How Do You Become Insulin Resistant?
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas which is released into the bloodstream in response to increases in the blood sugar following a meal. It shuttles glucose into the cells of the body, where it’s burned for energy.
When you’re insulin resistant, insulin is no longer able to move glucose into the cells, so the pancreas continues to increase the amount of insulin released to try to meet the demand.
Like the villagers who eventually tuned out the little boy who cried wolf, cells will eventually “tune out” insulin if insulin is chronically high. Exposure creates resistance.
Our body naturally defends itself against resistance because it secretes hormones in bursts. High levels of hormones are released at specific times to produce a specific effect. Afterwards, the levels quickly drop and stay very low.
A good example of how hormones function is cortisol. It, along with its partner – epinephrine – is best known for its involvement in the “fight-or-flight” response. When faced with a stressor, cortisol jumps up to focus all the body’s energy on the important task at hand. Afterwards, it drops back down to its normal levels.
By cycling between low and high levels, the body never gets a chance to adapt. The brief pulse of hormone is over long before resistance has a chance to develop.
Resistance develops when you have chronic exposure to carbohydrates (sugar or foods that turn to sugar, any high glycemic foods) as well as persistently high insulin levels (again repeatedly responding to the incoming glucose). The constant bombardment of insulin leads the body to down regulate its receptors and ultimately develops resistance.
How do you know if you’re insulin resistant?
16 Signs You Might Be Insulin Resistant
- Elevated blood sugar. A fasting blood sugar level greater than 80 mg/dL (5.4mmol/L) indicates insulin resistance.
- Hypoglycemia. Are you hangry? Getting the shakes or headaches in between meals is a sign you’re insulin resistant.
- Elevated triglyceride levels.
- Sleepiness, particularly after a meal.
- Abdominal obesity. As the waist grows larger, insulin becomes increasingly ineffective in your body, therefore levels of this hormone rise… which causes weight gain. It’s an endless cycle. Keep in mind though that thin people can still be insulin resistant.
- Fatty liver (elevated liver enzymes).
- Frequent hunger and cravings for sugar or carbohydrate rich foods. People with high blood insulin are hungry and nothing will satisfy their appetite like carbs!
- High blood pressure. (Insulin resistance is one of the causes of high blood pressure.)
- Fluid retention. Insulin tells your kidneys to hang on to sodium and water, therefore you will look more puffy. You can experience fluid retention anywhere on your body, such as swollen ankles, fingers, face and abdomen.
- Irregular menstrual cycle, specifically skipping months.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). High insulin impairs ovulation and stimulates your ovaries to make too much testosterone, which is why it is a major cause of PCOS. Reversing insulin resistance = reversing PCOS.
- Skin tags.
- Thinning of hair and male pattern baldness in both women and men.
- Acne, greasy skin and large pores on the face. Insulin and its cousin insulin-like growth factor 1 promote higher levels of the male hormone testosterone and increase the sensitivity of your face to testosterone.
- Gout. People who are insulin resistant are sensitive to fructose and convert too much of it into uric acid. Elevated uric acid can raise the risk of gout and kidney stones.
- Acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition characterized by areas of dark, velvety discoloration and thickened skin in body folds and creases. It most often effects the armpits, groin, and neck.
If any of these signs sound vaguely familiar, you’re in good company. As of 2015, over 50% of the American population has diabetes or pre-diabetes (is insulin resistant). Because it’s closely associated with many other serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, taking it seriously is super important. You’ll often hear this referred to as metabolic syndrome.
The good news is you can turn this thing around! There are steps you can take to clean up the mess that years of bad diet and lifestyle have caused. Now that you know the problem, let’s get straight to the solution!