Insulin is a hormone produced by an organ called the pancreas. The main job of insulin is to assist with digestion, specifically helping glucose to get inside cells to provide them with energy. Insulin Resistance is a condition in which the body is ‘resistant’ to insulin, meaning that even though the body is still producing insulin, the insulin is not effectively getting to where it is most needed and our cells don’t get the energy they need.
What are the symptoms of insulin resistance?
Common symptoms of insulin resistance may include:
Fatigue and sleepiness, especially after meals
Brain fogginess and an inability to focus
High blood glucose levels
Weight gain, increased fat storage and difficulty losing weight
Increased blood triglyceride levels
Increased blood pressure
How is it diagnosed?
Insulin Resistance is easily diagnosed by your doctor by a blood test. For accurate results it is important that you fast for your blood test.
What causes Insulin Resistance?
The primary cause of Insulin Resistance is having a diet which is too high in fat. When we eat fat it is broken down into smaller molecules called ‘free fatty acids’ which travel through the bloodstream to be stored in fat tissue. However, when there are a lot of free fatty acids in the bloodstream it decreases the body’s ability to use up your body’s carbohydrate stores. Furthermore, excess stored fat reduces the body’s ability for your insulin to function effectively.
There also seems to be a genetic influence on Insulin Resistance so if someone else in your family has or had Insulin Resistance or Type II diabetes, you have an increased risk. You also have an increased risk of Insulin Resistance if you are of Asian, Hispanic, African or Aboriginal descent.
Some medical conditions such as Hepatitis C, haemochromatosis, fatty liver, Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome or gastroparesis also seem to increase the risk. Medications such as glucosamine, corticosteroids, olanzapine and methadone can also cause increased risk.
How is it treated?
It is important that people diagnosed with Insulin Resistance have their condition treated as they are at a high risk of developing Type II Diabetes. The best treatment for Insulin Resistance is a combination of exercise, dietary modification and fat loss (if you have a high percentage of body fat).
Exercise increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. It is recommended that you aim for seven hours of planned moderate-intensity exercise each week.
Your diet should be modified to decrease saturated fat. A lower glycaemic index (GI), higher protein diet is the best option for Insulin Resistance. It is essential to space your meals well and keep portion sizes small to decrease your glycaemic load which can cause your body to produce too much insulin. Your Dietitian can design a meal plan for you to meet your nutritional requirements.
Studies show that in many cases a 10% weight loss can put Insulin Resistance into remission. It is ideal to focus overall weight loss as fat mass loss as you don’t want to lose muscle mass or fluid! When you have achieved this goal it is recommended that you speak to your GP about getting another blood test to see if your Insulin Resistance has improved.
Some people may need medications to keep their Insulin Resistance under control, however, lifestyle changes should always be tried first. Once you’ve got your Insulin Resistance into remission, make sure that you continue your dietary and exercise changes, and recheck your insulin levels with a blood test every second year.