What is insulin resistance? The hidden condition you might not know about

By Dr. Rachelle Viinberg, ND, BSc

There’s a hidden health marker that many people don’t know they have—insulin resistance. When we hear, “insulin resistance”, we often think of diabetes. But non-diabetic insulin resistance is common and can have many concerning health consequences.

Negative health effects

Insulin resistance can have a series of negative health effects, including cravings for carbohydrates, troubles losing weight, and fatigue. More worrisome are an increased chance of cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), systemic inflammation, poor immunity, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Alzheimer’s disease, mental health conditions and even certain cancers. With all this in mind, insulin resistance is something we should

get assessed as a part of our general health check and treat accordingly.

How does insulin work?

Insulin is the key that unlocks the door and allows glucose to enter cells so it can be used for energy. Without insulin, there is no way sugar can enter and your body has a difficult time fueling itself. It's hard to figure out if there’s a problem with your insulin. Your blood work can appear completely normal, while your pancreas may be working four times as hard to produce enough insulin. Eventually the body will stop compensating, and your cells start to become insensitive to that insulin key. Blood pressure creeps up, increasing severity further. This process can take years, and even decades with some.

Diagnosing insulin resistance

The Homeostatic Model Assessment of Insulin Resistance (HOMA-IR) is the gold standard for measuring insulin resistance before it progresses to type 2 diabetes.  Remarkably, it is so sensitive that it can measure a problem a decade before it becomes a major issue. If your HOMA-IR is high, it means you are using more insulin than normal to keep your blood sugar in balance. A genetic predisposition can lead to this issue, but also lifestyle factors such as high stress, abdominal obesity, being sedentary (think desk job), lack of sleep, sleepapnea, extreme diets, as well as yo-yo dieting, hypothyroidism, aging and even pollution.

Improving insulin resistance

Small lifestyle changes can significantly improve insulin resistance and its symptoms. Modifying your diet to include more fibre, healthy fats and vegetables, moving more regularly, using stress management techniques, and maximizing your quality of sleep all greatly improve insulin resistance. Slow habitual changes are the way to go, without any drastic dietary restrictions. 

Supporting supplements

You can also substantially improve insulin resistance by adding key nutrients with supplements: Magnesium and Vitamin D. 

Magnesium is extremely hard to get in our diet, and research has shown that taking magnesium supplements for more than 4 months can significantly improve insulin resistance in people with and without diabetes.

Vitamin D is another often overlooked supplement. Interestingly, people with low vitamin D levels have an increased chance of developing insulin resistance. It is recommended to test before proper dosing is recommended. It is shocking how many people in Canada have extreme vitamin D deficiency despite habitual supplementation. This is another test that is not often evaluated in our standard medical system.

Both Magnesium and Vitamin D supplements are available at Kardish locations across Ottawa. 

Holistic guidance

Are you curious if you have insulin resistance? Dr. Kristy Lewis, ND and Dr. Rachelle Viinberg, ND would be happy to assess you, and help guide you and your blood sugar to better health. Learn more: https://drkristylewis.ca/private-care/

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. Medications and various diagnoses need to be properly evaluated by a healthcare professional before incorporating any supplementation.

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