Vol. 2, #23
June 18, 2005

Q: I am insulin resistant. Is there anything natural I can take or do to counter this? - Layperson

A: Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. It helps the body utilize blood glucose (blood sugar) by binding with receptors on cells like a key would fit into a lock. Once the key insulin- has unlocked the door, the glucose can pass from the blood into the cell. Inside the cell, glucose is either used for energy or stored for future use in the form of glycogen in liver or muscle cells.

Insulin resistance occurs when the normal amount of insulin secreted by the pancreas is not able to unlock the door to cells.  To maintain a normal blood glucose, the pancreas secretes additional insulin.  In some cases (about 1/3 of the people with insulin resistance), when the body cells resist or do not respond to even high levels of insulin, glucose builds up in the blood resulting in high blood glucose or type 2 diabetes.  Even people with diabetes who take oral medication or require insulin injections to control their blood glucose levels can have higher than normal blood insulin levels due to insulin resistance.

More and more people in the U.S. are becoming obese, physically inactive, or both.  Obesity and physical inactivity aggravate insulin resistance.  Also, people who are insulin resistant typically have an imbalance in their blood lipids (blood fat).  They have an increased level of triglycerides (blood fat) and a decreased level of HDL (good) cholesterol.  Imbalances in triglycerides and HDL cholesterol increase the risk for heart disease.  These findings have heightened awareness of insulin resistance and its impact on health

Insulin resistance and pre-diabetes usually have no symptoms. You may have one or both conditions for several years without noticing anything. If you have a severe form of insulin resistance, you may get dark patches of skin, usually on the back of your neck. Sometimes people get a dark ring around their neck. Other possible sites for these dark patches include elbows, knees, knuckles, and armpits. This condition is called acanthosis nigricans.

If you have a mild or moderate form of insulin resistance, blood tests may show normal or high blood glucose and high levels of insulin at the same time.

Anyone 45 years or older should consider getting tested for diabetes. If you are overweight and aged 45 or older, it is strongly recommended that you get tested. You should consider getting tested if you are younger than 45, overweight, and have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • family history of diabetes
  • low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides
  • high blood pressure
  • history of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • minority group background (African American, American Indian, Hispanic American/Latino, or Asian American/Pacific Islander)

Diabetes and pre-diabetes can be detected with one of the following tests:

If you have any of these signs, check with your doctor who will order a blood test called HBA1C. If it is high, you have diabetes and can usually be controlled with diet and/or medication.

A fasting glucose test measures your blood glucose after you have gone overnight without eating. This test is most reliable when done in the morning. Fasting glucose levels of 100 to 125 mg/dL are above normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. This condition is called pre-diabetes or impaired fasting glucose, and it suggests that you have probably had insulin resistance for some time. IFG is considered a pre-diabetic state, meaning that you are more likely to develop diabetes but do not have it yet.

A glucose tolerance test measures your blood glucose after an overnight fast and 2 hours after you drink a sweet liquid provided by the doctor or laboratory. If your blood glucose falls between 140 and 199 mg/dL 2 hours after drinking the liquid, your glucose tolerance is above normal but not high enough for diabetes. This condition, also a form of pre-diabetes, is called impaired glucose tolerance and, like IFG, it points toward a history of insulin resistance and a risk for developing diabetes.

These tests give only indirect evidence of insulin resistance. The test that most accurately measures insulin resistance is too complicated and expensive to use as a screening tool in most doctors' offices. The test, called the euglycemic clamp, is a research tool that helps scientists learn more about sugar metabolism problems. Insulin resistance can also be assessed with measurement of fasting insulin. If conventional tests show that you have IFG or IGT, your doctor may suggest changes in diet and exercise to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

If your blood glucose is higher than normal but lower than the diabetes range, have your blood glucose checked in 1 to 2 years.

Lab Tests and What They Show

  • Blood glucose. High blood glucose may be a sign that your body does not have enough insulin or does not use it well. However, a fasting measurement or oral glucose tolerance test gives more precise information.

  • Insulin. An insulin measurement helps determine whether a high blood glucose reading is the result of insufficient insulin or poor use of insulin.

  • Fasting glucose. Your blood glucose level should be lower after several hours without eating. After an overnight fast, the normal level is below 100 mg/dL. If it is in the 100 to 125 mg/dL range, you have impaired fasting glucose or pre-diabetes. A result of 126 or higher, if confirmed on a repeat test, indicates diabetes.

  • Glucose tolerance. Your blood glucose level will be higher after drinking a sugar solution, but it should still be below 140 mg/dL 2 hours after the drink. If it is higher than normal (in the 140 to 199 mg/dL range) 2 hours after drinking the solution, you have IGT or pre-diabetes, which is another strong indication that your body has trouble using glucose. A level of 200 or higher, if confirmed, means diabetes is already present.

