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Why Should I Care About Insulin Resistance?

Your lab results came back and you’ve been diagnosed as “Insulin Resistant”.  Now what?

Insulin Resistance is when cells don’t respond properly to insulin, which is a hormone released by the pancreas. Insulin tells cells to absorb glucose, which is converted to energy. When the cells start to become less affected by insulin, more must be released to accomplish the same job. Eventually the pancreas isn’t able to keep up, leaving excess glucose in the blood and causing high blood sugar.

Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Over time, insulin resistance will cause blood sugar levels to gradually rise, eventually leading to Pre-Diabetes and then to full on Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the US, accounting for 80,000 deaths a year – which the CDC believes to be underreported. The ADA report that more Americans die from diabetes every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined. This does not mean that having insulin resistance makes one Diabetic, but it does mean they might be on the path towards Diabetes. It is estimated that 50% of those that have insulin resistance or Pre-Diabetes will develop Type 2 Diabetes unless they make lifestyle changes to prevent its advancement.

Complications and Symptoms

Most of the time those with insulin resistance and Pre-Diabetes don’t experience symptoms at all until it reaches the stage of full blown Diabetes. Symptoms that can occur as the problem advances include fatigue, the darkening or thickening of the skin, increased belly fat, more frequent sickness, increased thirst and hunger, and even tingling in the hands and feet. Insulin resistance also puts one at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke, even if they do not have diabetes. Heart Disease is currently the leading cause of death in the US.

Risk Factors for Insulin Resistance

Due to the high likelihood that symptoms will not appear until later stages of insulin resistance, it is very important to understand what can cause insulin resistance and what risk factors you have that can make you more susceptible to it.

The most common causes of insulin resistance are based on lifestyle and weight. People with unhealthy diets and low activity levels, and habits like poor sleeping or smoking, are much more likely to develop resistance to insulin. Being obese, especially when the excess weight is concentrated in the belly, can make someone three times more likely to develop insulin resistance and Diabetes, with those odds climbing higher the more overweight that person becomes. Since High Blood Sugar is a metabolic condition, other metabolic conditions like High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol can increase your risk of insulin resistance as well.

Unfortunately, some risk factors are out of our control. Like most health problems, age is major risk factor, especially for those over the age of 45. Certain ethnicities are also more susceptible to the condition, and as usual, family history plays a key part in the risk for insulin resistance.

Prevention and Reversal

The good news is that insulin resistance is both preventable and reversible. Some more positive news is that you are already taking the first step, which is educating yourself on the associated risk factors, and figuring out which ones might apply to you. Since it’s not only possible, but likely, that symptoms of insulin resistance will take years to show themselves, blood testing is the best way to determine if you already have an insulin resistance problem, or if you are trending towards developing one. This is especially true if your age or body weight fall into the risk category. A comprehensive blood panel with Ways2Well is the first step to success here.

The best way to reduce your risk of insulin resistance or reverse its effects, is to focus on improving the risk factors that you can control. Keeping active, eating a balanced diet without a lot of sugary foods, and maintaining or getting to a healthy body weight are key. Drinking enough water and getting enough sleep are, as always, incredibly helpful as well, and will probably improve most other areas of your life as well.

When I had my comprehensive blood panels with Ways2Well, I discovered that I had above optimal insulin levels in my blood and was trending towards insulin resistance. I’m young and am in generally good health, and even though I have family history that puts me at risk, I likely never would have known there was problem until it became more serious, and it would have been much more difficult to change course. But because I found out before it became a problem, I’m confident that I can prevent it from ever becoming one, and that’s what Ways2Well aims to do for all of our patients, so they can live with less worry about developing chronic disease, and live better as a result.

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