Taming Insulin Resistance

Taming Insulin Resistance

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise across the nation! However, it doesn’t suddenly appear. Instead, it creeps in while you are eating that bag of chips while lounging in front of the TV, or supersizing your take-out order, or driving to the corner store instead of walking. You invite it in, and now you have to make it leave!

What is insulin resistance?

When our bodies digest the food we eat, glucose is produced. The pancreas secretes insulin, which enables cells of the brain, liver, and muscles to take up glucose from the blood stream. If we eat more than is required, the excess glucose can also be taken up by adipocytes — fat cells.

When that happens, we gain weight, including visceral fat, which is especially dangerous because excess visceral fat acts as a sort of accessory endocrine organ, making a host of pro-inflammatory compounds. In addition, muscle cells do not then efficiently use insulin to remove glucose from circulation, so blood glucose stays elevated, the pancreas makes more insulin in response, and over time muscle cells become resistant to the actions of insulin. Excess blood glucose glycosylates proteins, or is shunted into adipocytes, where it promotes obesity and further inflammation. Left unchecked, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes will likely develop.

What can be done to tame insulin resistance?

There are two ways to tame insulin resistance:

  1. Reduce the need for insulin
  2. Increase the sensitivity of muscle cells to insulin.

The first objective can be achieved by strictly regulating the glycemic load of the diet. It will be necessary to remove carbs of high glycemic index from your diet almost completely and to focus on eating moderate amounts of non-starchy vegetables and high-fiber foods. If you eat lean protein and healthy fats with those carbs, you will further reduce the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream. Consequently, the pancreas makes much less insulin.

You will likely need to relearn portion control so that you eat optimal amounts of carbs, protein, and fats — yes, you’ll be tracking your macros! Gone are white bread, corn chips, and French fries altogether, and in their place enter garbanzo beans, leafy greens, and broccoli. You will lose weight, and several studies have shown that weight loss makes glucose uptake by muscle cells more efficient.

What about exercise?

Though dietary modification is of primary importance, exercise brings additional benefits in the battle against insulin resistance. Research suggests that aerobic exercise, even in the absence of weight loss, enhances insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, HIIT may be more beneficial than steady state aerobic exercise.

Resistance training also increases glucose uptake by muscle cells, which in turn drives down insulin secretion and increases the sensitivity of muscle cells to insulin. Resistance training also increases muscle mass, further magnifying the effect.

If you already have type 2 diabetes, or are at elevated risk, your physician may have prescribed Metformin, which prevents the liver from transforming liver glycogen into circulating glucose while improving the sensitivity of adipocytes and muscle cells to insulin.  Studies suggest that high-intensity resistance training and a portion-controlled low-glycemic-load diet works better than Metformin for reining in insulin resistance.

If you want to tame the monster, you may need to take heroic measures! Embrace hard physical training and eat mindfully and sparingly. Persist! You will be an example to your children, and grandchildren, but what type of example will you be?