If you have insulin resistance, your muscle, fat, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. The pancreas tries to keep up with the demand for insulin by producing more. Eventually, the pancreas cannot keep up with the body's need for insulin, and excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Many people with insulin resistance have high levels of blood glucose and high levels of insulin circulating in their blood at the same time.

People with blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet in the diabetic range have "pre-diabetes." Doctors sometimes call this condition impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), depending on the test used to diagnose it. In a cross-section of U.S. adults aged 40 to 74 tested during the period 1988 to 1994, 33.8 percent had IFG, 15.4 percent had IGT, and 40.1 percent had pre-diabetes (IGT or IFG or both). Applying these percentages to the 2000 U.S. population, about 35 million adults aged 40 to 74 would have IFG, 16 million would have IGT, and 41 million would have pre-diabetes.

If you have pre-diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes. Studies have shown that most people with pre-diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, unless they lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight—which is about 10 to 15 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds—by making modest changes in their diet and level of physical activity. People with pre-diabetes also have a higher risk of heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes defined as the form of diabetes that develops when the body does not respond properly to insulin, as opposed to type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas makes no insulin at all. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by producing more insulin. In time, however, it loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals.

Insulin resistance can also occur in people who have type 1 diabetes, especially if they are overweight.

 Another term heard in the news is Syndrome X.  Syndrome X is a cluster of risk factors for heart disease associated with insulin resistance.  These risk factors include: hypertriglyceridemia (high blood lipid), low HDL-cholesterol, hyperinsulinemia (high blood insulin), often hyperglycemia (high blood glucose), and hypertension (high blood pressure)..

Many people with insulin resistance and high blood glucose have excess weight around the waist, high LDL (bad) blood cholesterol levels, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, high levels of triglycerides (another fat in the blood), and high blood pressure, all conditions that also put the heart at risk. This combination of problems is referred to as the metabolic syndrome, or the insulin resistance syndrome (formerly called Syndrome X).

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program as the presence of any three of the following conditions:

  • excess weight around the waist (waist measurement of more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women)

  • high levels of triglycerides (150 mg/dL or higher)

  • low levels of HDL, or "good," cholesterol (below 40 mg/dL for men and below 50 mg/dL for women)

  • high blood pressure (130/85 mm Hg or higher)

  • high fasting blood glucose levels (110 mg/dL or higher)

Almost all individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus (diabetes) and many with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and obesity are insulin resistant.  These diseases and conditions are predominantly found in countries with an improved economic status such as the U.S.  And in the U.S., these diseases and conditions are among the leading contributors to morbidity and mortality.  Also, about 20-25% of the healthy population may be insulin resistant.

There are no outward physical signs of insulin resistance.  A glucose tolerance test, during which insulin and blood glucose are measured, can help determine if someone is insulin resistant.  Many people who are insulin resistant produce large enough quantities of insulin to maintain near normal blood glucose levels.

No one knows for sure.  Some scientists think a defect in specific genes may cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  Researchers continue to investigate the cause.  What we do know is that insulin resistance is aggravated by obesity and physical inactivity both of which are increasing in the U.S.

No.  Science has not yet determined why some people with insulin resistance eventually develop diabetes and others do not.  By maintaining an appropriate weight and a physically active lifestyle many individuals are able to reduce their chances of becoming insulin resistant and developing diabetes.

Research indicates that low fat diets may aggravate the effect of insulin resistance on blood lipids.  Therefore, for individuals who are insulin resistant, a diet low in saturated fat (less than 10 percent of total calories) and more moderate in total fat content (40% of total calories) may be beneficial.  This recommendation is different from the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that many health organizations recommend to help prevent heart disease.  Specifically, they recommend decreasing fat intake to less than 30 percent of calories.  Some groups recommend even lower levels of dietary fat. It is also beneficial to maintain an appropriate body weight because obesity can aggravate insulin resistance.  To maintain an appropriate weight, regulate caloric intake and maintain a physically active lifestyle.  A registered dietitian can assist with developing a proper diet plan for people with insulin resistance, or a family history of type 2 diabetes. 

Avoid the foods that cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. These include all types of flour products: bread, spaghetti, macaroni, bagels, rolls, crackers, cookies and pretzels; refined corn products and white rice; and all sugar added products. Eat lots of vegetables, un-ground whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Eat fruits and root vegetables (potatoes, carrots and beets) only with other foods.

