Updated: Jun 2, 2020
What does insulin do and why is it important?
Our cells require insulin to enable the uptake of glucose into them, so that we have enough energy to function. When there is not enough insulin, the cells cannot get access to the energy, which means they start looking for alternative ways to get energy: by producing ketones. The pancreas also starts producing extra insulin, as it thinks that there is not enough for the cells, due to the low uptake.
Insulin is a key hormone in our body that is responsible for the delivery of energy to our cells, thus it is the one that keeps us alive. Our cells need insulin, which acts as the key for glucose to enter our cells. Without it, our body will poison itself, as the blood will become to acidic from the production of ketones. That is what happens if Type 1 Diabetes is undiagnosed for too long: the person goes into Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) and eventually dies.
Type 2 Diabetics have enough insulin, but their cells are resistant to accepting it, meaning that there still will not be enough insulin for the body to function properly. On the other hand, Type 1 Diabetics do not produce insulin, but their cells happily accept the hormone, some may even be hypersensitive, if they are highly active. One way or the other, insulin sensitivity is extremely important for life longevity and healthy disease-free living.
How do we become insulin resistant?
Insulin resistance is usually a lifestyle issue; however, it can be genetic too. Generally, the more active you are, the less insulin you will be and the less insulin you will require floating around in your blood flow.
When you are active a higher number of cells need glucose, the uptake during exercise is not impaired by the lower amount of insulin. So, the more active you are, the more glucose will be able to enter your cells without the help of insulin. The same is true in reverse too: The less active you are the less glucose will be able to enter your cells without insulin. Therefore, to have an abundance of energy in your cells you need to ensure that you are regularly active to allow insulin to be utilised in the most effective way.
Individuals who are not sufficiently active on a day-to-day basis will require more insulin for their bodies to be able to access the required glucose to support their body. This means that their pancreas will be working much harder to produce the required insulin, that a pancreas of someone who is highly active. This is not to say that one day of activity will make you super insulin sensitive, and one day of no activity at all will not make you insulin resistant.
Activity is key to good insulin sensitivity and ensuring that your pancreas is not overworking.
What are the consequences of insulin resistance?
· Overworked pancreas
· Not enough energy
· Loss of muscle
· Increased ketones in the blood
· Higher blood sugars than normal
These are just some of them, and the list carries on.
What can we do to become more insulin sensitive?
Insulin resistance is not only caused by low activity levels, there are many genetic disorders that lead to insulin resistance, for example: genetic abnormalities of protein involved in the insulin cascade, fetal malnutrition etc. (Lebovitz, 2001). However, the effect of these can be reduced by activity again.
The best way to date to increase your insulin sensitivity is to get active: join an exercise group, go to the gym, get yourself an activity tracker to monitor your activity levels, start walking to work instead of taking the bus, get off a stop earlier than you need to and walk the rest, go on walking dates rather than coffee dates, try a yoga class out, or get yourself a dog to walk and play with. You can help your insulin sensitivity with diet, by increasing your fibre and protein intake, introducing moderate amounts of fats to slow down digestion, eat more mindfully and slowly, focus on whole grains and long-acting carbohydrates, eat more greens and vegetables.
If you are already insulin resistant, and have Type 2 Diabetes or pre-diabetes, then dietary interventions and medication, such as metformin may be prescribed. Please, consult a specialist if you have any concerns about your health, to get professional personalised advice on your health condition.
Insulin sensitivity is not an irreversible condition; we can do something about it. So, let’s get up and start moving more, for our health, for a longer life, for happiness and for enjoyment. Let’s find ways to move our bodies that we love and enjoy, that is the only way we will stick to it.
Lebovitz, H. (2001). Insulin resistance: definition and consequences. Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes, 109(Suppl 2), pp.S135-S148.