Dr. Carly Polland, ND
When it comes to our health, insulin resistance is the proverbial monster under the bed. But unlike the monsters of our childhood, insulin resistance is real and chances are, it is hiding under your bed. In fact, about 68 million Americans have insulin resistance1.
But what is so scary about insulin resistance? Insulin resistance is linked to a variety of chronic diseases that not only pose significant risks to your health but also interfere with your daily life. For example, insulin resistance may lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease2. These chronic diseases may shorten your life, require extensive treatment, and limit your ability to do everyday activities.
What is insulin resistance?
To understand insulin resistance, we first need to understand insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by our pancreas. Glucose from our food stimulates the pancreas to release insulin into the blood stream. Insulin’s job is to help other cells absorb glucose from the blood to use as fuel or store.
In insulin resistance, however, our cells stop responding. They stop listening to insulin and don’t take in much glucose. This causes the glucose levels in our blood to be higher than they should.
Over time, high blood glucose levels cause damage to our arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke2. It also puts a burden on the pancreas that could lead to type 2 diabetes2.
Risks factors for insulin resistance3:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- History of cardiovascular disease
- Diagnosis of PCOS
- History of gestational diabetes
- Having a parent of sibling with diabetes
If you have any of the above risk factors, talk to your doctor about evaluating you for insulin resistance. Your doctor may run some blood tests including fasting glucose, fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1c, and the oral glucose tolerance test.
Treating Insulin Resistance Naturally
With a holistic approach, it may be possible to reverse insulin resistance. Depending on your level of insulin resistance and your overall health, a holistic treatment plan may include:
- Lifestyle modifications such as increasing physical activity
- Dietary modifications such as a plant-based diet
- Minerals such as chromium, zinc, and vanadium
- Herbal supplements such as cinnamon, fenugreek, and bitter melon
Most dietary modifications focus on reducing added sugars, avoiding saturated fat, and restricting carbohydrates and starches based on the glycemic index. But this approach is missing a key element: resistant starch.
What is resistant starch?
A resistant starch is a long chain of glucose found in food that resists digestion. It is considered the third type of fiber after soluble and insoluble fiber. Like other fibers, resistant starch is not digested in the small intestine. Instead, the bacteria in the large intestine ferment resistant starch to produce short chain fatty acids4.
There are four kinds of resistant starch5:
- Type 1: bound within the fibrous cell walls of grains, seeds, and legumes
- Type 2: found within starchy foods such as raw potatoes and green bananas
- Type 3: formed during the cooling process after cooking certain starchy foods including rice and potatoes
- Type 4: formed by a chemical process (man-made)
Resistant Starch and Insulin Resistance
Resistant starch has a number of beneficial effects on insulin resistance.
- Eating a meal containing resistant starch decreases the spike in blood sugar in both healthy individuals and individuals with type 2 diabetes6,7.
- Resistant starch has a “second meal effect” where blood sugar continues to be lower during the following meal even if it does not contain resistant starch8.
- Daily consumption of resistant starch can improve insulin sensitivity in both healthy individuals and individuals with metabolic syndrome9,10.
So resistant starch not only modulates how much glucose gets into our bloodstream, but it also improves how our cells respond to insulin so that more glucose leaves the bloodstream. Overall, resistant starch goes a long way to reducing the total amount of glucose in the blood and improving insulin resistance. Incorporating resistant starch should be a core part of dietary modifications for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
Getting More Resistant Starch
You can get more resistant starch by either supplementing or eating foods containing resistant starch. Foods such as cooked and cooled potatoes, rice, and beans, and green bananas contain resistant starch. However, these foods also contain digestible starch that will increase the amount of glucose in that meal. A better alternative may be to supplement with potato starch. Potato starch can be found in the baking isle of most grocery stores. It has a bland taste and can be added to most foods without changing the flavor.
Aim for getting 30 grams of resistant starch a day. To avoid gas and abdominal discomfort, slowly work up to 30 grams a day over the course of a few weeks. If using the potato starch, starch with 1 TBSP (8 grams of resistant starch) a day for 1 week and work up to 4 TBSP a day over the next 3 weeks.
Dr. Carly Polland is a Naturopathic Doctor who is passionate about teaching people how to transform their health to live a life full of strength, energy, and vitality. She combines modern science and ancient natural wisdom to help people overcome chronic disease and reclaim vibrant health. She specializes in autoimmune disease, digestive disorders, women’s health, and mental health. To learn about her private practice, visit www.bioadaptivemedicine.com.
- Statistics about Insulin Resistance. (2015, August 13). Retrieved May 17, 2016, from http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/i/insulin_resistance/stats.htm
- Olatunbosun, S. T. (2015, January 30). Insulin Resistance. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/122501-overview#a3
- Bray, G. A., & Hamman, R. F. (2014, June). Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/insulin-resistance-prediabetes/Pages/index.aspx#causes
- Topping DL, Clifton PM. (2001) Short-Chain Fatty Acids and Human Colonic Function: Roles of Resistant Starch and Nonstarch Polysaccharieds. Phys Rev, 81(3):1031-1064
- Sajilata MG, Singhai RS, Kulkarni PR. (2006) Resistant starch: a review. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf, 5:1–17
- Behall, K. M. (2006). Consumption of Both Resistant Starch and -Glucan Improves Postprandial Plasma Glucose and Insulin in Women. Diabetes Care, 29(5), 976-981. doi:10.2337/diacare.295976
- Lin, C., Chang, D., Wu, D., Peng, H., & Chuang, L. (2015). Assessment of Blood Glucose Regulation and Safety of Resistant Starch Formula-Based Diet in Healthy Normal and Subjects With Type 2 Diabetes. Medicine, 94(33). doi:10.1097/md.0000000000001332
- Brighenti, F, et al. (2006). Colonic fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates contributes to the second-meal effect. American Journal of Clin Nutrtion, 83(4):817-822
- Roberston MD, et al. (2005) Insulin-sensitizing effects of dietary resistant starch and effects on skeletal muscle and adipose tissue metabolism. American Journal of Clin Nutriton, 82(3):559-567
- Johnston, K., Thomas, E. L., Bell, J., Frost, G., & Robertson, M. D. (2009). Resistant Starch Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Metabolic Syndrome. Diabetic Medicine. doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.2009.02923.x