In order to wrap your head around the (often overcomplicated) concept of insulin resistance, it’s helpful to start with a zoomed-in perspective of what’s going on in your body on the cellular level. So here’s the gist of it:

Your pancreas is responsible for making insulin – a hormone that helps to regulate glucose levels in your blood by facilitating the uptake of glucose into the cells. When you eat something, your blood sugar levels rise which triggers your pancreas to release insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin then binds to specific receptors (like GLUT4) on the surface of your cells, signaling them to allow glucose into your cells and, therefore, out of your bloodstream. Now if your cells are constantly bombarded with glucose (sugar), they can eventually become insulin resistant. In other words, your cells can gradually become less responsive to insulin over time, leading to higher levels of glucose in your bloodstream. This initiates a bit of a cycle of doom because then your pancreas compensates by pumping out even MORE insulin to control your blood sugar levels, yet it still may not be able to keep up with the demand for insulin. This is noteworthy because elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) long term is a serious condition that can potentially progress into diabetes. So let’s get into the reasons why someone might become insulin resistant, how to test for it, and how to reverse it. 

Potential causes of insulin resistance

  • An accumulation of lipids (aka fats) in your cells: these lipids bind to and inactivate the receptors that receive insulin, preventing your cells from taking up glucose from your bloodstream and balancing your blood sugar levels
  • Physical inactivity: the fat molecules mentioned above get burned off during exercise, therefore reducing their ability to inactivate insulin receptors and lowering the risk of becoming obese over time
  • Inflammation: chronic inflammation creates inflammatory cytokines that disrupt insulin signaling pathways
  • An overconsumption of saturated fat: this leads to an accumulation of lipids in your cells over time
  • Obesity: with obesity comes an increased amount of adipose, aka fat, tissue. This fat interferes with your body’s ability to respond to insulin
  • Micronutrient deficiencies: particularly a magnesium deficiency, an iron deficiency or iron overload

How to increase your insulin sensitivity:

  1. Exercise regularly – try to incorporate strength training into your weekly routine
  2. Maintain a healthy body fat level 
  3. Take apple cider vinegar before meals (shoutout to GlucoBitters)
  4. Consume an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients
  5. Reduce chronic stress 
  6. Optimize your sleep hygiene 
  7. Add in a targeted probiotic supplement
  8. Eat plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates

Ways to tell if you’re insulin resistant:

  • A glucose tolerance test
  • Testing your hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels to understand your blood sugar levels over a 3 month period

For more information on insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, PCOS and other conditions of metabolic dysfunction, listen to the deep dive, masterclass style episode with Calvin Scheller on What’s the Juice podcast. 

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