When it comes to metabolism and weight loss, it’s mostly about insulin. Insulin is also a major factor in many women’s health conditions such as PCOS, acne, progesterone deficiency, and heavy periods.
Healthy insulin sensitivity is how you keep inflammation down. It’s how you reduce your long-term risk of diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia, and heart disease.
Do you have insulin resistance? It’s time to find out.
What is insulin resistance?
Under normal conditions, your hormone insulin rises briefly after eating. It stimulates your liver and muscles to take up sugar from your blood and convert it to energy. This causes your blood sugar to fall, and then your insulin to fall. When you are insulin sensitive, both your sugar and insulin are low on a fasting blood test.
When you have insulin resistance, your blood sugar may be normal but your insulin will be high. Why? Because your liver and muscles are not responding properly to insulin, so your pancreas makes more. Too much insulin then generates inflammation and pushes calories into fat storage. Too much insulin also impairs ovulation and stimulates your ovaries to make testosterone, which is a major cause of PCOS.
Insulin resistance is common and affects at least one in four adults. It is also called pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
How to diagnose insulin resistance
Blood test: The way to diagnose insulin resistance is to test insulin–not blood sugar. Ask your doctor to order “fasting insulin” or a “glucose tolerance test with insulin.” Look at your insulin reading (not just your blood sugar reading).
Your fasting insulin should be less than 55 pmol/L (8 mIU/L ). One hour after the sugar challenge, your insulin should be less than 270 pmol/L (45 mIU/L). You can also use a blood test called HOMA-IR index, which is a ratio between fasting insulin and fasting glucose. High insulin means insulin resistance.
Measure your waist: Insulin resistance can cause apple-shaped obesity, so the larger your waist circumference, the more likely you are to have insulin resistance. As a woman, your risk starts when your waist circumference is greater than 32 inches (80 cm). As a man, your risk starts when your waist circumference is greater than 36 inches (90 cm).
⚠ Tip: You don’t have to be overweight to have insulin resistance. You can be slender and still have the condition.
How to reverse insulin resistance
Stop eating dessert
High-dose fructose impairs insulin sensitivity more profoundly than any other food. That is why giving up dessert does more for insulin resistance than any other diet change. No desserts. No cakes. No fruit juice. No sweetened yogurt. No granola bars. No dried fruit. No dates. No agave. No honey. No “natural fruit sugar” Paleo desserts. Please read: Why I Ask Some Patients to Quit Sugar (and What I Mean By Sugar).
You can have whole fresh fruit because low-dose fructose actually improves insulin sensitivity. You can have starch (Gentle Carbs) in moderation. In fact, you need some starch to maintain healthy insulin sensitivity.
Magnesium deficiency can cause insulin resistance. Conversely, a magnesium-rich diet improves insulin sensitivity and reduces the risk of diabetes. You can get some magnesium from food (green leafy vegetables, legumes, and nuts), but you probably need to supplement it because magnesium is depleted by stress and exercise. Magnesium is my front-line treatment for insulin resistance. It works so well that I refer to magnesium as “natural metformin.”
Magnesium has many nice side benefits such as regulating the HPA (adrenal) axis, improving sleep, boosting progesterone, curbing sugar cravings, and reducing inflammation. Please read 8 Ways Magnesium Rescues Hormones.
Just four nights of bad sleep is enough to reduce insulin sensitivity by 30 percent. Imagine what happens after months, or even years, of bad sleep. Please aim for 7 or 8 hours of sleep each and every night.
Exercise can dramatically improve insulin sensitivity. You can start in a simple way by simply walking around the block. Climb some stairs. Then, take it a bit further and consider strength training for its many benefits on insulin and general health.
You can also improve insulin sensitivity by maintaining a healthy gut bacteria and healthy levels of both estrogen and thyroid hormone.
Nutritional supplements that improve insulin sensitivity include berberine, taurine, myo-inositol, chromium, N-acetyl cysteine, and alpha-lipoic acid. I discuss many of them in Chapter 7 of my book Period Repair Manual.
Yours in health,