Insulin Sensitivity: Common Insulin Resistance Signs and Symptoms
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018
Medical Review by Dr. Stefano Pizzo, MD
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that turns the carbohydrates you eat into glucose and pushes them into the cells for direct use as metabolic fuel.
But what happens when you’re insulin resistant?
Simply put, your body fails to respond to the effects of insulin, and it isn’t sensitive towards it. Instead of uptaking it into the cells from the bloodstream, the excess insulin will just float around your system and your body even overproduces it as a result of your cells not utlizing it properly.
This leads to a host of signs and symptoms of insulin resistance:
- High blood sugar - the body uses insulin to push the glucose into the cells, when your body doesn’t respond to insulin, the cellular uptake of glucose is impaired and the levels of blood sugar stay constantly elevated in the bloodstream.
- High blood insulin - as you can imagine, the inability of the cells to uptake insulin, and the subsequent compensatory effect where your beta cells and pancreas keep producing more and more insulin, result in elevated serum insulin levels.
- Hunger and cravings - elevated insulin levels tend to increase hunger and cravings towards sugar and other forms of carbs. Studies have shown that high serum insulin correlates with overeating, increased hunger, and higher perceived pleasantness of sweet taste.
- Abdominal obesity - insulin serves as somewhat of a “fat storing hormone”, having chronically high levels due to your body not utilizing it properly, can lead to more of your eaten calories being converted to fat (especially the visceral kind).
- Fatty liver disease - the occurrence of a possibly life threatening condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is significantly higher in people with metabolic syndrome and/or insulin resistance.
- Water retention - swollen ankles and puffy skin are common signs of insulin resistance and poor insulin sensitivity. Why? Because insulin signals your body to hang on to sodium and water and retain it subcutaneously.
- Type 2 diabetes - if the insulin resistance goes on for too long, and your cells develop chronic resistance towards the hormone, you will end up with a full-blown type 2 diabetes and in most cases, permanent insulin problems/need for medication.
So does this mean insulin is inherently bad as many health and fitness guru’s preach? No insulin, no problems, right?
Not exactly. It’s trendy to blame insulin for everything and avoid carbs for this reason, as high serum insulin levels (caused by poor insulin sensitivity) are linked to so many negative side effects. BUT, what most people forget is that insulin is also vital part of muscle protein synthesis, cellular energy production, and testosterone production. You don’t want to get rid of insulin, you want your body to actually be able to utilize it properly for the great benefits it has. A more sensible way to look at this would be, insulin = good, carbohydrates = awesome, insulin resistance = disaster.
How to improve insulin sensitivity and cure insulin resistance naturally:
- Fast occasionally, as this improves both insulin and androgen sensitivity.
- Supplement smartly, with what has been proven to work in studies.
- Reduce trans-fat and PUFA, both contribute to insulin resistance.
- Lift weights, this has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.