Updated: May 13
Insulin resistance is a condition we see often at Hälsa Health. It’s a key feature in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and weight presentations, and is a metabolic block to people reaching their weight and hormone balancing goals.
WHAT IS INSULIN?
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps to move glucose from your blood into your liver, muscle and fat cells, where it’s used for energy. After we eat, food is broken down into glucose and transported in the blood. When blood glucose levels rise after eating, your pancreas releases insulin, which then lowers blood glucose by moving the glucose into your cells. This helps to keep blood glucose (aka blood sugar) levels stable and in a normal range.
WHAT IS INSULIN RESISTANCE?
Insulin resistance is when your cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily up-take glucose from your blood. To combat this, your pancreas makes more insulin to help move glucose into your cells. Your blood glucose levels will stay in the healthy range if your pancreas can make enough insulin to counteract the weak response from your cells to insulin. If your pancreas cannot keep up your blood glucose levels become high, which overtime can lead to prediabetes.
Insulin resistance primarily occurs due to excess body fat (especially around the abdomen), although genetic causes are identified as well, as people with lean PCOS will attest to.
SIGNS OF INSULIN RESISTANCE
Low energy levels
Weight gain, or being unable to lose weight
HOW TO TEST FOR INSULIN RESISTANCE
See your health practitioner and request a fasting insulin test. The optimum target range is between 4-6 mU/L.
You may like to complete fasting glucose, HbA1c, and glucose tolerance testing at the same time, as all are related to blood sugar levels.
Fasting means that you need to abstain from food for 8-10 hours (generally overnight), and get the test done in the morning. Water is fine to have while fasting.
RISK FACTORS FOR INSULIN RESISTANCE
Western style diet (high in processed carbohydrates & sugars)
Sedentary or inactive lifestyle
PCOS (high insulin is both a symptom of PCOS and an underlying physiological driver)
Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, or a family history of the aforementioned conditions
HOW TO REVERSE INSULIN RESISTANCE
Dietary adjustments are the most effective way to reduce insulin resistance! Start with the following:
Consume a diet of fresh fruit & vegetables, complex carbohydrates, fibre, lean protein and healthy fats
Avoid or go low sugar. Fresh fruit is fine, aiming for < 25g fructose per day
Avoid simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, biscuits, cakes, pizza, burgers, chips and soft-drinks
Avoid trans-fats, deep-fried foods and oxidised fats (rancid oils, smoked oils)
Revisit your portion sizes
Consider the glycemic index of foods
Exercise helps by improving insulin sensitivity in muscles. Find movement that you enjoy and aim for 30 minutes 5 days per week. HIIT training is thought to be especially beneficial, but is not appropriate in the case of high stress levels.
Time restricted eating improves blood glucose and insulin sensitivity. Experiment with a 10 hour window of when you consume food, for example eating breakfast at 9am and finishing dinner by 7pm.