Be more sensitive to reap assorted health perks: the ABCs of avoiding insulin resistance

It’s time to up your sensitivity ratings – insulin sensitivity, that is. Insulin resistance, or a lack of sensitivity to insulin, leads to high levels of this the hormone.

It now appears that elevated insulin levels are a major culprit in disease development. Not only is it one step along the route to developing type 2 diabetes, a disease that’s increasing to epidemic proportions in North America, but it also goes hand in hand with a slew of ailments including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and some cancers. So even if you’re not concerned about diabetes, you still want to be a sensitive person.

Insulin is a hormone that’s critical for healthy blood sugar regulation. But when it’s out of whack, that spells trouble.  And the list of factors that can throw off insulin readings has been increasing over the past few decades.

For one, increasing age has been shown to decrease the body’s sensitivity to insulin’s action. So does the combo of rising waist measures and a lack of physical activity. As the body’s sensitivity decreases, it has to pump out more insulin to accomplish the task of regulating blood sugar. Eventually, even with loads of insulin being produced, if the body is resistant to its action, blood sugar readings can rise and lead to the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes – what was previously called adult-onset. Over time, the pancreas which produces insulin slows down and sometimes quits leaving a person requiring medication.

But nowadays it seems that type 2 diabetes doesn’t have the same age barriers. And neither does insulin resistance. Both are striking young and old together. Even those in their early teens are now being hit with the diagnosis.

And considering that high insulin levels are linked to an increased risk of many of our society’s chronic illnesses, taking action is critical. Insulin is not only linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body, which may lead to a host of diseases, it also promotes higher readings of the blood fat, triglycerides, while suppressing levels of the protective HDL-cholesterol.

There is a little of the chicken-egg dilemma here that can make lowering insulin levels more difficult. Excess weight in the abdomen  results in higher insulin readings. And high insulin levels go hand in hand with overeating as research shows that the hormone can blunt the sense of satiety. So having a belly can make you want to eat more. But losing small amounts of weight, sometimes even just ten pounds, can help break free of the cycle.

In addition, taking part in regular physical activity – walking at a brisk pace, swimming, cycling or jogging –all increase insulin sensitivity and if you’re in need of practicing waist management, the exercise can help you shed abdominal weight.

The good news, though, is that science is showing that enlightened eating  can boost your sensitivity. The latest research,   presented  at The Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, suggests that regularly skipping breakfast over time may lead to chronic insulin resistance and thus could increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.

In the study, overweight and obese non-diabetic women, with an average age of 29, were randomly assigned to either eat breakfast or skip their morning meal. The next month, they were to do the opposite.  On each test day, four hours later,  they consumed a standardized lunch.  This was followed by blood tests   every 30 minutes  for three hours to test their insulin and blood sugar levels.

While blood sugar and insulin readings normally rise after eating, on the days breakfast was skipped, both these readings were significantly higher than on the days they ate breakfast.

The researchers speculate that this response to breakfast skipping may contribute to long term long term insulin resistance and its various consequences.

Next up: Top five smart choices for boosting insulin sensitivity
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Are you concerned about your risk of developing diabetes? What steps are you taking to decrease your odds? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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