What is Insulin Resistance—And What Can You Do About It?

Learn all about insulin resistance, why it's important, and how it can be managed or treated with lifestyle modifications.

If you’ve been told by your doctor that you are insulin resistant, you may be feeling one of two things: anxious about what that might mean for your future health and curious as to what insulin resistance really is in the first place. First things first: You are far from alone. In fact, an estimated 15.5 to 46.5 percent of adults worldwide have insulin resistance, per research published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders. What’s more: Insulin resistance can often be treated by lifestyle modifications alone.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance (IR), also termed “prediabetes,” can occur when there is a defect in the insulin receptor, or the protein on your cells that receives the signal from insulin to take up blood sugar (glucose), explains Mark P. Trolice M.D., Director of The IVF Center in Orlando and Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Central Florida. “When this defect occurs, the body’s pancreas then must release more insulin in attempts to maintain normal blood sugar control, which elevates the body’s insulin and has medical consequences such as diabetes.”

What causes insulin resistance?

The most common cause of insulin resistance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is being overweight, especially around the abdomen, but other causes include having a family history of type 2 diabetes and living a sedentary, or in active, lifestyle. “There are also medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea that can increase the risk of insulin resistance, as well as certain medications such as steroids,” explains Lori Cooper, M.D., endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism specialist in Seattle.

What issues can arise from insulin resistance?

Unfortunately, insulin resistance is associated with several chronic diseases, the most well-known being Metabolic Syndrome. “Metabolic Syndrome is defined as having high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDLs (‘good’ cholesterol), increased waist circumference, and an elevated fasting blood sugar leading to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and fatty liver disease,” explains Mindy Pelz, D.C., holistic health and fasting expert. “Alzheimer’s is also now attributed to insulin resistance and is often referred to as type 3 diabetes.”

What you can do to manage your insulin resistance?

The good news about insulin resistance is that it can be managed. Here, doctors share their best-kept tips for their patients who are insulin resistant.

Maintain a healthy weight and BMI

One of the best things you can do to lower your risk of insulin resistance, and potentially even reverse it, is by keeping your weight down to healthy levels. While this can mean a different number for each individual, you can work to lower your BMI, or your body mass index. “Even if one has a lot of weight to lose, dropping just 5-10 percent of body weight can be associated with significant improvements in insulin resistance,” adds Dr. Cooper.

Incorporate physical activity

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends exercising for at least 150 minutes per week, which breaks down to just 30 minutes a day for five days out of the week. Doing so lowers your risk for a myriad of chronic conditions, including insulin resistance. “Building up muscle mass also helps to make your body more sensitive to the effects of insulin,” adds Dr. Cooper.

Maintain a healthy diet

You know the importance of eating a healthy diet in lowering your risk of chronic disease. While fruits, veggies and lean meat should definitely make up the majority of your calorie consumption, it’s important not to fear carbohydrates, which are one of three macronutrients. What you should avoid, however, according to Dr. Cooper are overly processed foods. “These foods have a high glycemic index, so they tend to raise blood sugar more and create a need for more insulin,” she says. “You can help reduce the strain on your pancreas by minimizing these types of foods.”

Try intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF), or fasting for long periods of time while shortening the window of time in which you consume your food, is gaining a lot of traction in the health sphere for its many benefits, including weight loss, improved blood pressure and lowered cholesterol. And research, including one study published in the journal Translational Research, has shown that it may also be helpful for reversing insulin resistance. “Multiple studies are now proving that when a person eats the standard American diet in an 8-10 hour window, leaving 14-16 hours for fasting, they not only are immune from the adverse metabolic changes that occur from a high fat, high sugar diet, but they also begin to make their cells insulin sensitive again,” says Dr. Pelz. “If you combine intermittent fasting with diet changes that include eating good oils not bad ones, eliminating processed carbohydrates and refined sugars, and avoiding chemical laden ingredients you can reverse insulin resistance quite quickly.”




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