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What's the deal with insulin resistance?

Increasingly research studies are bringing the health effects of insulin resistance to the forefront. Its effects are far-reaching, affecting men and women, and even has multi-generational effects. I often get questions about what insulin resistance is and how it differs from diabetes. Let’s talk a bit about what it is, and furthermore, why it is important to know if we have insulin resistance for our reproductive and general health.

Insulin resistance is exactly as it sounds. It means the body is resistant to the effect of insulin. Much like antibiotic resistance causes bacteria to not respond to the effects of antibiotics, insulin resistance causes the body to not exhibit the intended effect of insulin. Insulin is a protein hormone made by the pancreas. It is imperative for our body to control our glucose levels. When I ingest sugar-containing foods, glucose is absorbed through the gut wall directly into the bloodstream. Though a complex set of digestive mechanisms, chemicals signal to the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. This insulin binds cell receptors, instructing the cells to take up the glucose, thereby lowering our blood sugar.

When insulin resistance occurs, its onset is often subtle like a gradual biochemical form of hearing impairment. Your body makes insulin, but the cells don’t get the message - say what?! The pancreas in response has to turn up the volume and dial out even more insulin for the cells to get the message. Insulin is a growth hormone and higher levels mean we can more easily pack on the weight. Remember, the uproar about chickens receiving hormones so they can pack on the pounds faster to get from the farms to the supermarkets? Well, those chickens were given insulin-like growth hormone so they could gain weight quickly!

Eventually, if the process of insulin resistance persists, the pancreas cannot continue to increase its insulin output. The volume only goes up so high. This is a problem because when this occurs, the cells cannot hear the instructions as to how to efficiently absorb glucose from the bloodstream and the amount of glucose in the blood starts to rise. This is when we begin to observe what is commonly called prediabetes which can eventually lead to diabetes.

In short, insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes. However, it can wreak havoc on its own even without diabetes. It is associated with the following:


-Low testosterone levels in men

-Elevated testosterone levels in women

-Impaired ovulation

-Polycystic ovarian syndrome

-Liver dysfunction and inflammation

-Thyroid dysfunction

-Gestational diabetes

Symptoms of insulin resistance may include:

-Easy weight gain

-Difficulty losing weight

-Increase weight in the abdomen

-Male infertility

-Female infertility

-Irregular or absent menstrual cycles

-Low blood sugar after meals

-High blood sugar

Perpetrators of insulin resistance are ubiquitous in our homes, workplace and environment as a result of 21st-century living.

Insulin resistance commonly accompanies obesity and polycystic ovarian syndrome, but not everyone with the above has insulin resistance and similarly, not everyone with insulin resistance has the above. For example, I see women who exercise regularly having normal BMI who have insulin resistance resulting in menstrual derangement.

The good news is that insulin resistance is reversible. A combination of mindful lifestyle modifications and personalized medical management can resolve insulin resistance. Such strategies may include the use of medication, addressing sleep quality, physical activity, nutritional status, stress, mindfulness, and spiritual and relational support. This is our approach at Doxology as we help you restore + thrive.

Restore + thrive,

Dr. Holmes Mason

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