A diet that consists primarily of lean meats and dairy; high-fiber grains, vegetables and legumes; leafy greens; and fruit will substantially aid the body's ability to balance insulin levels. If a patient is already insulin resistant, I recommend a meal plan consisting of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. Each meal should have 15 grams of carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruits (and prohibiting "white" food such as bread, pasta, and sugar) and some lean protein. Each snack should contain only 7 grams of similar carbohydrates. Healthy fats, or those rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs), are also important. EFAs can be found in avocados, cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, flax seed, and eggs. Consult the Glycemic Index Chart in an earlier newsletter to asist in finding other foods that produce rapid increases in blood sugar. 

There is a new product on the market containg an herbal blend shown to reduce blood sugar and possibly restore normal function to the pancreas named,  Diabeticine™ .   

The key to Diabeticine's™ effectiveness lies in its blend of botanical ingredients combined Diabeticine™ has been scientifically engineered and a partial list of the ingredients are:

Banaba, Guggle, Bitter Melon, Licorice extract, Cinnamon herb powder, Gymnema Sylvestre, Yarrow, Cayenne, Juniper Berries, Huckleberry, Vanadyl Sulfate

from over four years of laboratory trials and immuno-pharmacological research. Every ingredient plays its particular role and the botanical blend as a whole represents a powerful tool to normalize your blood sugar levels. Diabeticine™ is a breakthrough in scientific research and works at the cellular level in stages as follows:

1. Reduces blood sugar levels: Diabeticine™ interferes with glucose absorption from the intestine and prevents adrenal hormones from stimulating the liver to produce glucose, both of which directly reduces blood sugar levels.

2. Eliminates insulin resistance: Diabeticine™ repairs cell receptors to better recognize insulin which virtually eliminates insulin resistance. Most medical sources agree that insulin resistance is the root cause of Type 2 diabetes. Cells are now much more successful at metabolizing glucose which further normalizes blood sugar levels.

3. Promotes insulin production: Diabeticine™ stimulates the increased production of an organic compound that is naturally produced by the body. If you are Type 2, it is quickly converted to insulin by the pancreas for increased insulin output. If you are Type 1, this conversion is not possible due to destroyed beta cells. Instead, this organic compound remains and functions just like insulin as a natural alternative. With increased production over time, stress on the pancreas is relieved which allows it to naturally heal and develop new beta cells with a different signature. These new beta cells are not susceptible to the body's immune system malfunction since they can not be targeted. Critical to this healing process is a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition, which we detail further as guidelines with your shipment of Diabeticine™

Another herbal product on the market, Glucobetic, does the same thing.  Glucobetic contains the following:

Glucobetic Ingredient Profile

Zinc - Zinc plays multiple roles in proper insulin function. Zinc is needed to help the pancreas produce insulin, to allow insulin to work more effectively, and to protect insulin receptor cells. In healthy individuals, insulin is secreted after carbohydrates are eaten, and this hormone lowers glucose levels in the blood and drives sugar into the cells, where it can be used as fuel for energy. When zinc levels are low, two things can happen. One, the pancreas may not secrete adequate amounts of insulin, so glucose levels remain high. Two, the insulin that is released may not work as effectively as it should. When this happens, glucose cannot enter the cells and remains elevated in the blood. (Reference 1) (Syndrome X - page 198)

Chromium - Chromium increases the power of insulin to process sugar, so you need less insulin to do the job, and blood sugar levels drop. Thus, with adequate chromium, much less insulin circulates in the blood to attack artery walls, precipitating atherosclerosis, and possibly plunging you into type II diabetes. By reactivating insulin, chromium alleviates some of the danger of “insulin resistance” that comes on with age. Chromium can even improve insulin resistance in diabetics. Nearly 20 controlled studies have demonstrated the positive effect for chromium in the treatment of diabetes. In clinical studies of type II diabetes patients, supplementing the diet with chromium has been shown to decrease fasting glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance, lower insulin levels, and decrease total cholesterol and triglyceride levels while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. (Reference 2) (Stop Aging Now! - Page 86) (Reference 3) (The Pill Guide Book To Natural Medicines - pages 128 & 129)

Vanadyl Sulfate - Vanadyl sulfate is a biologically active form of vanadium, a trace mineral that mimics the action of the hormone insulin. Produced by specialized cells in the pancreas, insulin regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and protein, breaking down those nutrients into a form that can be utilized by the cells to make energy. If you don't produce enough insulin, or develop a condition called insulin resistance, your body will be unable to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Because of its insulin-like properties, vanadyl is being used by progressive alternative physicians and natural healers to treat diabetes, a condition that is characterized by excess sugar in the blood and urine. Studies show that vanadyl is very effective in normalizing blood sugar levels and controlling conditions such as insulin resistance, or Type II diabetes. (Reference 4) (Earl Mindell's Supplement Bible page 157)

