The word ‘insulin’ is generally associated with diabetes mellitus, a condition characterised by insufficient insulin secretion and elevated blood glucose. However, insulin and glucose imbalances vary along a spectrum from reduced response to insulin to failure on insulin production by the pancreas.
Insulin resistance describes the common condition where the cells of the body become less responsive to insulin. This generally follows chronic increased secretion of insulin due to a diet typically high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, lack of exercise and muscle mass, obesity and chronic stress. The result is an elevated level of blood insulin and this has many detrimental effects in the body.
Direct consequences of high levels of circulating insulin may include:
- Obesity, partiularly fat accumulating aound the abdomen (‘central obesity’)
- Increased stress hormones
- Unstable blood sugar levels
- Blood lipid dysregulation
Most people with insulin resistance do not develop diabetes, however they may develop many other problems such as cardiovascular problems, hormonal imbalances, gallstones, cancer.
Insulin resistance cannot be improved without addressing diet and/or lifestyle. Lifestyle considerations involve incorporating exercise into a daily routine and ensuring sleep is healthy. Daily diet should avoid processed foods that typically have high levels of refined carbohydrates and generally balance carbohydrates with proteins and healthy fats such as olive oil and those such as fish oils, rich in omega-3. Supplements that may be beneficial are chromium, magnesium, B vitamins, which are needed for absorbing glucose into cells and metabolising it for energy. There are also several herbs that may improve insulin resistance including cinnamon, fenugreek and bitter melon.