Insulin is a hormone that’s not often tested or discussed at your annual wellness check-up, however, from a functional medicine point of view, insulin is an extremely important hormone since too much of it can lead to type 2 diabetes and a host of other chronic illnesses. What makes insulin resistance particularly dangerous is that it often doesn’t have any obvious symptoms in the beginning stages. However, there are clues that can signal that you have insulin resistance such as:
- High cholesterol and low amounts of “good” cholesterol
- Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods
- Inactivity/lack of exercise
- High inflammation levels
- Poor sleep habits/not enough quality sleep
- Sleep apnea
- High triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Obesity, particularly around the abdominal area
- Cardiovascular disease
- Other metabolic disorders
- Metabolic Syndrome/Syndrome X (a combination of hypertension, elevated glucose levels, abnormal cholesterol/high triglycerides, and excess belly fat)
Not everyone who has insulin resistance is obese. Thin people can have it too; it depends on where they carry their extra weight. For a man who has a waist size larger than 40 inches, or for a woman who has a waist size larger than 35 inches, this puts you at greater risk. Insulin resistance is not something that happens overnight. It can take years to develop and there are different stages associated with it. Here at Dynamic Life Health Center, our providers check your insulin levels as part of your regular lab panel. The importance of this cannot be understated. Many diseases and disorders that are caused by insulin resistance can be reversed, and the earlier they are caught, the easier they are to treat.
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According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), people who have genetic or lifestyle risk factors are more likely to develop insulin resistance or prediabetes. These can include:
- A parent, brother, or sister with diabetes
- African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Island American ethnicity
- A history of gestational diabetes
- A history of heart disease or stroke
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Taking medications such as glucocorticoids, some antipsychotics, and some medications for HIV
- Hormonal disorders such as Cushing’s Disease or Acromegaly
- Sleep problems, especially sleep apnea
However, people with the above-listed risk factors can still maintain a lifestyle that can help keep insulin resistance under control. The most common cause of insulin resistance is diet. Millions of people in the U.S. eat a “Standard American Diet” which is high in sugars and carbohydrates and lack of exercise.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is released by the pancreas in response to energy taken in as food. The stomach breaks down food into simple sugars where they are then absorbed in the small bowel and taken to the liver; the liver then stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin which carries this energy throughout the body via the bloodstream and delivered to the muscles and organs where it is needed. It is normal for your insulin levels to rise after eating a meal, but once the digestive process is complete, levels will fall again.
Healthy levels of insulin and the balance of expending as much energy as you are taking in also promotes healthy dilation of blood vessels. When the opposite occurs, and the balance is disrupted by taking in more energy than we expend, this can cause adverse reactions to the blood vessels which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Insulin also carries triglycerides and cholesterol into the bloodstream.
If you overeat the wrong types of high-carb foods, this causes your body to produce more insulin to continue to carry the energy throughout the body. However, once the muscles and organs are “saturated” with the energy that they require, the sugar, i.e., glucose, is sent to the fat cells which causes them to grow and store the energy there. If this energy is not used, then the cycle continues, except that the levels of insulin in your bloodstream become higher since there is nowhere left to go. Because your muscles, organs, and fat cells are “saturated,” this causes them to become resistant to insulin.
Stages of Insulin Resistance
Insulin Resistance has different severity levels, and each has its own set of consequences to your health. If not addressed early, this process will continue to get worse which can lead to long-term adverse health problems.
In Stage 1 of Insulin Resistance, you may not experience any symptoms at all; you may notice slight weight gain, and your insulin levels in your blood may be slightly higher than normal on a fasting blood test. However, at this stage, even if your fasting insulin levels are higher, your cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar may still be normal.
Stage 2 insulin resistance starts to cause internal fat cells to surge and weight gain to occur. Your resting heart rate rises and dysfunction can start to occur in the lining of the blood vessels from too many carbohydrates. There is too much energy coming in and not enough going out. As fat cells increase, you will see a little more weight gain. In Stage 2 of insulin resistance, your labs may still show normal triglyceride and blood sugar levels.