Gymnema Sylvestre Extract - Gymnema Sylvestre is a plant native to the tropical forests of India, and has been long used as a treatment for diabetes. Recent scientific investigation has upheld its effectiveness in both Type I and Type II diabetes. Gymnema Sylvestre is probably the most practical herbal recommendation for improving blood sugar control in diabetics. Furthermore, there is some evidence that it may possibly regenerate or revitalize the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. It is interesting to note that Gymnema extracts are without side effects and exerts its blood sugar-lowering effects only in cases of diabetes. Gymnema extract, when given to healthy volunteers, does not produce any blood sugar lowering or hypoglycemic effects. (Reference 5) (The Healing Power of Herbs pages - 358 & 359)

Bitter Melon Extract - Bitter Melon is an herb that has traditionally been used by Ayurvedic (Indian) healers to treat Type II, or adult-onset diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that it can normalize elevated blood sugar levels. Bitter Melon contains an insulin-like polypeptide, polypeptide P or p-insulin (the p is for plant). In one study, glucose tolerance improved in 73 percent of Type II diabetics. In another study, the extract of Bitter Melon produced a 17 percent reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin A1c (an indicator of average blood sugar levels over time) after 7 weeks of use. (Reference 6) (The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines Pages 547 & 548) (Reference 7) (The Healing Power of Herbs pages - 357 & 358)

Fenugreek Extract - Fenugreek has demonstrated significant anti-diabetic effects in experimental and clinical studies. Two studies in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that Fenugreek improves glucose tolerance in both Type I and Type II diabetes. Consistent intake of fenugreek stimulates pancreatic function. In patients with relatively mild diabetes, fenugreek significantly reduced both fasting and post meal glucose levels and healthy subjects experienced no change in glucose levels. (Reference 8) (Natural Treatments for Diabetes page 19) (Reference 9) (Clinical Applications of Herbal Medicine - page 19) (Reference 10) (Syndrome X - page 223)

Bilberry Extract - Bilberry is widely used as a possible preventive treatment for complications of diabetes. This extract affects many health problems-not the least of which is blood sugar imbalances. Bilberry also improves night vision, strengthens capillaries, reduces blood clotting, and has antioxidant action. Research, done mostly in Italy, has also uncovered bilberry's potential for treating retinal problems from poor blood circulation, diabetes-caused glaucoma, and day blindness. (Reference 11) (Journal of Longevity - Volume 5/No. 8, page 40) (Reference 12) (New Encyclopedia Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, & Herbs - page 386)

Cinnamon Extract - According to USDA research, cinnamon helps to control blood sugar levels. Ground Cinnamon-the spice, not the flavoring-helps stimulate the production of glucose-burning enzymes and boosts insulin's effectiveness. In one study, cinnamon made insulin 20 times more capable of breaking down blood sugars. Cinnamon has been used for centuries, with references in ancient Greek and Latin writings. (Reference 13) (Men's Health Magazine-December 2000 - page 40) (Reference 14) (Natural Treatments for Diabetes - page 19)

Jambolan - Jambolan is used for diabetes and diseases of the pancreas. It is a species of cloves used in Ayurvedic medicine. Jambolan is used to treat diabetes because it quickly reduces blood sugar, apparently without side effects. Jambolan may also decrease the risk of a person with diabetes developing atherosclerosis because it contains oleanolic acid, which short-circuits the chemical reactions that make toxic free radicals. Oleanolic acid reduces the action of free radicals in atherosclerosis by 60 - 90 percent. (Reference 15) (Natural Treatments for Diabetes - page 21) (Reference 16) (Prescription for Herbal Healing - pages 84 & 85)

Pterocarpus Marsupium - Pterocarpus Marsupium has a long history of use in India as a treatment for diabetes. A potent flavonoid in this tree has been shown to help regenerate beta cells in the pancreas as well. Researchers in India studied the effects of this herb on 97 individuals with blood sugar problems and were amazed to find that it helped control blood sugar levels in 69% of them. (Reference 17) (Natural Treatments for Diabetes - page 43) (Reference 18) (Journal of Longevity-Volume 7/No. 12 - page 41)

Gulvel - Gulvel, also known as Tinospora Cordifolia, is a multi-faceted plant. It is widely believed not only to help restore vital energy body, but also to help revive the pancreas. Indeed, it has been found to help balance levels of both blood fats and blood sugar. (Reference 19) (Journal of Longevity-Volume 7/No. 12 - page 41)

Consult a healthcare professional knowlegeable in use of the above to assist in any changes in your healthcare regime.

Newsletter Index Page

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.

© 2002 Nature's Corner