Insulin – a secret killer, and it’s not only about diabetes

how to reverse insulin resistance naturally
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    Insulin resistance is new ‘pandemic’ of our modern society. Many people associate insulin with diabetes only but between diabetes type II and being healthy is a huge gap and this is where we talk about insulin resistance. Insulin is gaining more and more attention but still is ignored by most doctors in UK. Let’s take a closer look how insulin affects your health and wellbeing plus how you can reverse insulin resistance naturally.

    Insulin, chronic diseases and longevity

    Insulin is a hormone that impacts our whole body and any disfunction related to this hormone can result in obesity, thyroid issues, heart diseases, PCOS, abnormal fatty acids metabolism and even Alzheimer disease! It is also crucial if it comes to longevity. If you don’t manage your insulin levels well you are basically shortening your lifespan. Excess insulin generates oxidative stress (free radicals) and that accelerates ageing.

    What’s the role of insulin and how you can develop insulin resistance?

    Insulin is produced by pancreas and it controls your blood sugar level. When we eat, especially carbohydrate rich foods, blood glucose level is rising.  Insulin is responsible to take the glucose from your blood to the inside of the cell so it can be burnt for energy by mitochondria. The problem starts when your cells become resistant and don’t want to accept glucose delivered by insulin. Usually it happens when we eat too much of wrong foods, too much carbs and sugars or even when we snack too often. In combination with sedentary lifestyle, it’s a recipe for disaster.

    Eating wrong foods and stress – a vicious cycle

    Eating too many sugary foods give you instant boost of energy but it lacks nutrients. Also after eating sugary foods you feel hungry very quickly and you eat again. As a result, you eat more and more often as you need energy but at the same time our body is slowly becoming malnourished. Also too much stress can increase your blood sugar levels and contribute to developing insulin resistance. That’s why also ‘skinny’ people can struggle with many insulin related health problems, mostly because of stress, not food in that case.

    Insulin resistance dosen’t give any specific symptoms for long time

    Insulin resistance is a slow, long term process. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why a lot of people just carry on with the wrong diet and wrong lifestyle for many years as they feel okay. They feel okay until the day they start feeling really unwell and this is because insulin resistance doesn’t give any symptoms for a long time so it’s simply neglected by a lot of people. Also our body is amazing in terms of making up for all of our ‘wrong choices’ and nutrients deficencies but it can only do so for certain period of time, definately not for ever!

    Insulin resistance – why you can’t lose weight?

    When your cells become resistant and don’t want to accept more glucose, glucose molucles will remain in your blood. Excess blood glucose, apart from being very damaging to your blood vessels, will be converted to fat. It gradually leads to excess weight and obesity. At this point where your blood glucose and insulin levels are high, no matter how little you eat and how much you exercise you will be struggling with losing weight. It’s worth adding that insulin is considered as a ‘fat storing hormone’. On the other hand, insulin’s antagonist is called glucagon – ‘fat burning’ hormone. Unfortunately, glucagon is only activated in absence/low levels of insulin. That’s why sometimes Intermittent fasting is recommended for weight loss. When you fast your insulin is very low so glucagon can be activated and help you burn fat.

    Should you test your insulin? Standard vs functional medicine lab ranges for insulin and how to read it?

    Running regular blood test can help to keep an eye on your insulin. Also, I need to make you aware that most of GPs I came across only measure glucose or HbA1c and usually they refuse to perform insulin test. Moreover, the standard lab ranges are way too wide. Insulin above 25mIU/ml will be highlighted as ‘elevated’. In fact, insulin shouldn’t exceed 7mIU/ml (best to have it around 5-6 mIU/ml) according to the functional medicine norms. The problem is that measuring glucose levels doesn’t tell you much. If you can check your insulin, even if it comes on your own cost.

    Insulin resistance – what symptoms you should look out for?

    As mentioned earlier, there is huge gap between being healthy and developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Our body is great at communicating to us that something is wrong but the problem is that we like to ignore it or label it as ‘getting old’. At the early stages there is no one specific symptom that will tell you that you have problem with insulin. However there are few things that you should be aware and pay attention to:

    • Feeling sleepy after meals
    • Sugar cravings and need for snacking
    • Brain fog and problem with focus and concentration
    • Headaches
    • Frequent urination
    • Weight gain (especially around belly)
    • Problems with weightloss (even though you are in caloric deficit and exercise)
    • High blood pressure

    I think learning to listen to your body and understand it is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. The longer we neglect signals sent by our body, the more time you will need to reverse it and bring it back in balance.