However, higher levels of insulin floating throughout your bloodstream begins a domino effect since insulin causes increases in cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol can then increase the levels of glucose in your body which starts to create a vicious cycle. Additionally, cortisol is a stress hormone, and if levels of cortisol are higher, this can cause you to be more stressed. Types of stress include physical stressors, along with mental and emotional stressors. You may have sleep problems, which also increase stress levels, and contributes to the cycle of too much insulin and glucose in your body.
Stage 3 insulin resistance is where other lab values will be affected. Fasting levels of insulin will be higher. You can expect to see a lot more weight gain in this stage, again, especially around the belly area. Blood sugar levels will be higher in your body as well. A normal, fasting blood sugar level should be less than 100. Once levels get between 100 and 120, this puts your body in a prediabetic state. Hemoglobin A1C will start to be higher.
One purpose of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to the cells; the higher your blood sugar is, the more that glucose will also be attached to the red blood cells. If your physician or provider has not been testing your insulin and other lab levels on a regular basis, Stage 3 insulin resistance is when the alarm bells will start to sound as your fasting blood sugar levels and Hemoglobin A1C will be higher. You may be told that you are in a prediabetic state, or, if things have progressed further, you may already be considered to have diabetes. A fasting blood sugar value over 120 and a Hemoglobin A1C higher than 6.4 confirms that you are diabetic. Diabetes carries serious health risks including, but not limited to:
- Impaired circulation
- Kidney disease
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Compromised immune system
- High levels of inflammation
- Higher risk of cancer
By the time you reach Stage 4 insulin resistance, your liver has been affected and is resistant to insulin. More and more insulin is produced to push excess amounts of energy into the muscles, fat cells, liver, etc., and all of that excessive blood sugar is very toxic to your body. It causes oxidation of your blood vessels and your organs and creates an overwhelming amount of inflammation throughout the body as well. Oxidation and inflammation cause an increase in cytokines. Cytokines are molecules that allow your cells to talk to each other, and are crucial for healthy immune system function. Too many cytokines, however, can have a negative effect, and result in what’s known as a “cytokine storm.”
When cytokines are increased to this level, and the entire body is markedly inflamed, you have very little resistance to any type of infection or disease, both acute infection and chronic. This situation puts your body in an extreme state of being unwell and makes you susceptible to increased hypertension, increased heart rate, damage to your organs, and greatly increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, which are three of the biggest causes of death in the United States.
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How is Insulin Resistance Treated?
The best news is that both insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes are reversible. How these conditions are treated is going to depend in part on what stage of the disease that you are in. Regardless, treatment will require some diet and lifestyle changes to include:
- See a medical provider who is knowledgeable about insulin resistance
- Lose weight
- Change your diet and heat healthy foods (we offer the medically supervised Transform diet here at DLHC, which is a healthy way to lose weight, and incorporates several different types of eating plans including the Mediterranean diet, Low carb, etc.)
- Exercise/Move your body – Exercise will help you to lose weight, but also has added the added benefit of causing your muscles to be more insulin sensitive
- Avoid processed and sugary foods including alcohol
- Eat more proteins and healthy fats
- Adopt healthier sleeping habits
- Manage stress; this can include spending quality time with friends and family, going outdoors and enjoying nature, taking up a hobby that you enjoy, meditating, or anything that helps to ease your body, mind, and spirit
Our Providers at Dynamic Life Health Center Can Help You Regain Your Health!
Both Lyn Berutti, D.O., and her P.A., Melanie Martin are functional medicine providers who are knowledgeable and experienced in addressing root causes of disease. We spend the necessary time with our patients to gain an understanding of their health concerns and medical conditions. By taking a whole-body approach, we will run a comprehensive set of labs so that we can give you the big picture of what is going on in your body so that you can be treated appropriately for optimal health and wellness. We do prescribe medications as needed, but we don’t prescribe a drug with the sole intent of just masking a symptom. Our goal is to restore you to wellness and help and support you every step of the way!
Contact our New Patient Coordinator for more information
When many patients come to see us, they have lost hope because they’ve felt unwell for so long and don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rewarding as a practitioner to be able to help so many people realize a much-improved quality of life and a regained sense of vitality!
Please call us to get more information about how our clinic and Dr. Berutti or P.A. Melanie Martin, can help you with your health goals and to schedule an appointment.
We look forward to the opportunity to restore your health and regain your vitality for life!
For More Information Call Us at 817-539-6168
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