As a freshman college student, Martin Luther King Jr., became “fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system” and fighting against it while holding to his Christian value of love.1 Jesus and Gandhi became his mentors and he utilized their methods and weapons in his resistance against racial discrimination and oppression. He lived and preached non-violent resistance. Rather than form a fist or raise a gun, he chose to plan, march, speak, and be imprisoned to resist culturally entrenched racist norms.
Just as resistance against evil ideologies can be expressed in varying ways, so can insulin resistance. We learned last month that insulin resistance commonly results in type 2 diabetes, but it does not always culminate in a diagnosis of diabetes. Hidden beneath the surface of our awareness, insulin resistance is more common than we think and is estimated to be present in up to 25% of the non-diabetic population. In other words, insulin resistance can be quite prevalent in those with normal blood sugar levels. Even without a diabetes diagnosis, insulin resistance increases the risk of other serious health concerns. Heart disease, colon and breast cancer, cognitive decline, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, being overweight, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) all potentially have an underlying common contributor: insulin resistance.
…insulin resistance is more common than we think and is estimated to be present in up to 25% of the non-diabetic population.
Insulin resistance typically results in elevated insulin levels, at least initially. Insulin is a vital hormone in the body that we likened last month to an Oregonian gas attendant that enables fuel (blood sugar) to enter cellular fuel tanks where it is converted into energy. When the cells become resistant to the action of insulin, leaving insulin less effective at its job, the body seeks to compensate by secreting more insulin. Since different tissues vary in their dependence on and sensitivity to insulin, the resulting elevated levels of insulin flowing in the blood throughout the body can have a diverse impact.
Blood levels of cholesterol and free fat, called triglycerides, are often measured as an indicator of cardiovascular disease risk. Most people view high cholesterol levels as not a good thing. While we have somewhat demonized this very important ingredient to hormones and cell structure, the fact remains that elevated cholesterol levels, combined with an inflammatory state, is associated with death and disease. The traditional treatment to reduce high cholesterol is with statin medications and statins are the second most prescribed group of medications in America. A whopping $7.2 billion was spent on Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, in 2010.2 We obviously believe that it is very important to not have high cholesterol. Statins work by hindering the liver’s production of cholesterol. A good question to ask might be, what are contributors to the liver’s ramped up production of cholesterol?
Apparently, cholesterol production is influenced by insulin sensitivity. Cholesterol production increases with insulin resistance, which is why high cholesterol and triglyceride levels commonly accompany higher levels of insulin in the blood.3 Elevated triglycerides, decreased HDL cholesterol (the healthier cholesterol), and change in the composition of LDL cholesterol into more small, dense, and dangerous particles has also been observed with insulin resistance. In a Finnish study involving 72 men, insulin resistance was associated with increased production of cholesterol. More specifically researchers found that elevated fasting insulin levels had a stronger correlation with overproduction of cholesterol than did BMI (body mass index) or other parameters.4
…mice with insulin-resistant arteries were much more prone to developing atherosclerosis.
Blood vessels do their own dance with insulin as well. The cells that make up the lining of our arteries can become insulin resistant with completely different consequences than when muscle or fat cells become insulin resistant. Researchers found that mice with insulin-resistant arteries were much more prone to developing atherosclerosis. Insulin resistant arteries are not as elastic as healthy blood vessels, impacting blood pressure as well.5
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in women in which hormone imbalance develops and can be manifest in menstrual dysregulation, cyst development on the ovaries, male pattern balding, acne, and facial hair. Insulin resistance, and the accompanying elevated insulin levels, is found in 65-70% of females with PCOS. Being continuously bathed in elevated levels of circulating insulin in the blood stimulates the ovaries, resulting in altered hormone production and inhibited hormone binding.6
It used to be thought that the brain was insulin independent, but we have since learned that this is not true. While its role in the brain is considered to be different than its role in other tissues, insulin is still vital to regulating energy management and cognitive functions, including memory.6
At this point in my clumsy understanding of insulin resistance, I view it as an effort of nature to somehow preserve health. Yet, it is obvious that even nature itself is seeking to accomplish this imperfectly, and it results in collateral damage. In Jesus we see resistance done right and Scripture hails all to align themselves with the resistance movement He began in heaven. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). He fled from Jesus in the wilderness of temptation after Jesus resisted. While we must resist as long as life shall last, we can rest assured that His victory is ours.
- “Nonviolence,” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, Stanford, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/nonviolence.
- “Top 10 Prescribed Drugs in the U.S.,” Physician’s Weekly, April 2011, https://www.physiciansweekly.com/top-10-most -drugs-in-the-u-s/.
- Helena Gylling et al., “Insulin sensitivity regulates cholesterol metabolism to a greater extent than obesity: lessons from the METSIM Study,” Journal of Lipid Research, vol. 51, 8 (2010): 2422-7, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20436182.
- Jussi Pihlajamäki et al., “Insulin resistance is associated with increased cholesterol synthesis and decreased cholesterol absorption in normoglycemic men,” Journal of Lipid Research, http://www.jlr.org/content/45/3/507.full.
- Cell Press, “Your arteries may be suffering insulin resistance, too,” ScienceDaily, May 6, 2010, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100504124340.htm.
- John C. Marshall and Andrea Dunaif, “Should all women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance?,” Fertility and Sterility, vol. 97,1 (2012): 18-22, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22192137.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.