Insulin Resistance Syndrome
A Common Cause of Carbohydrate Cravings, Fatigue, Depression and Obesity
Many people with fatigue, depression, hypoglycemia, overweight, or sugar/starch cravings are suffering from dysglycemia, which is a disruption in blood sugar metabolism caused primarily by diet. Other conditions that can also be linked to this problem include high blood pressure, some types of high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, adult onset diabetes, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Blood sugar problems occur on spectrum of disease with fatigue, depression, hypoglycemia, and cravings at one end, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome in the middle, and prediabetes and adult-onset diabetes at the other end.
All of these conditions are caused by the same basic problem, dysglycemia, with where you are on the spectrum indicating the severity of your disease. It is important to point out here that not everyone with fatigue, depression, high cholesterol or high blood pressure has dysglycemia or insulin resistance, but many of them do. Virtually everyone with metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, however, does have insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance occurs when cells which would normally take sugar out of the blood, and hence lower blood sugar, become resistant to the action of insulin. It therefore takes more insulin to keep a person’s blood sugar in check. People with insulin resistance syndrome will consequently have normal blood sugar levels and elevated insulin levels.
People with insulin resistance tend to gain weight and suffer from carbohydrate cravings that in some cases can be quite intense. They may not feel satisfied if they eat a meal that doesn’t contain carbohydrates, and they may find it difficult to stop eating carbohydrates once they’ve started, even bingeing at times. They will also frequently experience elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowered HDL cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol is the good type of cholesterol that offers protection against heart disease. Many of these people also suffer from hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause fatigue, anxiety, and shakiness if they don’t eat frequently enough.
A general rule of thumb is that if your triglyceride to HDL ratio is greater than 3, you probably have insulin resistance. For example, if your triglycerides are 158 and your HDL cholesterol is 35, your triglyceride to HDL ratio is 158 divided by 35 equals 4.5 and you probably have insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is a very common condition in the US, and those with IRS are at increased risk of developing adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Up to 25% of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome. They are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke and 4 times more likely to develop diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a condition caused by insulin resistance. It is defined by the following 5 criteria:
- Blood pressure greater than 130/85
- Fasting blood sugar greater than 100
- Large waist size - 40 inches or more for men or 35 inches or more for women
- High triglycerides (from a cholesterol test) – greater than 150
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol – below 40 in men or 50 in women
People that meet 3 or more of these 5 criteria have metabolic syndrome. They also typically have elevated levels of inflammation, which can be measured by C-Reactive Protein (CRP). This inflammation promotes arthritis, pain, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.
Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and all of these diseases of dysglycemia are multi-factorial, which means that people who develop these conditions usually do so because of a variety of genetic, lifestyle, and diet factors. Those with a family history of adult onset diabetes, for example, are at an increased risk of developing insulin resistance. Individuals who are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle, or eat a diet high in saturated fat or simple carbohydrates are also at risk.
Diet in the Natural Treatment of Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome
The primary treatment for this family of conditions is a low glycemic diet which restricts carbohydrates that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. Not all carbohydrates are a problem for people with insulin resistance. The most problematic type of carbohydrate for people with IRS are the simple carbohydrates which are found in foods such as cakes, candies, pies, muffins, and ice cream. These foods contain large amounts of sugar, which go straight into the blood and quickly raise blood sugar, hence increasing the demand for insulin to bring the blood sugar levels back down. Even complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, and pastas are fairly quickly digested and broken down into sugars. It is therefore very important that people with insulin resistance limit their intake of these carbohydrates. Beans and fruit, on the other hand, contain sugars and other carbohydrates that are slowly digested, and are not a problem for people with insulin resistance. Proteins, fats, and most vegetables also have very little impact on blood sugar and can be eaten without restriction. Proteins and fats, in fact, will slow the absorption of the sugars that come from carbohydrates and decrease their impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
Physical Activity in the Natural Treatment of Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome
Physical activity is also an important part of an insulin control or weight loss program. Physical activity raises the good HDL cholesterol and lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, hence decreasing the demand for insulin. In addition to helps to decrease the inflammation that is characteristic of insulin resistance. It also helps you to burn more calories, and therefore speed weight loss. Weight loss enhances insulin sensitivity and reduces triglycerides and blood pressure.
Nutrients in the Natural Treatment of Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome
The following nutrients can be particularly effective in the treatment and prevention of insulin resistance:
- Water soluble fiber (found in beans, fruits, psyllium and oat bran)
Most people with insulin resistance who follow the above recommendations will find that they lose weight, no longer crave carbohydrates, and don’t experience the fatigue, anxiety, or shakiness characteristic of hypoglycemia. They also will generally find that their cholesterol and triglyceride levels drop, and that their HDL levels rise, sometimes dramatically.
While not everyone who is overweight or has high cholesterol levels suffers from insulin resistance syndrome, anyone with these problems who doesn’t respond to a standard low fat diet and exercise therapy should be evaluated for this condition. This is especially true if they experience carbohydrate cravings or the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Bottom Line in the Natural Treatment of Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome
- Get optimal levels of physical activity
- Follow a low-glycemic diet
- Increase your water soluble fiber intake
- Consider taking chromium and vanadium
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To see a naturopathic doctor for help in determining whether you suffer from insulin resistance syndrome and to get treatment, please make a selection below.
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