Obviously, there could be many reasons behind any of these symptoms but it could well be due to insulin resistance.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance commonly coexists with being overweight or obese. However, causal links between insulin resistance, obesity and dietary factors can be complex. It could be that one of these factors arises first and then causes the other. Insulin resistance and excess body weight can occur independently as a consequence of something else, but end up reinforcing each other. Some people might be genetically predisposed to one or the other.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin helps unlock the body's cells so that glucose, amino acids and fatty acids from food you eat can be used for energy. If you are not producing sufficient insulin, glucose remains in the bloodstream causing high blood glucose levels. Or you could be producing more insulin than you need in order to convert the amount of food you have eaten into energy. The pancreas is therefore working overtime to produce more insulin because the body's cells are resistant to the effects of the hormone. In a nutshell, despite the presence of insulin in the bloodstream, the cells don't become "unlocked" and don't let enough of the glucose from the blood into the cells. This is referred to as hyperglycemia or high blood sugar.
A decrease in the insulin/glucagon ratio inhibits glycolysis, which, in turn, decreases energy production. This leads to increased blood glucose beyond the normal range and causes adverse health effects, depending on dietary conditions.
Some cell types such as muscle and fat require insulin to absorb glucose. When these cells fail to respond adequately to circulating insulin, blood glucose levels rise. One of the many jobs the liver has to do is to regulate glucose levels by reducing the secretion of glucose when insulin is present. This may not occur with some people who are insulin-resistant.
So insulin resistance in fat cells reduces the effects of insulin and so raises hydrolysis of stored triglycerides. But insulin resistance in liver cells results in reduced glycogen synthesis and storage, thus failing to suppress glucose release into the blood. Insulin resistance normally refers to reduced glucose-lowering effects of insulin.
In the early stages of insulin resistance the body will compensate with this faulty mechanism and keep producing more insulin! For a time, this can keep your blood glucose levels reasonably balanced. But the increased insulin production contributes to weight gain and inability to lose weight, increased cholesterol and high blood pressure and, of course, the risk of developing diabetes and serious heart disease. For women, it could trigger polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Medically, this is called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). If left untreated Type 2 diabetes can result. This is where diet plays a huge role in management and in some cases has resolved the problem. When you eat the foods that improve on insulin resistance and IGT, you can lose weight, lower blood fat, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
Now we have covered some of the complexities of insulin resistance, let's take a look at symptoms that may indicate you have this physiological imbalance.Blood tests indicating high blood sugarLethargy and fatigueIntestinal bloating especially with a lot of flatulence/gas. This results from poor digestion of carbohydrates in your dietLack of clarity of mind, fogginess.Needing a nap after mealsWeight gain/inability to lose it. This is often from fat storage around the abdominal organs. Increased triglyceridesHigh blood pressure (often people are already diabetic/pre-diabetic with elevated insulin levels). Interestingly, one of insulin's jobs is to control arterial wall tension in the body.Depression, anxiety and sometimes sleep problemsIncreased cytokine activity (inflammation triggers) associated with cardiovascular diseaseAbnormal appetite, often hungry after eating a healthy mealHyper-pigmentation of skin (brown to black) often found in armpits and folds of skin on neck.
More and more people are being diagnosed with insulin resistance. Western diets are really not that healthy. The fault also lies with pre packaged and canned foods that contain many preservatives and additives. Always opt for fresh food and prepare the meals yourself.
The fad craze of eating low fat/skim milk products and all trimmed meats has contributed to metabolic disorders. It becomes very confusing for the public to know what is right and wrong. Media plays a huge roll in advertising new diets and also products to help "lower" your cholesterol! Man-made margarines are not healthy no matter what they contain. I would not recommend them and always prefer organic unsalted butter. It's best to put your own sea salt on your food than buy products already salted. Most manufacturers use common chemicalised table salt, which is not assimilated efficiently and contributes to fluid retention and higher blood pressure. Sea salt is natural and the body knows exactly what to do with it.
