Insulin resistance and chronic inflammation are two interconnected factors that play a significant role in various health conditions, including metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and ultimately, type 2 diabetes.
Understanding the complex relationship between inflammation and insulin resistance is crucial for managing these conditions and promoting optimal health.
In this article, we will explore the intricate connection between inflammation and insulin resistance from a functional medicine perspective. We will discuss how inflammation and insulin resistance influence each other.
And finally we will uncover functional health strategies to effectively manage both for your improved vitality and preventative healthcare.
Insulin Resistance: A Brief Overview:
Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin, a pancreatic hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. When you are insulin resistant, your body needs to produce higher and higher amounts of insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Over time, your pancreas struggles to keep up with the increased demand for insulin, leading to elevated levels of glucose in your bloodstream which is what a fasting glucose biomarker is checking. Often, this is the ONLY biomarker your medical doctor is checking which is not enough to determine exactly how your body is working.
Elevated cortisol over long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels. This is the risk of unmanaged stress levels. Ultimately, there is a very strong correlation between unmanaged stress and chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.
In Functional Medicine, we work with clients to prevent metabolic diseases by making lifestyle modifications, especially significant dietary changes. We help you to support your pancreas and overall functional health with clinical nutrient interventions.
We view your body as one biological system and everything is connected. No health challenges occur in isolation.
Understanding Chronic Inflammation:
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, infection, or tissue damage. When you cut yourself, your immune activates its acute inflammatory response for healing. Acute inflammation is the body’s immediate and short-term response to injury or infection.
This is a healthy body response to an injury, infection or foreign invader – your immune system senses an act of danger.
Chronic inflammation is different and is detrimental to your long-term health. It is characterized by persistent low-grade inflammation throughout the body, even in the absence of injury or infection. Chronic inflammation is linked to autoimmunity, heart disease, brain health issues, various cancers and metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.
Sources of chronic inflammation include gut health disorders, uncontrolled stress, environmental stressors, chronic illness, negative thought patterns, poor diet weight management and insulin resistance.
Measuring Inflammation and Insulin Resistance
Biomarkers of inflammation
The most common test to measure inflammation is the blood test for C-reactive protein. (CRP). CRP tells us how much inflammation is occurring in your body. Low risk is below 1.0, medium risk is between 1 and 3 and high risk of chronic illness is above 3. However, we want our clients to always have a CRP level below 1.0. Elevated CRP is a risk for type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
Homocysteine is a general indicator of inflammation and chronic metabolic imbalance. We check homocysteine in every client that consults with us. You cannot separate homocysteine and inflammation, they are tightly intertwined. We seek levels of homocysteine below 7.0.
Biomarkers of insulin resistance
We covered this topic extensively in our article on labs to run for measuring insulin resistance so check that out to learn more.
Fasting insulin marker and c-peptide marker
Two key markers for insulin resistance are fasting insulin marker and c-peptide marker. Both of these markers come from beta cells in the pancreas. They determine output at a certain time.
Vitamin D levels
Insulin resistance can also be caused by low vitamin D levels so it is always key to check vitamin D. And again, we focus on functional biomarker ranges, not medical biomarker ranges.
The Connections Between Inflammation and Insulin Resistance
Chronic inflammation can interfere with the normal functioning of insulin signaling pathways. Inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines, can disrupt insulin signaling, damaging the uptake of glucose by cells and leading to insulin resistance. However, in return, insulin resistance can cause chronic inflammation, creating a vicious cycle.
- Inflammation and a damaged metabolism
Cells in inflammatory tissue undergo anaerobic metabolism and produce large amounts of lactate, a metabolite we measure and pay specific attention to at Metabolix Health. Insulin resistance leads to a block in aerobic metabolism. This is a vital clue when we assess your metabolic health.
Image of inflammation and insulin resistance connection. Reference: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014579307012082
2. Weight gain (fat storage) and chronic inflammation
When you gain weight, your fat cells or adipose tissue are acting as a storage system for excess energy. However, this is not their single function but rather that fat cells are an active endocrine organ that produces various hormones and inflammatory molecules.
