Making Sense of Insulin Resistance

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is the hormone whose main function is to process sugar in the bloodstream and carry it to fat, liver, and muscle cells to be stored for later use.  When your body is flooded with too much insulin too much of the time, your cells can become resistant, or desensitized, to its effects.  Insulin resistance over the long term will result in Metabolic Syndrome.

Causes of Excess Insulin

The most common cause is the consumption of too much nutrient-poor carbohydrate.  Other causes include: the use of artificial sweeteners, an insufficient protein intake, chronic stress, erratic or irregular mealtimes, over-exercising or lack of exercise, poor liver function, excess alcohol consumption or an existing hormonal imbalance – ie. excess cortisol or estrogen.

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Short term side effects of high insulin include heart palpitations, sweating, poor concentration, weakness, anxiety, fogginess, fatigue, irritability, increased hunger and sugar cravings.

Over the long term, signs of excess insulin include a tendency to hold extra weight abdominally, around your hips or over your triceps; water retention or a puffiness in the face and extremities, fatigue, burning feet at night, skin tags, infertility or irregular menses, erectile dysfunction, gout, vision changes or sleep disruption.

Beyond obesity and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, reproductive abnormalities, androgen imbalance in women and osteoporosis.

 

Diagnosing Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome

In addition to the clinical symptoms above, according to the current medical guidelines, metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when three or more of the following risk factors are identified:

  • Low levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL)
  • High levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL)
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Increased waist to hip ratio
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated fasting blood sugar
  • Elevated fasting insulin
  • Increased blood clotting factors
  • High uric acid

I am seeing symptoms of insulin resistance more often in my practice.  Insulin resistance is often the basis of other hormonal imbalances and it must be addressed in order for other imbalances to resolve.

 

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