Have you met insulin? No? Well, let me introduce you. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by your pancreas, and it does several jobs in your body. First, it regulates the amount of glucose in your blood; then it decides how much glucose is stored; it even helps break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. You might say that insulin is the debit card that controls when, where, and how much glucose or sugar is stored. Some people with diabetes take time every day to monitor their blood glucose levels and take insulin to regulate it.
However, diabetics are not the only people who should pay attention to their insulin levels. In fact, as women grow older, it becomes even more important to monitor blood glucose and insulin levels. This is because women are at higher risk than men for developing something called insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance occurs when your insulin is less effective in controlling your blood sugar. Every day your blood carries glucose to every organ and tissue in the body. Your body cells need glucose to perform functions in the same way that a car needs gas. Glucose provides power and energy to do tons of work. The problem is that glucose cannot enter the cell without insulin. This is because insulin makes the cell wall “soft” enough so that glucose can enter and get to work.
So if this were a party, insulin would be stationed at the door, letting people in. When there is not enough insulin, there will be a long line of partygoers waiting without a way in. This long line of glucose waiting to enter the cell is exactly what causes high blood sugar.
This occurs in non-diabetic women as they age for many reasons. One factor is that women store fat around the abdomen. The fat surrounds internal organs and increases your risk for heart disease, liver problems, and diabetes. Poor diet and inactivity are other risk factors that can lead to insulin resistance. Worse, the more weight you gain, the more fat you store until you are obese.
Then you will have a supply and demand problem; more insulin is needed, but the pancreas cannot supply it. The result is an increase in blood glucose stored in the muscles as glycogen or in your fat cells. Remember, glucose must enter the cells to get to work; therefore, if glucose is unavailable, your body will burn fat to make energy. While this might sound like a good thing, it is not and can actually cause a medical emergency. You do not want that.
Instead, you can fight insulin resistance by taking a few steps towards a healthier life. The first step is to check if you are at risk and then work to decrease your need for increased insulin.
How can you tell if you have insulin resistance? There are several simple signs that can indicate potential insulin resistance. The main symptoms are an increased waistline, blood pressure above 130/80, newly developed skin tags, patches of dark velvety skin, frequent thirst, or a fasting blood glucose above 100 mg/dL. Other questions to ask yourself include:
These are important questions to ask yourself. If you have one or more symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss how to prevent insulin resistance. Your doctor will be very happy that you took the initiative to discuss this with him.
If you are at risk, the good news is that these factors can be changed. Knowing the symptoms empowers you to take control of your health. Prevention is much cheaper than a cure. Think about the things that put you at risk, and talk to your doctor about how you can work to change them. You will hear familiar information such as decreasing your use of sugar and increasing the amount of fresh vegetables in your diet. You might have to change your walk around the block from a weekly to a daily event. Drinking water or unsweetened iced tea might take some getting used to. However, feeling equipped to affect your health in a positive way is worth the sacrifice. Abandoning old habits might seem difficult at first.
A better way is to replace negative habits with healthy ones. One example is to meet friends for a nature walk instead of at a café. Another strategy is to review menus beforehand and plan your order before you even pick out your outfit. Tell your friends and family about your plan to get stronger and healthier. They might want to join you and improve their own health. A healthier you is a you that is not insulin resistant. That is what we all want.