Quite often, whether I’m sitting down with a client or speaking briefly to a customer at the health food store, the topic of blood sugar will come up in conversation.
I’ll often hear something along the lines of:
“I’ve had my blood sugar tested, it’s normal. My doctor is happy with the result so there isn’t an issue.”
Although it is not their fault that they have this assumption (not everyone studies health like I do), this is not a correct assumption. My clients I can explain this to and help them to understand. For the customers that come into the health food store, the conversation often stops there as I don’t have the time to educate them. Which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post!
It can be hard to explain that your fasting glucose or oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) may mean absolutely nothing, in terms of your risk of diabetes or the effect that insulin could be having on your health.
Testing your blood glucose gives us a good understanding of your blood glucose level at any one moment, or after a period of a few hours, which is what the OGTT measures. However, it does not represent a longer period of time.
The HB1AC blood test gives us a more accurate understanding of blood glucose over a longer period of time and is a good test for those who have already been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes to get an understanding of whether they are keeping their blood glucose under control.
But normal levels do not clear you of insulin resistance.
Why is insulin sensitivity so important?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to a high blood sugar level. Insulin tells the body to take the excess glucose from the blood and store it in the liver or fat cells if it is not required immediately for energy. If a person has consistently high blood sugar, insulin is constantly in ‘overdrive’ to lower it. While insulin is working, it will result in your blood sugar being lowered to a safe and normal level. But over time, the body will eventually ‘lose’ sensitivity and eventually, this results in insulin resistance.
So, this is how a person can be insulin resistant, but still have normal blood sugar levels. If insulin sensitivity decreases, then this is when blood glucose will appear at higher levels… But by this time, it’s much harder to reverse the damage that has already been done.
Signs and symptoms of insulin resistance
- Increased weight, especially in the abdominal region
- Easy weight gain, or difficulty losing weight
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Darkened areas of skin, especially in the underarm or neck region (acanthosis nigeria)
- Skin tags
- A diagnosis of fatty liver
- High cholesterol
- Atherosclerosis (arterial/blood vessel walls have a high sensitivity to insulin and are often the first to suffer from insulin resistance)
So why are so many people that exhibit these signs and symptoms in the frame of mind that they do not have metabolic issues and aren’t at risk of developing diabetes?
Because the wrong tests are being utilised.
As we know, diabetes is not something that comes out of nowhere. It takes years, sometimes even decades of poor diet/lifestyle, as well as genetic and other influences. So if we can get an idea before things get REALLY out of hand – shouldn’t we?
Appropriate testing for insulin resistance
To get an idea of the severity of insulin resistance, it is best to calculate the HOMA-IR score, which is a calculation that involves tests for both fasting insulin and fasting glucose.
Triglycerides can also give us a good picture of what your insulin is doing. High insulin swimming around in the blood will prevent the breakdown of triglycerides. Often your GP will be quite happy to test triglycerides as part of a lipid (cholesterol) panel.
High triglycerides are often suggestive of excessive consumption of carbohydrates – especially refined carbs and sugars, such as white flour products (bread, rice, pasta) and sweets which will cause a spike in blood sugar.
If you have a high triglyceride level and do not think you eat sweet foods or do not actively seek them out, it’s possible you could be unaware of the hidden sugars in many common food products that you might be exposing yourself to.
That being said, diet is not always the main contributing factor. Inflammation, poor sleep and chronic stress are also some other triggers for chronically increased insulin and blood sugar imbalance.
Without this valuable testing, by the time pre-diabetes or diabetes has been diagnosed, it’s much harder to reverse the damage that has been done. If the above tests are carried out and it is found that you are in fact insulin resistant, it’s almost like seeing into the future – lifestyle changes and an effective treatment plan can be put into place to prevent health conditions and other symptoms before they arise.
If you are concerned about your blood sugar or insulin levels, it’s important to see a knowledgeable health practitioner to get the right tests done and discuss the causes and take the right steps to take to improve your health.