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Insulin Resistance: The Epidemic That Is Destroying World Health

blood glucose cholesterol diabetes type 2 heart disease insulin resistance intermittent fasting metabolic syndrome weight loss Oct 31, 2021

Insulin resistance is the hidden epidemic that no one is talking about, but that EVERY healthcare provider SHOULD be talking about. In fact, you probably have insulin resistance but don’t even know it.

Our body naturally produces the hormone, insulin, to help keep your blood sugar at healthy levels, but sometimes our body doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should. When this happens, it’s called insulin resistance. In the video below Dr. Bickman discusses what insulin resistance is, how it can cause complications like type 2 diabetes, and what you can do to prevent it. To download the book, scroll down to the bottom of this blog post. 

What does insulin do in the body?

Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar and is made by an organ known as the pancreas that sits behind your stomach. Your pancreas sends insulin into your bloodstream after you eat or if it detects that your blood sugar levels are high.

Once insulin enters your blood, it has 2 major jobs:

1. Insulin takes sugar out of your blood and sends it into your cells to be used for energy.

When you eat a meal with carbohydrates (also called carbs or sugars), you often get a burst of energy. Well, your cells get energy from sugar too, but how does the sugar get into the cells? That’s where insulin comes in. Most of the cells in your body contain insulin receptors. Think of an insulin receptor like a lock and the insulin hormone like a key. When the key opens the lock—or when insulin binds to the insulin receptor—the cell opens to let sugar in. By attaching to insulin receptors, insulin helps take sugar out of the blood and sends it into cells to be put to good use. As a result, your blood sugar levels should return to normal.

2. Insulin takes sugar out of your blood and stores it in muscles, fat cells, and the liver for later use.

Even though it’s helpful for your cells to take in blood sugar for energy, they don’t need immediate access to that sugar all the time. In fact, insulin will take any extra blood sugar that your cells can’t use right away and send it to your muscle cells, fat cells, and liver to be stored for later use. When it’s stored, the original form of sugar, glucose, becomes another form of sugar known as glycogen.

What does it mean to be insulin resistant?

Both of insulin’s primary jobs require your cells—specifically, the insulin receptors on your cells—to respond to insulin. But for several reasons, your cells may stop responding to insulin as well as they should. In other words, instead of being sensitive to the effects of insulin, they become resistant to the effects of insulin—hence, the name insulin resistance. When cells become insulin resistant, sugar stays in your bloodstream, which can lead to high blood sugar.

What causes insulin resistance?

There are numerous potential causes of insulin resistance. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that affects a woman’s reproductive health but also causes high levels of insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance over time.
  • High doses of steroids taken for longer than a few weeks. When taken for extended periods of time, steroids can cause continuously high blood sugar, which can lead to insulin resistance
  • Chronic stress. Persistent stress can have the same effects as high doses of steroids, since stress causes your body to release its own stress steroids like cortisol.
  • Being overweight or obese. Although scientists don’t know exactly how, being overweight or obese contributes to poor insulin sensitivity.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Living an inactive lifestyle can lead to insulin sensitivity, but the opposite—living an active lifestyle—can actually improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Poor diet (high-carbohydrate or high-sugar diet). Any diet that is high in carbs or sugars will increase blood sugar levels, which can lead to insulin resistance over time.

What are the symptoms of insulin resistance?

At first, your pancreas tries to fight the effects of insulin resistance by releasing more insulin. Even though your cells are not responding to insulin as well as they should, the fact that there is more insulin in your bloodstream helps keep your blood sugar levels normal. Therefore, you may not have any noticeable symptoms of insulin resistance initially.

Over time, as insulin resistance gets worse, even more insulin won’t be able to make up for your cells’ weak response to insulin. At this point, high blood sugar levels often become the first key sign of insulin resistance. As high blood sugar persists, you may begin to notice symptoms like excessive thirst, frequent urination, and headaches.

What are the complications of insulin resistance?

High blood sugar levels can contribute to several complications associated with insulin resistance. One of the most severe complications is a condition called metabolic syndrome, also known as insulin resistance syndrome. This chronic condition involves a combination of: 

  • high cholesterol

  • high blood pressure

  • high blood sugar (which can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes)

  • excess body fat around the waist

Metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes are the most common complications of insulin resistance. Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes result from high blood sugar levels that may have to be controlled with if changing your diet and exercising aren’t enough. These complications are especially serious because they increase your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

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