Let’s talk about sugar sensitivity!
You’ve watched those TV advertisements marketing a simple pill to combat ‘insulin resistance’ and help
with weight loss: the depressed and overweight woman stabs at her lettuce leaves while jealously eyeing the
thinner women in the office. But what exactly is insulin resistance, and is a little pill all that’s needed to fight the bulge?
While sugar is considered a nutritional enemy, your body is dependent on the molecules of glucose that whizz about your bloodstream. Brain activity depends on them, as glucose is the energy that fuels cells and the millions of processes that occur within your body. But it’s the balancing act of obtaining the right source for the glucose and maintaining the right amount of it in the bloodstream that’s essential to health.
The pancreas is the organ in the body tasked with regulating blood glucose levels by producing the hormone insulin. Simone Singery, a registered dietician at Dailydietician.co.za, explains how insulin facilitates the movement of glucose from your blood and into your cells. ‘Insulin is like a key that opens the doors to the cells to let glucose in so that the cell can use it as energy,’ Simone says.
How does it form?
Insulin is incredibly important in regulating our blood sugar levels and directing it where it’s needed. But how does your body develop a resistance to this hormone?
‘You become insulin resistant when your cells no longer respond normally to insulin, and higher levels of insulin are needed in order for it to have an effect in your cells,’ Simone explains.
When this happens, your body will instruct your pancreas to produce higher amounts of insulin, until it eventually burns out and is unable to produce the correct quantities needed by the body. ‘Eventually, despite the key, the
door stays locked and glucose remains in the blood, causing high blood sugar or hyperglycaemia, otherwise known as prediabetes,’ she adds.
If you think insulin resistance could be behind your difficulty with weight loss, other symptoms that manifest from the
problem include constant fatigue, increased appetite, brain ‘fogginess’ or problems with concentration, high blood sugar levels and blood pressure. ‘If you’re experiencing any of these, you should consult your doctor,’ Simone suggests.
If left untreated, insulin resistance can have greater consequences, most notably developing into type 2 diabetes. ‘Continually high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, which leads to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputations. Furthermore, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have also been linked to an increased risk for certain cancers, including bladder, breast, colon, cervix, pancreas, prostate and uterine cancer,’ warns Simone.
Insulin resistance can develop due to a number of reasons, including:
- excess weight or obesity
- pregnancy infection or severe illness, which affects the endocrine system
- steroid use
- certain medications
- older age
- problems with sleep
Did you know?
A study conducted by Dr Josiane Broussard and colleagues at the University of Colorado, found that just one night
of sleep deprivation boosted insulin resistance as much as eating high-fat foods for six months.
How to treat it
If you’ve been diagnosed with insulin resistance, don’t panic just yet. There’s a lot you can do to change your lifestyle and avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes. ‘Lifestyle changes include losing weight, changing your diet, getting sufficient sleep and exercising regularly,’ recommends Simone. From a nutritional perspective she also suggests increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables, cutting out highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates (specifically processed sugar, sugary drinks and white bread), increasing your intake of healthy fats such as oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and increasing your fibre intake along with eating enough lean protein at every meal. While diet can help with reversing the signs of insulin resistance, undertaking regular exercise combined with a healthy eating plan has been shown to be even more effective in improving insulin sensitivity.
FEATURE: TARYN DAS NEVES PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM