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What is insulin resistance and why can it affect women in midlife?

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Here we look at what insulin resistance is, the main factors that cause insulin resistance in midlife and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

What is insulin resistance and the importance of diet and lifestyle

What is insulin resistance?


Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps glucose in your blood enter cells in your muscle, fat, and liver, where it’s used for energy. Essentially it is produced after you eat. The release of insulin helps to lower blood sugar levels in order to keep them in a healthy range. However, due to many factors, lifestyle and dietary, we may become insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance is when cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood. As a result, your pancreas makes more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. This leads to blood sugar imbalance, mood swings and low energy. Insulin resistance is also associated with an increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.


“You don’t have to be diabetic to have insulin resistance”


Main causes and risk factors for developing insulin resistance:


  1. Having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

  2. Having a high-calorie diet, high-carbohydrate or high-sugar diet. Constant blood sugar spikes mean your insulin receptors are having to work overtime which may lead to them being simply worn out and ineffective.

  3. Being overweight. Fat cells produce inflammatory cytokines (think inflammation), and having too much of these will negatively affect insulin receptors.

  4. Aged 45 or over. As we get older it is important to keep an eye on our eating habits and check blood glucose levels.

  5. Sedentary lifestyle

  6. Having high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Remember too that cholesterol levels can increase as a result of menopause and declining oestrogen.

  7. Heart disease

  8. Poor sleep. Chronic poor sleep habits or lack of sleep may also contribute to insulin resistance as not getting enough good quality sleep increases production of stress hormones (think inflammation again!).

  9. If you had gestational diabetes

  10. Chronic stress. Over time stress hormones cause the liver to release sugar into the blood, and this spike in blood sugar wears out insulin receptors.

  11. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)


What are some of the signs and symptoms of insulin resistance?


Initially, insulin resistance presents no symptoms. The symptoms only start to appear once it leads to secondary effects such as higher blood sugar levels. When this happens, the symptoms may include:


  1. Lethargy (tiredness)

  2. Hunger or insatiable appetite

  3. Extreme thirst

  4. Increased or frequent urination

  5. Difficulty concentrating (brain fog)

  6. Weight gain around the middle

  7. Skin tags or dark, velvety skin patches

  8. High blood pressure

  9. Elevated triglycerides

Whilst all of this may sound scary it is possible to stop insulin resistance from getting worse or even reverse it.


There are multiple things that you can do:


Optimise your weight. You can improve your weight in many ways including exercise, regular walks, reducing stress and improving your diet. Book a call with our very own personal trainer and World Class Athlete, Claire Spurway, and find out how you can get into midlife shape.


Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugar. Focus on whole foods such as pulses, grains, vegetables, especially green leafy ones as well as adequate hydration. Healthy fat and protein sources are also essential in balancing blood sugar. Aim for lean meat such as turkey or chicken, fish especially oily types such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel; eggs, nuts and seeds, avocados and olive oil are also great sources of protein and fats.


Focus on sleep. As M. Walker explains there is no condition in the world that can not be helped by sleep. Sleep is when your body recovers, heals and does ‘maintenance’ to support your health. Natural killer cells are most active between 10pm -12am, they survey your body for any stress and imbalances and try to repair. Research also indicates that our brain only detoxes at night<1>, so if you are a rubbish sleeper, make getting sleep a priority!


Manage stress. If stress is a major factor in your life, try and make time for yourself as often as possible through meditation, reading, being outdoors, journaling or yoga. Anything that is calming and will help you rebalance your mind. You can also access our free meditations over on SoundCloud here


Blood Glucose Monitoring. You can now buy a home device that will test your blood sugar levels against different foods so you can monitor exactly what foods spike your blood sugars.

If you are worried that you may be insulin resistant and would like to find out, there are some functional tests available, that involve fasting blood glucose and lipid profile. Please speak with your GP or get in touch with us and book a free discovery call to find out more about how you can improve your insulin and health.

Sources:

Uzuncakmak, T. K., Akdeniz, N., & Karadag, A. S. (2018). Cutaneous manifestations of obesity and themetabolic syndrome. Clinics in dermatology, 36(1), 81–88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clindermatol.2017.09.014

<1> https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/brain-may-flush-out-toxins-during-sleep#:~:text=Nedergaard%20and%20her%20colleagues%20unexpectedly,Dr.

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