Insulin resistance is the condition of having chronically elevated levels of insulin. It’s also called hyperinsulinemia, metabolic syndrome, or pre-diabetes and is a major player in many women’s health conditions including PCOS, acne, fibroids, perimenopause, and heavy periods.
Insulin resistance also causes abdominal weight gain and is a risk factor for diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia, and heart disease.
Do you have insulin resistance? It’s time to find out.
Testing for insulin resistance
Blood test: The test for insulin resistance is NOT a test for glucose. Instead, it’s a test for the hormone insulin — either as “fasting insulin” or an “oral glucose tolerance test with insulin, otherwise known as a “Kraft test.”
A glucose tolerance test is when you give a fasting blood sample and then drink a glucose drink before giving two more samples at one and two hour intervals. If you’re going to have this test, it is so much more useful to have it “with insulin” so you can also see your insulin readings!
A healthy “fasting insulin” should be less than 10 mIU/L (60 pmol/L). One and two hours after a sugar challenge, a healthy insulin reading should be less than 60 mIU/L (410 pmol/L). High insulin means you have insulin resistance.
Measure your waist: Insulin resistance can cause apple-shaped obesity, so the larger your waist circumference, the more likely you are to have insulin resistance. As a woman, your risk starts when your waist circumference is greater than 32 inches (80 cm).
Tip: You don’t have to be overweight to have insulin resistance. You can have a normal BMI and still have elevated insulin.
How to reverse insulin resistance
Stop having sweet drinks
High-dose fructose can induce fatty liver and insulin resistance. The simplest way to reverse insulin resistance is to 1) stop having fruit juice or other sweet drinks and 2) cut back on dessert or dessert-like foods. That means no sweetened yogurt, no granola bars, no date balls, no agave, or other “natural sugar” healthy desserts.
Magnesium deficiency is a significant contributor to insulin resistance. Fortunately, taking magnesium has been found to improve insulin resistance.
Magnesium has many nice side benefits including regulating the HPA (adrenal) axis, improving sleep, supporting progesterone, curbing sugar cravings, and reducing inflammation. Read 8 ways magnesium rescues hormones. It combines well with taurine, an amino acid that improves insulin sensitivity.
Maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and sleep
Circadian rhythm or body clock has a profound effect on glucose metabolism and whole-body insulin sensitivity and dysregulation of the circadian rhythm is a contributing cause of insulin resistance.
The best way to support circadian rhythm is to maintain regular diurnal patterns of eating and light exposure. For example, tell your body it’s morning with protein and bright light. Then, in the evening, send your brain the opposite signal with rest and dim pink light.
Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm can also promote better sleep — another important strategy for maintaining healthy levels of insulin.
Move your body
Exercise improves insulin sensitivity in the muscles by increasing the number of mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of the cell and turn food into energy. Building healthy muscle also requires sufficient dietary protein.
Tip: Hormonal birth control can impair muscle gain and causes insulin resistance. That’s one of the ways birth control can cause weight gain. Birth control with a high androgen index can also directly cause insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain.
For more information about the role of testosterone and insulin in the weight gain of perimenopause, see my new book Hormone Repair Manual.