Insulin Resistance: It Is Not So Sweet

When most people think of the type of foods that can cause high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity, they often think of one word:  fat.  However, current research shows that the type of food most likely to contribute to the epidemic of obesity and its related conditions, is actually the sweet stuff:  sugar and refined carbohydrates.

The Unwell Cell

Insulin helps transfer glucose into our cells for energy production.  Insulin resistance (also called Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X) is when the body’s cells no longer respond to insulin as they should. The late stage of this disease is Type 2 Diabetes, however, damage to our cells starts long before Diabetes shows up.  The good news is that with some help, you can reverse this condition.


Watch for Signs

Hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, and abdominal weight gain are all signs that you might be insulin resistant.  With a change in diet and lifestyle, insulin resistance can be reversible.  For some it will only take a few small adjustments. For others, a greater effort may be required. 

Signs that you might have insulin resistance:

  • Obesity – especially around the midsection
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated insulin, high triglycerides, low HDL (on blood test)
  • Increased inflammation, excess blood clotting
  • Susceptibility to heart disease and stroke
  • History of gestational diabetes

Symptoms that you might experience if you have insulin resistance:

  • Inability to lose weight
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood sugar before meals - mood swings, shakiness, nervousness, dizziness, irritability, or confusion

Diet and Exercise

Depending on your level of health and the quality of your current diet, often a diet low in refined carbohydrates is the first line of therapy.  Some doctors will even recommend a complete avoidance of grains for some individuals.  In addition, a good source of omega 3 (usually from fish) and GLA (gamma linolenic acid, such as borage oil or black currant seed oil) containing foods are recommended.   And finally--thirty minutes of a cardiovascular workout, five times per week is a minimum requirement.

Treatment Considerations

While a change in diet is most important, many people will also need a higher dose of a few herbs and nutrients to jumpstart their metabolism and to reverse insulin resistance.  Many herbal treatments options exist that have plenty of excellent research to support their use. Ask your primary health care provider if the any of the following botanical medicines may be right for you: 

  • Gymnema sylvestre (gymnema) - Reduces the body’s insulin requirements and fasting blood glucose.  May also help to regenerate the beta cells of the pancreas (cells that secrete insulin).
  • Coleus forskohlii (coleus) –Reduces body fat, lowers blood pressure, increases thyroid function, relaxes blood vessels.
  • Trigonella Foenum-graecum (fenugreek) – Reduces fasting blood sugar and improves sensitivity to insulin, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides.

Keeping your insulin levels in check will help to prevent many chronic illnesses and may actually increase your lifespan.  Talk to your Naturopathic Physician about whether sugar may be causing your symptoms.  Getting on a preventive program now can help you to enjoy optimal wellness and an active lifestyle for years to come.

About Dr. Julie Durnan:

Dr. Julie Durnan combines modern, research-based medicine with traditional naturopathic therapies.  She is a naturopathic physician and co-founder of Pacifica Naturopathic Clinic in West Vancouver, BC.  Dr. Durnan believes in a proactive approach to health and has a special focus on women’s health and children’s wellness.  She lives in North Vancouver with her husband and two son, Jack and Sam.

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