Do you like to have concrete ways to measure and track your health status and progress?
Would you like to be able to measure and track one of the most important health markers there is, using basic bloodwork?
Then read on!
Last time, we talked about early warning signs – the many physical, mental and emotional symptoms – to watch out for, that indicate that you are likely heading towards insulin resistance (and thus prediabetes and type 2 diabetes). Now let’s look at several blood markers that can also give you that early warning – in a concrete, measurable way – so you know you need to work on reversing it!
As I mentioned in What IS Diabetes?, insulin resistance is the proximate cause of type 2 diabetes (with a number of underlying root causes beneath it, which I’ll discuss in my upcoming series, Reversing Diabetes Naturally). The key to knowing when you’re heading towards prediabetes and type 2 diabetes – so you can be proactive about preventing them – is to identify when insulin resistance is starting to develop.
Quick review: Insulin resistance (IR) is the condition where your cells no longer fully listen to insulin’s signal to open up and let blood sugar in, which causes sugar to remain in the blood, thus elevating your blood sugar levels. Left unchecked, insulin resistance typically leads to the development of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (as well as a whole host of other health issues).
Early Indicators of IR – Blood Markers
These tests should be conducted when you are at least 12 hours water-only fasted (meaning, you’ve had nothing to eat or drink except plain water, for 12+ hours), unless otherwise noted.
This is one of the most accurate tests to detect a trend toward pre-diabetes. This marker indicates the level of insulin in your blood 12+ hours after your last insulin stimulation, and is an excellent indicator of your baseline of insulin – the minimum amount that is circulating all the time. If your fasting insulin level is over 5 mU/L, then you are having too much insulin stimulation in general, you are trending towards or already have insulin resistance, and it’s time to work on bringing this number down.
Fasting Blood Glucose
A fasting blood sugar test measures the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood 12+ hours after your last intake of calories. It’s one of the first markers used to diagnose prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, and can also be tracked to see if you’re likely developing insulin resistance and headed towards diabetes, before you get there.
|Fasting Blood Glucose Level|
|Insulin Resistance||90-99 mg/dL|
|Type 2 Diabetes||>125 mg/dL|
An inexpensive at-home blood sugar tester is the simplest, easiest way to track this marker – I like this affordable, easy-to-use kit, which includes everything you’ll need for your first 100 tests.
Your postprandial glucose (after-meal blood sugar) is another good way to measure how well your body is managing your blood sugar level, and whether you are on a diabetes trajectory. You’ll need to test your blood sugar just before you eat, and then again at 2 hours after you finish eating, to check this number. As with fasting glucose, an at-home tester is your best bet for tracking this marker.
Ideally, your post-meal blood sugar level will not go too high, and will also drop back down to your pre-meal level within 2 hours after eating, and not much below. These indicate that your insulin response is well matched with your food intake, and that your body is responding well to insulin’s signal.
|2 Hour Postprandial Glucose|
|Insulin Resistance||90-99 mg/dL|
|Type 2 Diabetes||>125 mg/dL|
Note that postprandial glucose can also be significantly lower than pre-meal glucose – this indicates an insulin hyper-response (hyperinsulinemia), and can be related to various factors, including:
- when your carb intake is lower than usual – such as when first switching to lower carb eating, before your body has fully adjusted to the reduced intake of carbohydrates
- when insulin resistance begins to heal and healthy insulin sensitivity starts to get re-established, but the insulin response is still elevated because of prior insulin resistance
This test tells you what your average blood sugar has been over the past 3 months. It is used as a diagnostic tool to indicate the development of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and can also tell you when insulin resistance has likely begun to develop.
The A1c is an important marker to track regularly – at least annually, and twice a year or quarterly if you are actively working on improving your blood sugar management.
Note that if you have hypoglycemia, your A1c will not be as accurate a picture of your overall IR/diabetes status, since lows will cancel out highs. In that case, postprandial glucose is a more useful marker to track.
Triglycerides are fats in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides, which are then (eventually) stored in your fat cells. Later, this stored fuel is released as needed for energy between meals. Elevated triglycerides indicate problems with fat metabolism – your body is having trouble keeping up with using and/or storing excess fuel, which is another indicator that you are heading towards (or already have) insulin resistance. Typically, the higher the triglycerides, the more insulin resistance there is.
|Borderline High||100-150 mg/dL|
Insulin resistance is strongly associated with impaired fat metabolism and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Elevated triglyceride levels after meals are another indicator that insulin resistance is likely developing. Ideally, your triglyceride level after meals will drop back down to your fasting level within 6 hours of eating. If it doesn’t, you have at least some degree of insulin resistance (generally, the higher your triglyceride levels, the more insulin resistance you have).
HDL is the so-called “good” cholesterol (though all types of cholesterol have good aspects to them), and having optimal levels of HDL is strongly associated with better overall health and reduced disease risk. There are clear mechanisms by which insulin resistance contributes to low HDL cholesterol, and there is also evidence that low HDL may actually promote the development of diabetes. Tracking your HDL is another way to tell if you likely have insulin resistance developing and you are heading down the path towards diabetes. The optimal HDL level is >60 mg/dL for both men and women.
Multiple inflammation markers, including C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein (hsCRP), are highly correlated with insulin resistance, and tracking them can help identify if and when insulin resistance is developing (and also when it is improving!) The optimal CRP level is <0.22 mg/L, and the optimal hsCRP level is <1.0 mg/L.
Uric acid is a waste product created when your body breaks down substances called purines, which are one of two chemical compounds that your cells use to make the building blocks of DNA and RNA. Most uric acid dissolves in the blood and then travels to the kidneys, and from there is gotten rid of via the urine. But if your body produces too much uric acid or does not remove enough of it, a high uric acid level in the blood develops – called hyperuricemia – which is correlated with many health problems, including insulin resistance. Optimal uric acid blood levels are <5.35 for men and <4.0 for women.
Insulin resistance is a precursor to – and/or is correlated with – many health conditions, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. As such, identifying, tracking and reversing insulin resistance – ideally in its early stages – is an important part of achieving and maintaining optimal health! There are many common blood markers that you can use to do this, including fasting insulin, blood sugar, triglycerides, HDL, C-Reactive Protein and uric acid.
Here’s a quick summary of these markers and the levels at which they indicate that insulin resistance is likely developing. You can click on this image to save and/or print it out for easy future reference.
In the final article in this 3-part series on early warning signs of insulin resistance, we look at a few ratios and formulas that can tell you even more about your level of insulin resistance, and I have a few DIY calculators that you can use to quickly plug in your own numbers, to measure your current IR status and then track your progress over time.
Then, in my upcoming series, Reversing Diabetes Naturally, I’ll talk about the many holistic health tools available to you – including diet, lifestyle, herbal medicines, and vitamin and mineral supplements – to help your reverse insulin resistance, restore proper blood sugar regulation, and prevent or reverse prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (and improve your overall health, too!)