What Women Need to Know About Insulin Resistance

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What Women Need to Know About Insulin Resistance

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rising prevalence of medical conditions in people with insulin resistance has led to the condition being recognised as a strong predictor of disease in adults. Pure Health Hub chats to Sydney Naturopath Victoria O’Sullivan about how it could be affecting your health.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is a state where the cells in the body become resistant to the effects of insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas that regulates your body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, inhibiting the uptake of sugars into the cells. Over time insulin can fail to work as efficiently as it should and, as the glucose levels in the blood rise, the pancreas attempts to compensate for this by increasing insulin production. This can lead to dysfunction of the pancreatic beta cells, resulting in Type 2 diabetes.

Watching your diet but the scales won’t budge? As insulin is also a fat-storing hormone, people with insulin resistance can struggle to lose weight via traditional weight loss, exacerbating the problem and leading to obesity. But beyond the pain of weight gain, insulin resistance is also a key driver of chronic diseases such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer, as well as Alzheimer Disease and related dementias.

Naturopath Victoria O’Sullivan tells us that ongoing research is also being conducted into how insulin resistance contributes to various disease states and how interactions with the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, immune system and microbiome may play a role in development of disease.

So what causes insulin resistance?

“The most common cause of insulin resistance is prolonged excessive intake of sugar and other simple carbohydrates. However, a prolonged hyper caloric diet of any composition can induce obesity and subsequent insulin resistance. This is compounded by a sedentary lifestyle and genetic predisposition,” O’Sullivan explains.

O’Sullivan says that physiologically women are less predisposed to obesity induced insulin resistance due to the protective effects of oestrogen, women are more prone to autoimmune disorders including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder involving chronic inflammation of the thyroid, which can be a risk factor for insulin resistance. There is also evidence of increased vulnerability to developing insulin dysfunction and its associated symptoms due to the hormonal changes of menopause.

How is insulin resistance diagnosed?

While increased levels of insulin can make you feel tired, bloated and increase sugar cravings, insulin resistance doesn’t trigger more obvious symptoms, meaning individuals can have the condition for years without knowing it. Diagnosis, through a simple fasting blood glucose test, can offer an important early warning sign for Type 2 Diabetes with proper management of insulin resistance helping to prevent its development. Testing for Diabetes and by proxy, insulin resistance, should begin at about age 40, particularly if a person lives a sedentary lifestyle, have a family history of type 2 diabetes, have high blood pressure or weight or signs of abdominal obesity.

Is insulin resistance treatable?

The good news is that once diagnosed, not only can insulin resistance be treated, it can be reversed. “A comprehensive protocol that includes diet and lifestyle along with either Metformin (a prescription medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes) or herbal supplements has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity,” says O’Sullivan.

Along with enhancing adenosine monophosphate kinase (an enzyme that exerts important fat-reducing effects in the adipose tissue) through the administration of Metformin or certain plant polyphenols such as berberine, cocoa and cinnamon, O’Sullivan recommends following low carbohydrate and low GI diets, time restricted eating and exercise that is especially focussed on larger muscles such as the thighs and glutes.

Studies also suggest that activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors that regulate genes important in various metabolic processes, including glucose homeostasis through adequate intake of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly the long-chain fatty acids EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in marine oils, may improve insulin sensitivity. Increased research is also being undertaken on the benefits time restricted eating, the influence of circadian rhythm and ketogenic diets.

This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.