Insulin Resistance in Seniors
In the U.S., around 34.2 million people have diabetes, which is approximately 10.5% of the entire population. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, the percentage of people with diabetes tends to increase with age, affecting 26.8% of adults who are 65 years or older. This number doesn’t even include the 24.4 million seniors who have prediabetes, wherein their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
As people age, they become more insulin resistant compared to younger individuals, which is a result of biological aging and environmental or lifestyle variables. Insulin resistance is a condition where the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat don’t respond well to insulin, meaning the body cannot efficiently use the glucose from the blood for energy.
Causes of Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a blood sugar-regulating hormone produced by the pancreas. In an insulin-resistant patient, the pancreas would need to work extra hard to release enough insulin to overcome the body’s resistance and keep blood sugar levels down. Eventually, the ability of the pancreas to perform this task decreases; once it is unable to regulate blood sugar levels, the patient may develop type 2 diabetes.
The reasons behind insulin resistance remain complex and unclear, as the medical community’s current knowledge remains limited. Among seniors and elderly people, it’s possible that lower levels of metabolic activity in the mitochondria — which provides power to the cells — underlie insulin resistance, as mitochondria activity declines with age.
Fat cells also influence insulin sensitivity. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden recently found that among the three different subtypes of mature fat cells in white adipose tissue, only one (AdipoPLIN) responds to insulin. This finding suggests that insulin resistance may be caused by changes in the specific fat cell subtype. This may be why risk factors of insulin resistance include obesity, a high-carb diet, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. Other risks include:
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
• Sleep problems like sleep apnea
• Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
Unfortunately, most patients are unable to tell they have insulin resistance based on how they feel alone. According to the resources on SymptomFind, insulin resistance often doesn’t have any symptoms at all. Only a blood test can check your blood sugar levels. One sign of possible insulin resistance, however, is the development of acanthosis nigricans, where patches of dark, velvety skin appear in the armpits or behind the necks. Aside from discoloration, skin tags may also grow due to insulin resistance. Other signs include:
• Waistline of over 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women
• Blood pressure readings of 130/80 or higher
• Frequent physical stress like trauma or infection
Tips for Managing Insulin Resistance
There are two ways to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent type 2 diabetes: increased physical activity and weight loss. It’s important to note that rushing through lifestyle changes and expecting immediate results is not the best way to proceed after a diagnosis of insulin resistance. Making slow, sustainable changes is the most effective way to proceed.
The European Respiratory Journal highlights that higher levels of exercise, less time sitting, and less time watching TV can lower the risk of sleep apnea, which can raise blood pressure and exacerbate insulin resistance. For weight loss, replacing one item per meal with a healthy, low-carbohydrate option is a good strategy, as long as you keep it up week after week. Our ‘Treat Yourself With Meal Planning’ guide can help you plan healthy meals based on your daily appointments, grocery sales, and foods available in your freezer.
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Written exclusively for Westbrookcarecenter.com
by Arnie Crest