In obese individuals, adipose tissue or fat cells become inflamed, releasing pro-inflammatory substances that contribute to systemic inflammation and insulin resistance. You have adipose tissue-derived hormones, such as leptin and adiponectin, that play a role in regulating insulin sensitivity and inflammation.
So when you are testing for insulin resistance, these hormones should be included as part of your overall health assessment to determine when leptin resistance is part of your overall health picture.
3. The connection between gut health and chronic inflammation
Emerging research suggests that imbalances in your gut microbiome (bacteria living in your digestive system) contributes to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.
Pathogenic bacteria produce inflammatory cytokines that affect insulin sensitivity and metabolic function. Taking steps to support your gut microbiome through diet, probiotic support, and prebiotic foods may help reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.
Leaky gut causes inflammatory responses and contributes to insulin resistance. Leaky gut also leads to nutrient loss that can increase chronic inflammation.
4. Oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance:
Oxidative stress is a state of imbalance between the production of harmful free radicals and the body’s ability to neutralize them. Most oxidative stress in your body has its source from environmental toxins, 80,000 of which have entered our world since WWII.
High levels of oxidative stress are closely intertwined with inflammation and hence insulin resistance. Unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet, sedentary behavior, and exposure to environmental toxins, can increase oxidative stress and exacerbate inflammation.
Strategies to Manage Inflammation and Insulin Resistance
Managing inflammation and insulin resistance begins with diet. You may need (always supervised by a nutritionist or functional medicine professional) a personalized diet program that will be insulin sensitive focused. You need to reduce carbohydrate cravings and deal with the mindset of healthful eating.
If you are doing this work on your own, focus on following a Mediterranean style food plan which has been proven to be both anti inflammatory and insulin balancing. Emphasize whole seasonal fruits, vegetables, slow grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while minimizing sugars, refined carbohydrates and chemical fats.
Include healthy foods such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, and spices like turmeric and ginger. At Metabolix Health, we offer every client a personalized food plan as part of their coaching program. This is in addition to your functional medicine roadmap.
Engaging in regular exercise has numerous benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity. However, it is important to know what types of exercise are beneficial for you; how long you ought be exercising daily or weekly and how to grow muscle regardless of age or health factors that may be affecting you.
This is exactly why you need a functional medicine professional to consult with, to help you implement a personalized plan for you. No one size fits all. And often, clients come to us at Metabolix Health frustrated after trying to fix their health for years by themselves. Aim for a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises.
Find activities you enjoy and make them a regular part of your routine. Exercise not only helps control weight but also promotes overall cardiovascular health and enhances insulin sensitivity. It also helps your mind and overall mental health.
3. Stress management
Chronic stress can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance. Implement stress-management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or engaging in hobbies and activities that promote relaxation. We have an entire program at Metabolix Health that helps our clients to manage their stress better.
Often, stress is something that can’t be eliminated such as work stress, or financial stress but how you react or respond to stress is definitely modifiable and this is what we work on with our clients to bring about more balanced cortisol, lower inflammation and as a consequence, improved insulin sensitivity.
Inadequate sleep or poor sleep quality can increase inflammation and impair insulin sensitivity. The goal is for most people an average of 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. If you wear a trackable device, you are better able to determine how much quality sleep such as REM and deep sleep you are actually getting.
Establish a consistent bedtime routine (7 days per week), create a sleep-friendly environment, and prioritize good sleep hygiene practices. If you struggle with sleep, consider working with our team at Metabolix Health. We can guide you and help you unravel what might be causing your sleep challenges and how to go about creating a healthier relationship with sleep.
This will then reduce cortisol, inflammation and ultimately improve insulin sensitivity.
5. Weight management
Following all the strategies above will almost certainly cause a reduction in your weight if you are metabolically overweight. This will help both insulin resistance and levels of systemic inflammation.
