Are you insulin resistant? Have metabolic syndrome? You may have heard your doctor mention these conditions but didn’t really understand what they mean. If you’re over 50, and you’ve gained a few pounds, especially around your waist, there’s a good chance you have one of them. Recently, they’ve been found to up your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why I’d like to explain to you what these conditions are about and how you can prevent, and/or reverse, them.
Lower This Number and Lower Your Risk for Alzheimer’s
Like many of my over-50 patients, you may be carrying a little more pounds than is healthy. And, it may all be concentrated right around your waist. As bad as you feel that excess poundage looks around your middle, it’s even worse for your health, both physical and mental. If your waistline is over 42 for a man, and 36 for a woman, you could be at high risk for disease.
It’s been known for several years now that carrying a lot of excess weight around your middle puts you at much higher risk for disease. It sets the stage for the development of several serious diseases that often start to show up in middle age. These include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Neurologic diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc)
Why does gaining more weight around the middle put you at higher risk? Because belly fat packs around your important, life-maintaining internal organs – kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, intestines. Belly fat is the perfect storage place for inflammatory proteins, called cytokines. These cytokines get sent out from your fat cells and start circulating throughout your body spreading inflammation wherever they go.
Because your internal organs are in such close proximity to your belly fat, it’s like they’re living next door to a toxic chemical plant. As such, their tissues are affected first and most dramatically. The inflammatory changes in tissues that these cytokines promote create the perfect breeding ground for many diseases, especially the “big 4″ noted above.
Now, let me explain what insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have to do with belly fat. First, insulin resistance is the decreased ability of your body to use the hormone insulin properly. Insulin helps burn your calories for energy. If it’s function is impaired, that means that many of the calories you eat don’t get used for energy. Instead, they get stored as belly fat.
Second, metabolic syndrome is a collection of several conditions that insulin resistance is part of. Usually, as a person gets older, they may have 1 or 2 of these conditions. But someone who has 2 or more is thought to have metabolic syndrome. They include:
- Insulin resistance marked by overweight, predominance of belly fat
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL, high LDL, cholesterol with high triglycerides
- High hemoglobin A1c
So, in a cause and effect fashion, if you’ve become insulin resistant, you’re likely storing a lot of fat around your belly. If you also have the other positive markers, you may have metabolic syndrome. Recently, researchers at Iowa State University found a conclusive link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s disease.
Let me explain a little about your brain’s relationship with glucose. Your brain needs glucose to function correctly, but in measured doses. If you’ve become insulin resistant, your blood glucose levels can be too high, or too low, to perform its critical functions.
Fluctuating brain glucose levels starts to impact the hippocampal area of your brain that governs your learning capacity and, especially, your memory. The hippocampus is the first region of the brain to reflect Alzheimers disease noted by shrinkage.
If this condition is allowed to persist in your brain, tissues start to break down and set the stage for dangerous, toxic plaques, like tau proteins, that buildup in your brain. These become the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Prevent and/or Reverse Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome
You might be wondering how do you know if you’re insulin resistant? Well, there are 2 easy ways to tell. One of the most prominent markers is weight gain that’s predominantly in the belly area. You may, or may not, have type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure, etc. If you have gained stubborn belly fat weight, you may want to have your Hemoglobin A1c checked.
The HbA1c is a simple blood draw which averages your blood glucose levels over 3 months. This test gives a more accurate picture than a fasting blood sugar. If your score is above 5.6, and overweight, you’re likely insulin resistant. If it’s over 6.0 you may well have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. You’ll want to have the test done in a non-fasting, and/or non-dehydrated state as these can cause A1c numbers to be falsely elevated. So, be sure to eat and drink water, other fluids, before you have the test done.
If you’re numbers are accurately elevated, though, you’ll want to normalize them. In the process, you can either prevent, or reverse, the development of type 2 diabetes. Here’s what you need to do:
- Weight loss. Aim for at least a 10%-20% reduction in your weight to start. This will help decrease blood sugar and blood pressure significantly.
- Aerobic exercise. Research has shown that interval-type aerobic exercise both burns more belly fat and lowers hemoglobin A1c levels best.
- Omit sugar. Remove all refined sugar from your diet, including commercial fruit juices and milk as they’re full of sugar. Instead, switch to unsweetened almond, coconut, or soy milk and eat whole, lower sugar fruits instead of juice.
- Increase Protein. Up your intake of protein to keep blood sugar levels steady. Aim for 0.5 to 1 gram per pound of body weight/per day. If you weigh 180 – you should be eating 90 to 180 grams of protein per day. Adjust this downward as your weight decreases.
- Increase Fiber. Up your intake of fiber to 25 grams daily. This helps stabilize blood glucose levels by allowing food to absorb much more slowly.
- Healthy oils/Nuts. Research shows that extra virgin olive oil and/or nuts can help reverse metabolic syndrome. They’re full of Omega-3 fatty acids which decrease inflammation.
Reversing insulin resistance involves a little work on your part, but the health benefits you’ll gain are tremendous. You’ll significantly lower your risk for developing the 4 common diseases of getting older. As a bonus, getting to a normal weight and optimizing your nutrition, you’ll feel, and look, much younger!