Improving on insulin resistance
Be prepared to make changes. Make a sacrifice - otherwise you will fail before you start!Daily exercise is a MUST! Make it a part of your lifestyle so do something that you really enjoy. Some people say they loathe exercising but humans are not meant to sit down all day, we are meant to keep moving! Exercising will help with a reduction of blood glucose and plasma insulin levels by increasing the efficient storage of glucose in muscle. Eat only low GI carbohydrates or forgo carbs altogether because high GI foods stimulate a rapid rise in blood glucose and this triggers your body to release too much insulin. Every time you make a poor dietary choice, it places excess pressure on your cells with the rush of insulin constantly being generated, creating insensitivity to insulin's effects over time. This can also apply to lovers of brown rice! You then find more and more insulin is needed to help the body achieve some form of stability, albeit short term. When you consume a low GI diet you improve the glucose uptake and increase insulin sensitivity. Don't overeat fruits or consume any packaged foods that contain fructose. Ingesting too much fructose in any form rapidly generates lipogenesis (formation of fat) and triglyceride accumulation and all this activity contributes to reduced insulin sensitivity! Your liver will not be happy! Start getting fussy with what you buy and eat. Challenge companies to make things better. Get your local stores to stock healthier options.
Good food choicesA variety of green vegetables, salads and avocados, ideally organic. These plant foods provide insoluble fibre, which improves insulin sensitivity. Carrots and pumpkin are okay and provide some natural carbs for those who are physically active.Cut back on fruit - no more than two fruit selections a day. Avoid really sweet sugary fruits like mango, banana, rockmelon, watermelon, kiwi fruit. No cane sugar!Herbal teas including good quality organic green tea (reduces glucose uptake by fat tissue and stimulates glucose uptake in muscles) but only 1-2 cups a day! Occasional organic black tea is okay.Plenty of natural spring water - 1.5- 2 litres a day depending on body weight, temperature and physical activity. Don't exceed this amount, too much water is not good for you either and over-tasks the kidneys.Essential fatty acids, both in supplement form and via cold water fish (tuna, salmon, trout) and deep sea fish (perch, barramundi, snapper).Free range eggs, poultry and pasture-fed beef and do eat fat from the meat! We create an imbalance with our diet when we strip the fat or skin from our meats.Organic grown lentils or legumes, but not soy!Spices and dried herbs to flavour foods avoiding all chemical flavoured foods and preservatives.
This list is not extensive. I mention animal fats since over decades many people have opted for fat trimmed meats. We need to eat the "whole" animal not just the lean flesh. Obviously this will trigger some reactions from some people but if you need to refer to extensive research on this matter please see the references below.
Fad diets over the last few decades have contributed to so many health disorders. The food pyramid has been the trigger here with grains being placed at the base - the important level - whereas they should be at the top, or maybe not even there at all! Meats and fats are important and protein is vital. Those who opt for a vegan or vegetarian diet really need to be fully educated in how to combine their foods to ensure they receive a balance of all nutrition. Protein is the building block, which the body needs for optimum health and strength. The brain needs saturated fats from animal protein.
How can natural therapies help?
A number of minerals and vitamins may be required to establish a balance with insulin resistance - herbal remedies for the liver, B vitamins for a number of physiological functions and chromium to help stabilise blood sugar. Homoeopathics may also be introduced into the program. It really depends on each individual's constitution and overall state of health.
However blood tests and functional lab tests are recommended first to ascertain any deficiencies. It is far better to see a qualified naturopath rather than dabble yourself since they are trained in nutrition. It is so important to seek professional guidance with insulin resistance.
If other health disorders have manifested due to insulin resistance these can be assessed and treated accordingly. Vision support may be necessary and if stress is present relaxing treatments such as massage, Reiki, Bowen therapy and acupuncture are excellent in helping the body relax. The last two modalities will help with rebalancing the body since they both free up qi energy and help the metabolism.
Meditation is also an excellent adjunct to any therapy you receive. This is so important for you to master so you can manage any external stresses that life throws at you without impacting on your metabolism. I encourage this and teach meditation to people experiencing ill health and metabolic disorders.
Even though diet is very important at helping you rebalance your metabolism, you will need to take on board the correct remedies to support the liver and pancreas as a result of insulin resistance. The sooner you address any symptoms you have, the sooner you can be on top of this and save yourself being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease or worse!
Sydney-based Lyn Craven is a practitioner of naturopathy, nutrition, medical herbalism, Bowen therapy, Reiki energy healing and meditation, and is a corporate health presenter/consultant with 19 years' experience in natural therapies. www.lyncravencorporatehealth-naturopath.com
Disclaimer: Information presented in this column is not intended as medical advice but to advance the understanding of holistic nutrition and lifestyle and its place in a balanced approach to health. Readers are encouraged to be guided by their own healthcare professionals.
Lyn Craven is a practitioner of Naturopathy, Bowen Therapy, Energy/Reiki therapist, meditation teacher and Corporate Health Consultant. She is also a health researcher/writer and has produced a meditation CD assisting people to manage anxiety and stress. She runs a private practice in Sydney and can be contacted on +61403 231 804