6. Clinical nutrition interventions
A Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are utilized by the body as building blocks for mediators of inflammation. Most omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory while most omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory. We actually need both to be healthy but in the correct ratio and this is where the standard American diet (SAD) has failed us. It is predominantly omega-6 focused causing high levels of systemic inflammation to build up in your cells. This is a key reason we ask our clients to stop using seed oils and other chemically processed oils. The goal is to improve the composition and function of the cell membrane.
Supplementing with a high quality fish oil daily and avoiding chemical oils will help dramatically to reduce inflammation from oils.
B Curcumin (yellow pigment of turmeric)
Supplementing curcumin may be helpful because of it’s variety of anti-inflammatory effects. One concern regarding curcumin absorption (not easy to get across the cell wall), but Meriva (you will see we use Meriva at Metabolix Health), complexes the curcumin with phospholipids.
A study published in the Journal of Natural Products reported that Meriva has 29 times the absorption of standard curcumin.
Theracurmin is a highly absorptive form of curcumin produced using a technique of a micro-particle and surface-controlled colloidal dispersion. Oral bioavailability of curcumin is generally low due to low absorption by the small intestine, metabolism in the liver, and elimination through the gall bladder.
These are more reasons to work with a professionally trained functional medicine provider who knows exactly what form to recommend. Did you know that you may be spending money on inferior supplements that your body cannot absorb?
How Metabolix Health can help you reduce inflammation and reverse insulin resistance
At Metabolix Health, we establish a plan to reduce inflammation and insulin resistance. You will participate in a coaching program to help you integrate your plan into your existing life in a manageable manner.
As part of your initial functional medicine assessment, we ask you to complete a questionnaire that will give us a detailed inflammation risk score along with your associated functional medicine biomarkers.
This becomes a really helpful baseline from which to track your progress. As it is said, what we don’t measure, we can’t improve.
The relationship between inflammation and insulin resistance is complex.
Inflammation is a primary root cause of insulin resistance and how it develops in your body. This is vital from a functional medicine perspective because we are working with the root causes of your health issues. So rather than focus singly on insulin resistance, our programs and work will focus on reducing chronic inflammation and then focus on insulin resistance.
I like to talk to clients about the domino-pieces analogy. Your health breaks like the domino pieces fall and we can reverse this by working with root causes that will help to put the domino pieces back, not one at a time but in a sequence. Chronic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, but insulin resistance will also contribute and increase chronic inflammation in your body. This is a bi-directional relationship.
By adopting a comprehensive functional health approach that includes focused attention on what you are eating, specific exercise and frequency of exercise, learning stress management techniques to reduce the effects of stress, getting better quality sleep – will lead to reduced weight and overall better insulin management.
We have answered in this article:
- the relationship between inflammation and insulin resistance.
- We have shared what biomarkers to check.
- What contributes to inflammation and insulin resistance.
- The lifestyle modification strategies needed to dampen inflammation and hence reverse insulin resistance.
- How Metabolix Health can help you successfully implement these changes into your life.
It is 100% possible to manage your systemic inflammation and insulin resistance effectively. But know that while it is possible and may seem simple, changing lifestyle is NEVER EASY.
This is exactly why success comes when you partner with the right team of people who clearly understand how to help you get the health results you are seeking. Schedule your complimentary call to discuss your inflammation and insulin resistance questions with a member of our team today.
- Stohs, S. J., Chen, O., Ray, S. D., Ji, J., Bucci, L. R., & Preuss, H. G. (2020). Highly Bioavailable Forms of Curcumin and Promising Avenues for Curcumin-Based Research and Application: A Review. Molecules, 25(6). https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25061397
- Comparative Absorption of a Standardized Curcuminoid Mixture and Its Lecithin Formulation John Cuomo, Giovanni Appendino, Adam S. Dern, Erik Schneider, Toni P. McKinnon, Mark J. Brown, Stefano Togni, and Brian M. Dixon Journal of Natural Products 2011 74 (4), 664-669 DOI: 10.1021/np1007262
- Kelly FJ Oxidative stress: its role in air pollution and adverse health effects Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2003;60:612-616. (image for oxidative stress)