diseases, including heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cancer. (Hyman, 2012, p.19)“
Insulin resistance might be a new term to some of you, so I’ll explain the condition in this post. Next week, I’ll explore some of its signs and symptoms and lay out specific nutrition and lifestyle recommendations to support balanced insulin and blood sugar levels.
Your health is connected to how well you maintain balanced blood sugar levels
Over the years, as I’ve learned more about nutrition both academically and through my own health journey, I have come to understand this: one of the most important things we as humans must do if we want to live long and healthy lives is to maintain balanced blood sugar levels.
How we metabolize sugar is tied to so many things in our bodies. It is among the biggest factors that can either contribute to gaining weight or not being able to lose weight. It can lead to premature aging (who wants more wrinkles?) and can even lead to unbalanced hormone levels (hormone level regulation is a topic I’ll cover at another time – but for now just know that you don’t want to throw off your hormone levels. Ever.)
Insulin is one of the most important hormones for regulating blood sugar levels
When we eat, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream to transport most of the glucose (a fancy word for sugar) from the food we just ate, into our muscle and tissue cells where it is used/stored for energy. Glucose is our bodies primary, and preferred, source of fuel for energy production. Our blood sugar levels therefore reflect how much glucose remains in our bloodstream after the rest has been shuttled to the cells.
Our bodies are incredible at maintaining balance whether hormonally, metabolically, etc. Blood sugar levels are balanced by a number of hormones, with insulin being the dominant one responsible for driving blood sugar levels down. While other hormones are responsible for raising blood sugar levels. Our blood sugar levels are supposed to fluctuate within a reasonable range in response to things like eating a meal, sleeping, exercising, etc. But this delicate balancing act can be thrown off and is often related to simply eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugar.
Bucking under this metabolic stress, our cells can’t respond normally to insulin.
This keeps glucose from getting into cells, forcing it to remain in the bloodstream before being converted into fat (since it has no where else to go). In order to compensate for this growing insulin resistance, our pancreas’ pump out more and more insulin. The more and more insulin we have floating around in our bodies, the more erratic and unpredictable blood sugar levels become; sometimes our cells respond to the high levels insulin, sending blood sugar levels way too low and other times the cells don’t respond to insulin, sending blood sugar levels through the roof.
Being at the mercy of uncontrollable blood sugar levels is no way to live – trust me, I’ve personally experienced it. Our bodies just weren’t designed for this kind of stress. But I know that armed with knowledge, support/guidance and a desire to beat the statistical odds of developing diabetes, anyone can turn insulin resistance around.
This is a lot of information to take in, so next week we’ll move on to discussing symptoms you should watch out for as well as what you can do to improve and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Questions? Ask away in the comments section below!