Insulin & Insulin Resistance
WHAT IS INSULIN & WHAT DOES IT DO?
When a person eats food, the gut breaks down its carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose then enters the blood which triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called as insulin. With the help of insulin, cells of the body (namely muscles, liver & fat cells) are able to use this glucose for energy. Thus insulin helps reduce blood glucose levels.
WHAT IS INSULIN RESISTANCE (IR)?
In certain conditions (mentioned below) the body cells fail to respond properly to insulin and are unable to easily absorb glucose from the blood. This makes the pancreas to produce more and more insulin so that the cells are able to absorb the sugar. This is called as Hyperinsulinemia.
Eventually even very high levels of insulin are not able to keep blood sugar under control and the level of sugar keeps rising in body leading to prediabetes and later on diabetes.
What was earlier thought to be a disease affecting older age groups is now more commonly occurring in adolescents and children, mainly due to lifestyle changes like unhealthy diet & lack of physical activities.
WHAT CAUSES INSULIN RESISTANCE?
Obesity – mainly belly fat and physical inactivity are the 2 main reasons that give rise to IR.
Genetic factors; certain diseases; sleep problems like sleep apnea and cigarette smoking are directly linked to Insulin resistance. Regular or excessive consumption of junk food, processed food, foods with high levels of Glycemic index directly lead to abdominal obesity.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DIAGNOSE AND TREAT IT?
People with insulin resistance have a greater risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, breast cancer, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
WHAT ARE ITS EFFECTS ON SKIN & HAIR?
Skin is a mirror of internal health of the body. IR often has no symptoms. Many people are not aware they are having it for years. However the effects of IR are on skin are very common and help us to diagnose this condition early and treat it on time before it is too late.
Thick velvety dark skin, usually on the back of the neck & underarms is often the 1st sign of IR. This is called as acanthosis nigricans. If not treated, it may appear on face, knees, knuckles & elbows.
Other signs are increased skin tags on face, neck & underarms, tiny cysts called as milia over face; facial pigmentation, development of pimples & baldness.
HOW CAN I DEAL WITH IT?
Correct Nutrition & regular Exercise are 2 main pillars to treat IR.
Healthy food items should consist of whole grains, leafy greens, fresh vegetables and legumes, fresh fruit, lean meat & fish.
Needless to say that consumption of processed foods with high sugar and salt levels like chips, burgers, fries, pastries, cola drinks, fruit juices etc should be kept to a bare minimum. Too much dairy products can also worsen IR.
Exercise helps muscles to absorb glucose without the need for insulin. Exercises aimed to reduce weight especially belly fat can reduce insulin resistance & thus diabetes. For best results, people should do both cardio exercises which increase heart rate like walking, swimming, running , dancing, yoga, outdoor sports activities and muscle strengthening activities. Even 30 minutes a day 5 times a week help control IR in long term.
WHEN SHOULD I CONSULT A DOCTOR?
Sometimes diet modifications & regular exercise may not be sufficient to bring Insulin levels under control. Thus it is necessary to consult your doctor to help you deal with it in a better way.
Dermatologists play role in early diagnosis of this condition & also help improve the cosmetic appearance of acanthosis nigricans, facial pigmentation & skin tags. Acne & hair fall can also be effectively kept under control with timely management.