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Insulin Resistance explained

Diabetes, Heart | May 17, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

weight, diabetes, cardiovascular

  Insulin Resistance explained

Insulin resistance is more common than you think, and is primarily caused by excess weight. If you’re insulin resistant, your body doesn’t have the ability to respond and use the insulin it produces—resulting in increasing blood sugars. Several studies have shown that an insulin resistance diet and exercise can alter insulin signalling pathways, helping to maintain healthy blood sugars. In addition to this, certain nutrients and herbs have also been found to help delay the onset of insulin resistance.

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is made by the beta cells in the pancreas. It is then released into the bloodstream to maintain normal blood sugar levels, usually when blood glucose levels rise following a meal. Insulin helps muscle, fat and liver cells absorb this glucose from the bloodstream so that they can use it for energy.

Therefore, insulin plays a significant role in regulating how the body uses digested food.

insulin resistanceInsulin and diabetes

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes may need to use insulin shots to help their bodies maintain healthy blood sugars and allow their body to use glucose for energy. 

In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer manufactures insulin as the beta cells have been damaged. This means that they rely on shots of insulin to use glucose from the meals they eat. 

People with type 2 diabetes make insulin but their bodies don’t respond to it well, so some people may need insulin injections.

Insulin Resistance and pre-diabeties

In insulin resistance, more and more insulin is produced to overcompensate for the cells not taking in glucose the way that they should.

This overproduction, causes the pancreas to eventually become worn out, producing inadequate quantities of insulin needed to maintain normal blood sugar levels.

This inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin in hyperinsulinemia is what characterises the transition from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes. High plasma levels of insulin and glucose due to insulin resistance often leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

What are the risk factors?

Causes and risk factors that contribute to the incidence of insulin resistance include:

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Age—risk increases above 45 years of age
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress
  • A close family member with diabetes and/or insulin resistance
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Disorders that cause inflammation in the body
  • Toxin exposure i.e. arsenic and mercury
  • High levels of cortisol in the blood from steroid use or Cushing’s disease
  • Certain drugs i.e. progestrogens, glucocorticoids and many antiretrovirals

Insulin resistance is also linked to high blood pressure and elevated levels of fat in the blood.

Insulin Resistance symptoms

Insulin resistance is closely associated with Metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that often occur together and increase your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Some of the signs and symptoms of Metabolic syndrome include:


  • Acne
  • Skin tags
  • Skin cancers
  • Male pattern balding
  • Acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition causing dark patches on the skin


  • High blood pressure
  • ​Vascular disease
  • Angina
  • Previous heart attack/stroke
  • Intermittent claudication


  • Early puberty
  • Lack of menstruation or a long menstrual cycle
  • PCOS
  • Infertility


  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Impotence
  • Prostate cancer

Appetite. High calorie and carbohydrate cravings


  • Overweight
  • Fat storage over the abdomen
  • History of failed weight loss attempts
  • Diabetes


  • Sleep apnoea
  • Snoring
  • Daytime fatigue and sleepiness


  • Depression
  • Tinnitus
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Short-sightedness

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifesyle are major factors for the development and control of insulin resistance and the prevention of diabetes. 
Eat low glycaemic index foods. 

Make sure to eat loads of fresh vegetables, especially those lower in starch. Limit fruits to 1-2 serves per day, choosing from a variety of fresh berries, apples and pears.

Foods high in carbohydrates, such as grains, should always be wholemeal for the higher fibre content. But watch the serving size, it should only be small.

Having protein with each meal will reduce the overall glycaemic index, so try to include both lean meat and vegetarian sources such as beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, eggs and natural yoghurt in the diet.

Foods that are processed, especially refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, white rice, donuts and biscuits are best avoided.

Fats should be kept to a minimum but it depends on what kind of fats. Trans fats, deep fried foods and oxidised fats from rancid oils and nuts should be completely avoided. Healthy fats from avocado, a small portion of raw, unsalted nuts, fish, lean meats, olive oil and coconut oil are some healthy suggestions to include in the diet.

Watch your portions. Get out those small dinner plates and reduce your portion sizes, especially if weight loss needs to occur. Have a palm size serve of protein and fill up the rest of the plate with salad or vegetables. If you’re having grains just have a small slice of a wholemeal bread or a ¼ cup of brown rice.

Keep hydrated with a minimum of 8 glasses of filtered water daily. This can also include a small amount of a fresh vegetable juice and herbal teas, especially green tea. Avoid sugar in cordials, soft-drinks, coffee, tea and fruit juice. These will send your blood sugars soaring.

​Don’t underestimate the importance of exercise. 30 minutes each day of an activity that gets your heart rate up is great. It is also an excellent way to allow weight loss to occur by burning those extra calories.

Specific nutrients and herbs for insulin resistance

Chromium is a critical nutrient needed for the uptake of insulin into cells. It also helps to stimulate a number of enzymes involved in insulin signalling, therefore potentiating the action of insulin.

Magnesium deficiency is related to poor glycaemic control and poor insulin secretion and function. Interestingly, insulin resistance can also interfere with cells from using magnesium, creating a vicious cycle.

Vitamin D. Regardless of vitamin D status, supplementation with this vitamin has been shown to improve insulin and glucose control but also hypertension.

The B complex work synergistically to metabolise carbohydrates.

Alpha lipoic acid can help to enhance glucose uptake, similarly to the uptake that is initiated by insulin. Additionally it helps to protect against the damaging effects of high blood sugars over time to the eyes, blood vessels and kidneys.

Herbs to Help

When it comes to herbal medicine for insulin resistance the main herbs are cinnamon, fenugreek, bitter melon, goat’s rue and gymnema. They have been extensively studied for their ability to reduce blood sugars. Cinnamon also has the ability to reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels while gymnema has been shown to regenerate beta cells –stimulating the secretion of insulin.

Changing your lifestyle and diet can be hard, but it is the only way to overcome insulin resistance. Taking extra supplements can help give you an added advantage if you have been struggling to control your symptoms.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Reaven GM. Insulin resistance, the insulin resistance syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Panminerva Med. 2005 Dec;47(4):201-10

Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia

Tiwari P, et al. Gymnema sylvestre for diabetes: From traditional herb to futures therapeutic. Curr Pharm Des. 2016 Nov 8. [Epub ahead of print]

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