Insulin resistance – What is it and why is it so bad?

Insulin resistance is a condition characterized by an inability of the body to utilize the hormone insulin properly. When you eat, food is broken down into glucose to be used for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, tempers the amount of sugar in the bloodstream by helping glucose get into muscle, fat and liver cells. Insulin is a “key” that opens doors to the body’s cells, so glucose can enter. With insulin resistance, it’s like having locks that do not work. The keys won’t turn, and glucose can’t get into the cell. The pancreas, alarmed by the increase in blood sugar, cranks out more insulin. This cycle then feeds on itself, leading to higher and higher inulin levels in your blood.


People who have high levels of circulating insulin (hyperinsulinemia) in the body are called insulin resistant. This is because their pancreas continues to pump out more and more insulin in an effort to lower rising blood glucose levels. When an individual can no longer produce enough insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar, type 2 diabetes develops.


For those of you having difficult losing weight, high insulin levels make it very hard to lose those extra pounds because it “locks” the doors to fat cells.


Excess insulin is also highly inflammatory. As noted in previous articles, high levels of inflammation can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.


An estimated one in three Americans is insulin resistant, a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, and stroke.  Insulin resistance can be diagnosed based on medical history, risk factors, and lab tests. Abdominal obesity is a significant risk factor for insulin resistance. It is defined as a waist circumference of 102 cm (40 in) or more in men and 88 cm (35 inches) or more in women.


The following lab results suggest a diagnosis of insulin resistance syndrome:


  • A fasting glucose level between 100 and 124 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides of 150 mg/dl or higher.
  • HDL cholesterol of < 40 (men) or < 50 (women).
  • A blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher.


The good news is that insulin resistance is reversible. Losing weight is the best natural way to treat insulin resistance. Many people think they need to lose large amounts of weight (50lbs or even 100lbs) to reverse insulin resistance. This is not necessarily true. Losing even small amounts of weight (15-20lbs) can significantly lower blood sugar levels and insulin levels. The best long-term diet or life style is one that is low in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods. Simple carbs such as bread, rice, flour, pasta, and cereals are quickly turned by the body into sugar and thus raise insulin levels. Eating complex carbs such as fruits, vegetables, and beans are slowly digested and do not raise insulin levels. Complex carbs tend to have a lot of fiber, which will help lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Your daily goal should be at least 30 grams of fiber a day. (See prior article on fiber.) Combining protein and healthy fats with your meals will also slow down digestion of sugars and help keep your insulin levels from rising too much. Finally, aerobic exercise is also a great way to burn off extra glucose in your blood stream and lower your insulin levels naturally. Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, and rowing for 20-30 minutes at a time 4-5 times a week can significantly lower both blood sugar levels and insulin levels.



Want to get healthy and lose weight? Reduce your insulin levels.

Food is medicine. I have said this many times. Is it really true? When it comes to losing weight and preventing disease – absolutely! Today we are going to talk about food, your insulin levels and your health.


First of all, what is insulin? Insulin is one of your body’s many hormones. The pancreas, in response to elevated blood sugar levels, releases insulin. Eating foods with sugar or foods that are easily turned into sugar, such as highly processed foods and simple carbs, elevate your blood sugar levels quickly. Insulin’s job is to keep your blood sugar level from getting too high. Insulin allows your body’s cells to remove the extra sugar in the blood. Without insulin, your cells would not have the ability to take in sugar (glucose). Your cells need insulin to be able to receive nourishment.


Eating excess sugar and simple carbs in your diet causes large amounts of insulin to be released into the bloodstream. Over time, your cells receive enough glucose (sugar), and do not need any more. If you continue to consume large amounts of sugar and simple carbs, the pancreas releases even more insulin. As a result, the pancreas is working overtime to push your blood sugar level back to normal. Unfortunately, it becomes difficult for even the increased levels of insulin to decrease the blood sugar levels back to normal. This continuous increased level of insulin in the blood is called hyper-insulinemia or insulin resistance. Eventually, if you still continue to consume large amounts of sugar and simple carbs, despite large amounts of insulin in your blood stream, the blood sugar level rises and you develop diabetes. The increased levels of insulin are ineffective.


Insulin is needed by everybody to keep his or her blood sugar levels in a normal range. A problem develops when insulin levels are chronically elevated. Insulin is the “get fat” hormone. Increased insulin levels directly lead to weight gain. If your insulin levels are high, you will be overweight. Increased insulin levels also lead to high blood pressure and to increased inflammation levels. Inflammation appears to be a greater risk factor for heart disease and stroke than cholesterol. Increased insulin may also lead to an increased cancer risk. Clearly, lowering your insulin levels is critical to good health.


How do you know if your insulin levels are high? If you have excess fat around your middle your insulin levels are probably high. Although, you may be tall or thin, short or fat or any combination and still have insulin resistance. If your fasting blood sugar level is greater that 100mg/dL, your insulin levels are high. If your fasting triglyceride levels are high, your insulin levels will also be high.


So how do you decrease your insulin levels? Here are some tips:


  • Stop eating flour and sugar products, especially high fructose corn syrup.
  • Don’t have liquid calories, like sugary sodas and juices. Your body doesn’t feel full from them anyway.
  • Stop eating all processed, junk or packaged foods. If it doesn’t look like the food it originated from, then stay away.
  • Slow the rate of sugar uptake from the gut through balancing your meals (low glycemic load) with healthy protein (nuts, seeds, beans, small wild fish, organic chicken), healthy carbs (vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains) and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocadoes, fish oil)
  • Eat plenty of soluble fiber (at least 30 grams a day)
  • Eat smaller more frequent meals
  • Exercise – regular aerobic exercise (20-30 minutes at a time, 4-5 times a week) will help decrease your blood sugar and insulin levels


Remember, what you eat directly affects your health through hormones. You can decrease your insulin levels directly through good nutrition and exercise. Ultimately, by decreasing your insulin levels you can lose weight and keep it off, decrease your risk of heart attack and strokes, and finally, also decrease your risk of cancer.