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Insulin Resistance Syndrome

Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

Most people have never heard of Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS) but they certainly need to. Also known as Metabolic Syndrome or pre-diabetes, IRS is a forerunner to type 2 diabetes and I don’t need to tell you how pandemic that disease is today. The very fact that there are warning signs long before type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, is reason enough for us all to make ourselves aware of these signs.
Insulin Resistance Syndrome was first identified by Dr Gerald Reaven at Stanford University, California in 1988 and today it is medically recognized as a potentially lethal condition brought about by lifestyle and incorrect eating habits. The main risk factors are diabetes and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Insulin resistance

You will know that insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Its main function is to make glucose in the blood available to the cells. The cells convert this glucose to energy which is needed to perform all the body’s functions. In people with insulin resistance, the insulin loses it ability to effectively transport glucose into the cells for energy. You thus get high levels of glucose in the blood that the cells can do nothing with. The pancreas gets the signal to produce more insulin in order to deal with this extra sugar in the blood and as a result an excess of insulin is produced. So high insulin levels together with high glucose levels in the blood are regarded as a marker for IRS. How does this develop into diabetes? Well the body continues to produce insulin at an abnormal rate until eventually the cells of the pancreas become worn out and are unable to produce sufficient levels of insulin, and diabetes results.

How is IRS diagnosed?

According to The National Cholesterol Education Programme III classification, the diagnosis of IRS or metabolic syndrome is made when three or more of the following risk factors are present:

  • The apple shaped body or abdominal obesity – A man’s waist should not measure more than 102 cm and a woman’s not more than 88 cm (irrespective of height).
  • High fasting triglyceride levels in the blood: >1.7 mmol/l
  • High fasting blood glucose levels: > 6.1 mmol/l
  • High fasting blood insulin levels: > 9.4 mmol/l
  • High blood pressure: > 130/85 mmHg
  • Low HDL cholesterol < 1.0 mmol/l (men) and 1.3 mmol/l (women)

The risk for development of diabetes is an astounding 24-fold higher in those with 4 or 5 of these features. About 25% of adults in the developed world have metabolic syndrome, while incidence in the older population approaches 50%.

How does it all start?

It could be any one of or a combination of the following: years of poor diet high in refined carbohydrates, refined sugar and fructose, damaged fats and too few vegetables, high stress levels and no exercise. Unfortunately we humans love our refined carbohydrates but refined flour and sugar products are very harmful. Did you know that white bread, white flour, pasta, rice and potatoes release their sugars into the bloodstream even faster than table sugar?

Food solution

The good news is that people respond amazingly to the correct treatment, making metabolic syndrome a reversible condition. The main purpose here is to keep blood sugar levels stable. If you’re concerned that you may fall into the category of those with metabolic syndrome, I strongly urge you to ask a nutritionist to assist you with planning a low-glycemic load diet, ensuring that you get enough dietary fibre, eat the correct low-glycemic carbohydrates and have healthy fats and protein with every meal.

Exercise Combats Diabetes

The cornerstones for approaching the cardiovascular risks associated with insulin resistance are weight reduction and exercise. Exercise benefits pre-diabetics and even confirmed, insulin-dependent diabetics in several ways. Because their insulin mechanism, which is meant to convert sugar to energy, is impaired, pre-diabetics and diabetics tend to burn more fat when they exercise. So if they exercise consistently, body fat and blood fats go down. Studies have also shown a beneficial reduction in blood insulin even with only three months of regular moderate exercise. Controlling insulin is the primary factor in losing excess body fat and preventing type 2 diabetes.

My favourite quote

“If you have no time for complete and balanced nutrition you’d better reserve a lot of time for illness”. Michael Colgan, well-known sports nutritionist.

Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional.  All serious disease needs a physician.

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