    Insulin and hypothyroidism – what’s the conncetion?

    Insulin resistance is linked with many chronic diseases. Whats more important, more and more young people are getting sick. In terms of thyroid diseases not many specialists look at insulin. Insulin resistance can lead to non alcoholic fatty liver disease. As you know, thyroid hormone conversion T4 (inactive form) to T3 (active) happens in the liver. Without well functioning liver, risk of developing hypothyroidism increases.

    Cardiovascular and heart diseases – is cholesterol really causing it? Or maybe insulin is?

    Impaired insulin metabolism can lead to high blood pressure and other heart diseases. Insulin increases sodium and water retention and that leads to elevated blood pressure. Sugar is also one of the main damaging factors if it comes to you blood vessels. As mentioned earlier, insulin controls your blood sugar. If there is too much sugar in your blood, it will slowly damage your vessele and increase inflammation in your whole body. Excess cholesterol is often blamed for various cardiovascular diseases but in fact cholesterol only acts as a ‘plaster’ that helps to fix blood vessels damaged by excess sugar.

    PCOS and other hormonal imbalances linked to insulin.

    Hormonal imbalances are very common among women these days. Estrogen dominance is one of the main issues that is also linked to PMS, painful periods, fibroids, breast cancer or ovarian cancer. High insulin increases testosterone and cortisol. Elevated cortisol decreases your progesterone and this leads to estrogen dominance. With low progesterone women can also struggle with fertility and conceiving. On the other hand, high testosterone is one of the major root causes of PCOS. PCOS can manifest as unexplained weight gain, irregular periods, acne and excess hair around face or neck.

    Alzheimer disease, insulin and so called diabetes type II

    Over the last few years we can observe rapid increase in neurodenerative diseases including dementia and Alzheimer. In general, we live longer but the quality of life at the later stages is decreasing because of various chronic diseases. In 2012, according to the WHO 35.6m people suffered fom dementia and it’s estimated that the amount will increase to 65.7m by 2030 – nearly 100% increase! Currently there is more evidence that links insulin with Alzheimer, that’s why sometimes Alzheimer is called type III diabetes. Why? Impaired insulin receptors in the brain cause accumulation of beta amyloids and destruction of neurons. Decrease of insulin receptors in the brain leads to various neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer.

    Can you reverse insulin resistance naturally without medication?

    Yes! Appropriate diet and exercise are crucial. Here are few things you can implement:

    • Limit high glycemic foods
    • Cut on sugars, especially simple sugars and avoid processed foods with added sugar
    • Eat foods rich in magnesium, B vitamins and omega 3s
    • Reduce stress, caffeine and alcohol
    • Include certain herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon,  nigella seeds, green tea and spirulina
    • Ensure you sleep at least 7-8h.
    • Exercise and go for walks each day. Best are moderate intensity exercises: weights, resistance training and jogging.

    Additionally, intermittient fasting may be beneficial too but be mindful that it may not be appropriate for everyone. Especially for women who are more sensitive to hormonal changes when fasting for prolonged period of time.

    Reverse insulin resistance – what to avoid?

    In terms of reversing and preventing insulin resistance extreme caloric restrictions, intense and excess exercise are definitely not recommended. It’s because both are additional stress for the body. As you already know, stress is one of the big contributors in insulin resistance. Sometimes it takes 5-10 years before insulin resistance develops. Take care of yourself and your body each day as its crucial to maintain your health at later stages in your life:) If you are interested in this topic check out my another post on how potassium can help with managing your insulin and control blood sugar.

    References:
    1. Kolb H. et al. (2018). Insulin translates unfavourable lifestyle into obesity: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-018-1225-1
    2. Dunaif A. (1997). Insulin resistance and the polycystic ovary syndrome: mechanism and implications for pathogenesis: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9408743/
    3. Gierach M. et al. (2014). Insulin resistance and thyroid disorders: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24549605/
    4. Ormazabal V. et al. (2018). Association between insulin resistance and the development of cardiovascular disease: https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12933-018-0762-4
    5. Femminella G. et al. (2021). Does insulin resistance influence neurodegeneration in non-diabetic Alzheimer’s subjects? https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13195-021-00784-w
    6. Kolb H. et al. (2020). Insulin: too much of a good thing is bad: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-020-01688-6
    7. Li J. et al. (2019). Therapeutic Mechanisms of Herbal Medicines Against Insulin Resistance: A Review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6587894/
    8. Hall K. et al. (2018). Low-carbohydrate diets for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29677013/
    9. Wilcox G. (2005). Insulin and Insulin Resistance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1204764/

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