Updated 15 February 2017

Are you insulin resistant?

You might live in blissful ignorance of a condition known as insulin resistance syndrome,.

You might live in blissful ignorance of insulin resistance syndrome, but there's a chance you have it.

The condition, which doctors are also calling "dysmetabolic syndrome," involves not only impaired sensitivity to insulin but blood fat anomalies, high blood pressure, and obesity.

The syndrome is linked to a constellation of severe health problems, including diabetes, heart ailments, and strokes.

Obesity rates contribute
New research suggests that up to one in three Americans have this syndrome, which researchers attribute to the alarming rise in obesity rates.

The condition may well show a similar trend in South Africa, where men and women are fast catching up to their American counterparts when it comes to being overweight or obese. About 50 percent of South African women and 30 percent of men are overweight or obese, according to Dr Tessa van der Merwe, a senior consultant physician and endocrinologist at Johannesburg Hospital.

Identifying those at risk
New guidelines for the condition have been set by a panel of members from various medical and diabetes associations, which should help doctors identify patients with the syndrome, says Dr Daniel Einhorn, co-chairman of the panel and medical director of the Scripps/Whittier Diabetes Institute in California.

A family history of diabetes and heart disease, a high body mass index - a measure of obesity - and elevated blood pressure are potential signs of the syndrome.

So, too, are high levels of blood fats called triglycerides, and low concentrations of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called "good" cholesterol. Many people with insulin resistance syndrome may have normal levels of LDL, the "bad" form of cholesterol.

"If you are a person at risk, you should know your values. If you have one or more of these abnormalities, you most likely have the insulin resistance syndrome," Einhorn said.

Doctors should also be alert to the condition in their patients over age 40, as well as those whose body fat is distributed chiefly around their abdomen. And women with a history of diabetes during pregnancy or a disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome have a high risk of insulin insensitivity, too.

Preventing and treating
But the good news, is that staying fit and shedding excess pounds can greatly reduce the chances that insulin resistance will lead to illness.

"We have the capacity to make an enormous, enormous impact," says Dr Gerald Reaven, a Stanford University diabetes expert acknowledged as the father of insulin resistance syndrome, which he initially dubbed Syndrome X.

Even modest reductions in body weight, say five to ten percent, and regular physical activity can sharply improve the outlook for people with abnormal insulin sensitivity. – (Health24/HealthScout, August 2002)


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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