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You may have been told that insulin resistance is a major health problem, but it also seems incredibly difficult to understand. Most people are completely confused by insulin and how it works. They don’t understand why they’re gaining weight, or suffering from fatigue.
Most people think of insulin as the hormone that helps you process sugar and carbs. But what most people don’t realize is that your body uses glucose for energy in addition to burning fat and protein. If you have too much glucose floating around in your system, then eventually this will lead to serious problems like type 2 diabetes or heart disease. This can happen even if you eat a healthy diet with low carb foods!
This blog article explains all of those concepts in a way that is easy to understand, because understanding what is happening in your body is the best way to start to heal it! We will go over insulin, glucose, insulin resistance, and ways to naturally reverse tissue damage.
How the body gets energy
The body needs energy to function and we call this usable form of energy glucose. This is what floats around in the blood and is delivered by blood vessels to different cells in the body so that it has energy to function. Think of it as though the cells are “ordering takeout” which is delivered right to their door while they are in the middle of working!
There are 3 ways that we get this energy: food that we eat (immediate glucose), “snack packs” of energy that is stored in the liver (quickly converted into glucose), and then by transforming fat into energy (takes a little bit longer but ends up as glucose).
One easy analogy is this:
- Food prepared and set in front of us: Immediate glucose released from the food that we eat is like when a meal has been placed in front of us, warm and ready to consume.
- Food from the Refrigerator: The “snack packs,” also called glycogen stores from the liver are as though we took food out of the fridge. It’s ready to eat but may require a little work, like heating it up or making a sandwich.
- Food from the Freezer: And lastly, the way we convert fat into glucose takes more work, similarly to when we take food from the freezer, thaw it out, cook or prepare it, and then eat it.
When you are busy, which form of food are you going to prefer? Well, if you are like the rest of us, you prefer the food that is prepared and set directly in front of you to eat! And that is exactly what our bodies prefer as well. Glucose that is readily available from the food that we eat (especially sugar and carbohydrates) will be burned first. When that supply is low (like if you haven’t eaten in a few hours), the next preferred source is the “snack packs.” When those are depleted as well, then the body will (begrudgingly) burn fat.
There are a bunch of protective responses in the body that signal that we are low on glucose. These include things like hunger pains (ghrelin causes the stomach to growl) and fatigue or low energy (because the body wants to conserve energy). All to get us to eat and deliver easy forms of glucose to the cells! (How lazy are those cells!)
So how is insulin used?
Well, remember those (lazy) cells that want to use glucose? They are protected by a gate. And that gate needs to be unlocked in order for the glucose to be delivered. Enter insulin.
Insulin is released by the pancreas, unlocks the gates on the cell and allows the glucose to enter and be used for energy.
So then, what is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is simply what happens when the “gates” on the cells are broken. Insulin cannot unlock the cell gates to allow glucose to enter. Therefore, the body thinks that it is starving, even though there is plenty of glucose floating around in the blood.
In response, metabolism slows down. The body holds onto fat. Hormone levels go into “panic” mode. And you feel tired, hungry, sluggish. You gain weight easily. You suffer from brain fog. And it is bad to have all that extra glucose floating around in your blood with nowhere to go…so the body takes it and stores it as fat.
Why is insulin resistance bad?
Insulin resistance is bad because aside from the symptoms listed above, glucose is sticky. Think of a candy cane. If you stick your fingers into a melted candy cane, they get sticky and gross. And glucose within the blood attaches itself to red blood cells. But when there is too much glucose, the red blood cells clump and stick together.
You can think of it this way: blood vessels are the roads, red blood cells are the cars, and the glucose is a type of passenger. When there are too many passengers, the cars get jammed and clump together. And all of this extra traffic damages the roads.
These clumped up red blood cells that are sticky with glucose travel through your body and cause damage. So people who have insulin resistance are at a higher risk for developing diseases associated with damaged blood vessels: high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, numbness of the feet and hands, heart attack or stroke, and even blindness.
Now you can see why insulin resistance is so serious! But the good news is that our bodies want to heal themselves, and there are things that you can do to reverse insulin resistance.
What are signs and symptoms of insulin resistance?
The best way to determine if you have insulin resistance is by talking with your medical provider. However there are some indicators that you may have some extent of insulin resistance.
- Body measurements: measure your waist (usually just above your belly button) and divide that number by your hip measurement (widest part of the hips), so for example, if your waist measurement is 36 inches, and your hip measurement is 46, then your ratio would be 36/46= 0.78. For women, that number should be 0.8 or lower. (For men, the ratio is 1:1 or 1.0) If your measurement is greater than 0.8 (or 1.0 for men), then you may be developing insulin resistance.
