Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas. It allows your cells to use glucose (sugar) for energy. In people with insulin resistance, the body’s cells don’t use the insulin effectively – specifically, the cells have trouble absorbing the glucose, leading to a build up of sugar in the blood. Many people confuse Insulin Resistance with Type 2 Diabetes, and, although they have several similar characteristics, they are different conditions.
With Insulin Resistance, the pancreas continues to produce insulin; in fact, it may even begin to produce more and more as it tries to get the muscles and fat cells to accept the excess glucose that is building up in the bloodstream. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, or when production significantly slows after an extended period of high demand (such as occurs with Insulin Resistance).
Insulin Resistance has a very strong genetic factor, with family history of Type 2 Diabetes playing a role, as well as ethnicity. Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are at greater risk of developing Insulin Resistance. Metabolic syndrome, a disorder that causes the carrying of excess weight (particularly around the middle), high blood pressure, and elevated blood cholesterol, is another common cause of insulin resistance. Other risk factors can include pregnancy, stress, infection, and even sleep apnea. Left untreated, Insulin Resistance can develop first into a condition called Pre-diabetes, and eventually into Type 2 Diabetes, so it is very important to recognize the symptoms and the recommended course of treatment.
One of the earliest and most noticeable symptoms is weight gain, particularly around the waist. Other symptoms include low energy or feeling tired all the time, persistent hunger (even after eating), difficulty concentrating (sometimes called “brain fog”), and high blood pressure. A lesser-known symptom is a skin condition called “acanthosis nigricans,” where the skin darkens in patches on the back of the neck, groin, and armpits.
I lived with insulin resistance and all of its complications for 35 years. I was always told, like everyone else, to just eat a balanced diet and exercise and I would be fine. While the statement is true, figuring out the what’s and how’s were a different story.
Regular exercise (at least 3 times a week with weight resistance) helps to lower your blood sugar, increases your metabolism (which helps you to lose weight), and increases the ability of your cells to accept and process glucose. Exercise doesn’t have to mean training for a marathon. Find an activity that you enjoy, and make some time for it in your day-to-day life.
The role of diet is, as we would expect, is huge in controlling the pesky symptoms of Insulin Resistance. Foods that are high in fiber are key – they slowly digest and slowly raise blood sugar levels.
Processed foods, on the other hand, quickly digest and quickly spike blood sugar levels. In my experience, it wasn’t enough to adopt a vegan lifestyle; I had to adopt a low/no sugar anti-inflammatory diet for the symptoms to disappear. Here is a handy list of foods that can be enjoyed:
While the above are some general food tips, there are some specific recommendations for treating Insulin Resistance that are specific to an Ayurvedic diet.
The following plants, herbs, and spices have all been deemed beneficial to those suffering from high blood glucose levels:
Many common properties can be associated with the above-mentioned herbs and spices. First, many possess the ability to cleanse the body of toxins (ie have diuretic qualities), speed up the body’s metabolism (particularly of fat), aid in digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals, and also in their healing properties.
And wow, what an amazing variety of diverse and interesting flavours!
My taste buds have perked up just from writing about them.
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