If you are not pregnant but happen to have a protruding belly, chances are high that you are insulin resistant. But having a kama belly is not the only physical manifestation of insulin resistance, there are a few others too like having skin tags or having a very dark neck which doesn’t seem to respond despite having the most intricate exfoliation regimen on earth. Even erectile dysfunction is an indication of insulin resistance.

In my pursuit to optimise my metabolic health, I have come to learn that a hormone called insulin is the one to watch. If not well managed, you are at risk of obesity, some types of cancers and the most common insulin-linked ailment, type two diabetes, among many other conditions.

Now, before we proceed, I would like to state that I did not just wake up and turn into a medical doctor or a scientist, LOL. I am still just an average citizen with some good internet connection. Today’s article is based on the teachings and work of metabolic scientist Dr Benjamin Bikman who is also a professor of cell biology at Brigham Young University in the United States of America. Dr Bickman observes that despite going to see a medical doctor, many people never realise that they are insulin resistant because most hospitals focus on checking patients’ blood glucose levels, but not insulin.

So, why should we be more concerned about the insulin levels in our bodies? In a very layman explanation, over the years, the insulin which your pancreas produces works very hard to keep your blood glucose levels normal but progressively, the amount of insulin it takes to achieve this becomes more and more elevated. So, the state of having normal glucose but high insulin is what is called insulin resistance, also referred to as pre-diabetes. It is at this point that people then start to develop all the ailments on the insulin resistance ‘tree’ (see attached picture illustration).

Now that I think about it, in my life, there is only ONE doctor who has ever checked my fasting insulin levels. And he didn’t end there. He took time to explain the dangers of insulin resistance and recommended that I start to eat a very low carb diet and cut out all forms of sugar and processed food or I would be headed down a path of ill-health. From my experience, finding a doctor like that is very rare. Most of them just resort to prescribing medication without dealing with the root cause of the problem, our lifestyles. That is why most people consider certain conditions like hypertension and diabetes as being “normal”, or almost as if they are a rite of passage for most people as they cross over into a certain age bracket. But this should not be the case. Everyone deserves to understand how their bodies work so that they can choose to fill them up with only the essential nutrients – that way, they will look and feel much better.

What are some of the primary causes of insulin resistance? Dr Bikman highlights the following:

1. Hyperinsulinemia – This is the most important and the one which people can change the most readily. Whenever the body has too much insulin, insulin will stop working as well, and that is reflective of a fundamental biological principle. Whenever the body or a cell has too much of something coming, it will reduce its sensitivity to that something in order to maintain normal biology. It’s like how a busy home maker mum who constantly hears the kids screaming, she learns to tune it out whereas dad comes home from work and he hears all the noise of the kids and he is reacting whereas his wife is just blissfully ignorant to it because she hears it all the time.

2. Inflammation – if someone had become infected with anything, even just a cold or a flu, they would find that if they were checking their glucose, during that week when they were fighting that infection, their glucose would absolutely have been higher and that is because their body is slightly inflamed and when inflammation starts to climb, the body becomes a little more insulin resistant, it is a natural phenomenon.

3. Stress – an elevation in the two prototypical stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline. When there is a genuine stress response, like you are startled or you are worried about an upcoming event, your stress will be higher, and this can also happen just when you get a bad night of sleep.

What are some of the signs that you are insulin resistant?

Dr Bikman says if your waist circumference is massive and you have high blood pressure, then you most likely have insulin resistance.

“If someone finds that they are heavier around the middle, and that their waist circumference is getting to 85 cm or so in men and then in women maybe about 80 or high 70s centimetres and they have high blood pressure, if they are persistently in the 130s/90s, then it is very strong evidence that you have insulin resistance,” says Dr Bikman.

“You want to pay attention to your blood pressure because that is so determined by insulin resistance. Over the decades, we have been told that it is nothing more than just how much salt you are eating but that is just a bunch of nonsense, it is very little impacted by salt consumption and it is very heavily impacted by insulin resistance and overall insulin levels. When overall insulin levels are elevated, they force the body to retain water and with that water comes a higher blood pressure.”

There are other indicators as well which you would need to go and check at a lab like HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose but other physical manifestations are a change in texture and appearance in the skin of your neck and skin tags around your neck or in your armpits.

So how do you get rid of insulin resistance? Well, Dr Bikman also recommends limiting the amount of time you spend chewing, and when you do chew, choosing only whole foods rather than highly processed ‘problems’. He is a proponent of intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet and states that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.

“I am not telling anyone that they must not eat any carbohydrates, that’s just too polarising and I don’t think these ideas would land, I don’t think that would be palatable if that were my recommendation but that is the simple reality, that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate, we know this. Humans can thrive on getting what they need, namely essential amino acids, proteins, and essential fats. If a human gets those things, then they are good with regards to nutrients,” says Dr Bikman.

Now, I can testify that I had some of the physical indications of insulin resistance before I started eating a low carb diet. I had a skin tag at the base of my neck which looked so dark and felt like what I imagine the skin of a hippo feels like. But just after two and a half months of eating a proper human diet, the skin tag fell off and my neck is almost the same complexion as the rest of my body! Collectively, I have now lost 15kgs and I am looking and feeling better than I ever did while eating the standard Zambian diet. If you suspect you have insulin resistance, think about making these changes today!