- Darkened skin patches: knees, elbow, necks
- Skin tags
- Medical history of PCOS or gestational diabetes
- Family history of diabetes
- Post menopausal
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Body mass index of greater than 29
- Poor Nutrition (a diet high in fat, processed foods, and sugar)
- Chronic elevated Stress level
What can you do to naturally reverse insulin resistance (and heal your broken metabolism)?
Here are 11 ways to naturally reverse insulin resistance and start to heal your body!
#1 Sleep 7-9 hours per night
Research shows that even just 1 night of poor sleep can cause a stress response in the body that damages tissues. Aim to go to bed at the same time each night and awake at the same time each morning (even on weekends), and supplement with magnesium
#2 Stabilize blood sugar
Rather than eat 1-3 large meals daily, people with insulin resistance do better with small meals throughout the day. Eating foods that are rich in protein and vegetables or complex carbohydrates in smaller portions every 2.5 to 3 hours daily promotes consistent glucose and insulin levels, naturally reversing insulin resistance.
#3 Stress management
One of the most important things you can do is manage your stress by incorporating meditation, listening to music, performing deep breathing techniques, or even just taking a walk outside. Research has shown that this will help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce risk for chronic medical diseases.
#4 Get moving
Exercising 150 minutes per week has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and reverse insulin resistance, but you don’t need to work out intensely! The best forms of exercise for people with insulin resistance include low stress activities such as walking, yoga, or pilates combined with weight lifting just 2-3 times per week (30 minutes each activity).
#5 Intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting can be a great way to allow the body a chance to heal, but you have to be cautious if you are a woman! You can choose to eat in an 8-10 hour eating window, consuming food every 2.5 to 3 hours to rev-up metabolism and stabilize blood glucose levels, but don’t go longer than 14 hours without eating. This can severely affect your hormone levels and cause weight gain, which is not what we are going for!
#6 Reach your Ideal Body weight
This is always easier said than done, however losing weight will naturally help reverse insulin resistance. Even just 5-10lbs can significantly improve insulin sensitivity! By changing the way that you eat, move, and think, you can make lifestyle changes that last and also support your health naturally.
If you struggle with weight loss resistance, it could be due to underlying hormone and metabolism issues. As a functional medicine provider, I do metabolism testing to help you target the ROOT CAUSE of your issues. Click the button below to learn more.
#7 Eat more soluble fiber
Soluble fiber, found in foods like black beans, sweet potato, broccoli, carrots and seeds, are great to incorporate into your diet. These foods increase insulin sensitivity by stabilizing glucose breakdown and absorption rate so that blood sugar levels remain balanced throughout the day.
#8 Choose foods rich in Antioxidants
Colorful fruits, like berries, artichokes, and kale, are especially rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants bind to substances that can cause inflammation in the body and have healing properties which are critical to reversing insulin resistance.
#9 Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices can be a wonderful natural way to reverse insulin resistance. Cinnamon helps support and stabilize blood glucose levels and green tea provides a burst of antioxidants. Research has also shown that apple cider vinegar can help to stabilize blood sugar when consuming a meal that contains carbohydrates.
#10 Familiarize yourself with the glycemic index
There are certain foods that the body can absorb quickly, which results in a “rush” of glucose into the bloodstream. Other foods are broken down more slowly and release a “steady” amount of glucose into the body.
By choosing foods that provide a steady release, you naturally reverse insulin resistance. One easy way to know which foods provide a fast or slow release is by looking at the glycemic index.
Foods that are higher on the scale, release quickly into the blood: like sugar, crackers, chips, pasta.
Foods that are lower on the scale release glucose more slowly: like whole grains, vegetables, and proteins.
#11 Limit Alcohol
Drinking alcohol regularly causes insulin resistance and weight gain. In addition, alcohol is processed through the liver. When your liver is busy breaking down alcohol, it can’t burn fat, creating further imbalances in estrogen and cortisol and converting the excess glucose it stores to fat. So by limiting alcohol, your body can naturally burn fat and reverse insulin resistance.
And that’s a wrap!
I hope this article has given you some great insight and tips about how to optimize your body and correct insulin resistance! If you want to learn more about your personal risks, I am a Functional Medicine Physician Assistant and Health and Wellness coach. I specialize in helping women optimize metabolism, balance hormones, increase energy, and lose weight by targeting the underlying cause of symptoms. I am offering FREE Functional Medicine consults. Book yours today! CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR FREE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE CONSULT
*Sarah Gibson, MPAS, PAC, HWC has helped hundreds of patients reverse their insulin resistance, lose weight, and regain energy and vitality to be able to return to the things that they love.