Insulin resistance is at the root of diabetes and prediabetes and affects more than 1 in 3 US adults. Even more shockingly, only 1 in 4 adults with diabetes knew they had the condition, and only 1 in 10 adults with prediabetes knew they were at risk for developing diabetes (1). While some people may experience no symptoms at all, the effects of insulin resistance can range from moderate to life-threatening. Read on to discover more about insulin, the symptoms of insulin resistance, and the best ways to naturally decrease insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity.
How does insulin work?
After eating, your body digests carbohydrates, and glucose increases in your bloodstream. To keep blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels normal, your pancreas produces and releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin escorts glucose out of your blood and into your muscle, fat, and liver cells to be used as energy. Due to several lifestyle or genetic conditions, your body may begin to resist insulin, which prevents normal glucose absorption (2). This results in high blood sugar levels. Chronic insulin resistance and high blood sugar can lead to premature aging, diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Beyond that, it can cause the following symptoms that can greatly interfere with your everyday life:
Extreme hunger or thirst
Increased or frequent urination
Dehydration, dry mouth
Tingling in hands and feet
Nausea and vomiting
How do you become insulin resistant?
Excess weight, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, a history of gestational diabetes, heart attack, or stroke, and being age 45 or older are all risk factors for insulin resistance (2). What actually causes its development is more complex. Excess fat, especially in the belly, pancreas, and liver, low activity levels, and low-grade or obesity-induced chronic inflammation are thought to contribute to insulin-signaling impairment, though this is still being researched (2,3). Environmental toxins are also thought to contribute to insulin resistance.
For those with diabetes from insulin resistance, taking medications or insulin may be necessary to keep blood glucose levels and symptoms under control. Regardless of the need for medications and insulin, lifestyle changes are highly recommended, and for some people, these changes can be effective enough that these treatments are no longer needed. Lifestyle changes include changing your diet, losing weight, adding in herbs and supplements to your daily routine, and beginning or modifying your exercise habits.
Changes in Diet
Because insulin resistance and obesity often coexist and even exacerbate each other, weight loss can be an important first step to improve the body’s insulin sensitivity (4). Furthermore, since an excess of visceral fat tissue is correlated with excess fat in the liver and increased inflammation (two underlying causes of insulin resistance), maintaining a healthy weight is all the more crucial in improving insulin sensitivity (5).