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Dr. Peter Brukner OAM

Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes

Insulin resistance is probably the single most important factor in our metabolic health. And have no doubt, poor metabolic health can lead to a cascade of other chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even dementia.

First of all, insulin is an amazing hormone, without which, we would die. In fact, it has saved the lives of many thousands of type one diabetics whose bodies lose the capacity to make insulin. But insulin can pose a double-edged sword.

Negative effects of insulin resistance

While it can be life-saving for some, problems with its normal function, commonly called insulin resistance, is a dominant factor in many chronic and debilitating illnesses suffered by millions of Australians.

A major reason for this is because insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes, the single biggest cause of kidney failure and blindness in Australia. Diabetes is also the most common cause of limb amputation in Australia, doubles the risk of stroke, and is a major cause of heart disease.

One of the most important functions of insulin is to remove glucose from the blood when levels are excessive. And when we are insulin resistant, it is unable to do this.

Insulin resistant vs insulin sensitive

Let’s look at the terms ‘insulin resistant’ and ‘insulin sensitive’. When insulin is working correctly in our body, we are said to be insulin sensitive. However, if our response to insulin is impaired, we are ‘insulin resistant’. To compensate for our insulin now not working properly, our body will release more. This is why high levels of circulating insulin usually indicate we are insulin resistant.

Unfortunately, in those with type 2 diabetes, this extra insulin is usually not enough, and blood glucose levels will remain high. In addition to the problems faced by the ongoing high glucose levels, these high insulin levels can also cause problems of their own. This includes causing high blood pressure and increasing the risk of several cancers, including bowel, pancreatic and breast.

Diet and insulin resistance

Our diet is the main driver of insulin resistance. In particular, it is the consumption of processed foods, which contain vegetable oils and carbohydrates which drives this process.

First of all, a major driver of insulin resistance is the consumption of vegetable oils. While we have been told for a long time that these oils are healthy, the balance of evidence does not support this. These oils are prone to something called oxidation, which can damage the liver, and directly contributes to insulin resistance.

The most damaging form of carbohydrates in processed foods are undoubtedly the fructose containing sugars. Like vegetable oils, fructose can also damage the liver, further exacerbating insulin resistance.

In the setting of insulin resistance, starchy carbohydrates which contain glucose then become a much bigger problem. Whereas when insulin is working properly, and the body is able to tolerate small to moderate amounts of glucose without issue, in the insulin-resistant state, consumption of these foods will lead to excessive elevations of blood glucose, along with all the side effects. This is why those with type 2 diabetes are well-advised to stay away from processed foods, which often contain vegetable oils, fructose-containing sugar and starchy carbohydrates.

In summary

The Defeat Diabetes approach of consuming a diet low in vegetable oils and carbohydrates has been proven to be effective in the management of type 2 diabetes. 

We now have good quality medical evidence demonstrating that more than 50% of people with diabetes can reverse it following this kind of diet. So understand that while insulin resistance is a key driver of modern chronic disease, simple changes to your diet present an easy and proven way to improve it. Doing this could add years of health to your life.

Join Australia's first evidence-based and doctor-led program transforming the health of Australians. Download the Defeat Diabetes app today.

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