Insulin is an important hormone that controls blood sugar levels by moving sugar into the body
cells from the blood stream after sugar has been ingested. Ideally when we eat sugar we also ingest the proper nutrients, fiber and minerals found in the food that contained the sugar that are needed for proper sugar handling. For example, all carbohydrates contain sugar and offer a fuel source for our cells; however, not all carbohydrates are the same. A muffin and broccoli are both carbohydrates; but alas, we all know they are worlds apart as far as their nutritional value! Insulin Resistance develops over time when insulin becomes less effective at controlling blood sugar due to extended periods of unhealthy high levels of sugar in the blood. As a result, higher levels of insulin are needed in order for insulin to have its effects.
How it Happens
Over time as an individual continues to eat more “sugar” then the cells can accommodate the cells, in an attempt to protect themselves from this assult and maintain homeostasis, become resistant to allowing excess sugar in. This is done by shutting down some of the receptors on the cells where the sugar enters. We have all witnessed a child on a “sugar high”. During this all too common occurance, the child’s cells are bombarded with a fuel source – sugar. This is a very stressful situation for the cells and the body in general. Eventually as this assult continues time and time again, in the body’s intuitive wisdom it tries it’s best to adapt and bring itself back into balance by protecting it’s cells from sugar assults. At this point some cell receptors that allow sugar in will shut down and no longer allow it’s easy entry.
Remember, insulin is the hormone that allows for the passage of sugar through cell receptors. As excess sugar consumption continues and cell receptors no longer allow insulin to move blood sugar to the inside of our cells, blood sugar levels increase in the blood stream. Kinda like a damn backing up. This is a very dangerous situation! So what does the body do next? The pancreas releases MORE insulin to work on those “resistant” cell receptors. In turn, cells shut down more receptors. So where does the excess blood sugar go then??? Left with no other option, the body happily makes storage cells – i.e. fat cells. Happily??? Yes, happily. Generally speaking, we are fat cell creating creatures as this is our protection in times of famine and starvation.
To be blunt…this condition is a diet and lifestyle issue. The Naturopathic approach to addressing it includes:
- Maintaining a good balance of protein and carbohydrates
- Reducing (avoiding) sugar and refined carbohydrate intake
- Achieving a low glycemic index by eating low glycemic foods
- Utilizing targeting nutritionals, herbs and homeopathics to restore proper blood sugar balancing
What it Means
Being Insulin Resistant means you will struggle with blood sugar control, which is often associated with weight gain, obesity, overweight, diabetes, estrogen dominance and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
To be diagnosed with this condition, according to the International Diabetes Association, a person must have excess body fat concentrated around the waist, in addition, ANY of these following indicators:
- Low level of HDL (good) cholesterol
- Raised triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Elevated blood sugar levels after fasting, or
- A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes
The Western Diet
The average western diet is too high in sugary foods. Such foods cause rapid spikes in your blood sugar levels. The problem is created when this excess sugar builds up in your blood.
As mentioned, excess sugar in the blood is dangerous to your body. Why? Because over time excess blood sugar can cause damage to organs, glands, nerves, veins and other body structures. This is why diabetics can experience problems with their circulation, kidneys, eyes and wound healing. The sugar literally breaks down protein structures within the body.
In simple terms, insulin becomes a fat storing hormone when there is too much sugar. And the main area this fat is stored is around your stomach. This is a dangerous risk factor to your health.
The Link Between Insulin Resistance & PCOS
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone disorder characterized by the accumulation of what appears to be numerous fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries. These cysts develop over time as the ova (eggs) fail to mature, then release during the menstrual cycle. This causes multiple immature ova to be visible on ultrasound, which are mistakenly called cysts.
Despite the name, PCOS affects the whole body. PCOS symptoms usually present during adolescence, but may also begin to appear in your early to mid 20s. Symptoms include:
- Increased facial hair
- Ovarian pain
- Irregular menstruation or amenorrhea
- Weight gain & obesity
- Reduced libido (sex drive)
- Fatigue & mood swings
Over the past few years the understanding of how PCOS develops has dramatically changed. Insulin Resistance is a key factor in the development of this hormone disorder.