What causes insulin resistance, and can you reverse it?

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LONDON: You’ve probably heard of the terms “pre-diabetes” and “insulin resistance”, but given no thought as to how they could relate to you.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, and plays a major role in your metabolism. It assists cells in absorbing glucose into the body to use for energy.

When the body becomes insulin resistant, it struggles to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and leads to high blood sugar. Left unchecked, you’re at risk of prediabetes – the condition whereby blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes – which will often actually develop into Type 2 diabetes.

Few people know they have any kind of insulin resistance and most go undiagnosed because it has no symptoms. The Journal of Diabetes Complications has estimated that 32.2 per cent of people have insulin resistance, while the journal Minerva Endocrinologica found that more than 70 per cent of overweight and obese women will be affected. Often people only find out about glucose absorption problems, however, when it’s too late when a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis has been given.
Genetic factors are significant in insulin resistance, but lifestyle choices play a large part too. Elevated free fatty acids in the body stop it responding properly to insulin by disrupting the pathways needed, and this is caused by excess calorie consumption and the carrying of too much body fat. Scientifically, overeating, weight gain and obesity are strongly correlated to insulin resistance, particularly when belly fat is present. Having a waist measuring more than 100cm for men and 88cm for women puts you at risk.

However, people at a healthy weight can also become insulin resistant. The journals Nutrition & Metabolism and Journal of Nutrition have linked high fructose consumption from added sugars to insulin resistance. Oxidative stress and increased inflammation in the body may lead to resistance as well, according to Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity and Diabetes journals, while the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has found that persistent physical inactivity also relates.

Insulin resistance and prediabetes can be tested for by several kinds of blood tests, including the AC1 test, the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, and the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).

If you find out you have become insulin resistant or prediabetic this can be reversed, or significantly reduced, and Type 2 diabetes may not develop.

According to new research by the University of Arkansas, physical activity offers the “greatest protection” against insulin resistance, and even light exercise – example 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week – carries the benefits.

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