Insulin resistance is when cells throughout your body don’t respond to insulin, a hormone that is made by the pancreas and breaks down carbohydrates, or sugar. When insulin resistance occurs, the body doesn’t respond as well to the insulin and sugar in the bloodstream is less able to enter the cells, resulting in elevated blood sugar. New studies show that delaying breakfast can increase the occurrence of insulin resistance, which over the long-term can increase the risk of type-2 diabetes among other health concerns.
What causes insulin resistance?
Researchers don’t fully understand what causes insulin resistance and prediabetes, but they think excess weight and lack of physical activity are major factors. Researchers previously believed fat tissue was only for energy storage. However, studies have shown that belly fat makes hormones and other substances that can contribute to chronic, inflammation. Inflammation may play a role in insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Sources share that under normal circumstances, insulin functions in the following steps:
- Your body breaks down the food you eat into glucose (sugar), which is your body’s main source of energy.
- Glucose enters your bloodstream, which signals your pancreas to release insulin.
- Insulin helps glucose in your blood enter your muscle, fat and liver cells so they can use it for energy or store it for later use.
- When glucose enters your cells and the levels in your bloodstream decrease, it signals your pancreas to stop producing insulin.
For several reasons, your muscle, fat and liver cells can respond inappropriately to insulin, which means they can’t efficiently take up glucose from your blood or store it. This is insulin resistance. As a result, your pancreas makes more insulin to try to overcome your increasing blood glucose levels. In the long term, insulin resistance has been linked to:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
When you eat breakfast impacts insulin resistance
The latest research, published in Nutrition, found that delaying mealtime 5 hours after waking resulted in greater insulin resistance vs. delaying mealtime by a single hour.
According to Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, FAHA, CCSH, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University, and colleagues, delayed mealtimes can disrupt natural day and night cues, causing a circadian misalignment (CM). circadian misalignment has been linked to negative metabolic and anthropometric outcomes, so the researchers set out to investigate potential underlying mechanisms.
- The trial involved two 44-day phases
- One occurred under circadian misalignment conditions and the other under circadian alignment conditions.
- Each phase consisted of 15 days of energy-matched controlled eating
- After the initial phase, participants then followed 4 weeks of ad libitum eating.
- Both phases had an eating window of 10 hours and a sleep period between 11:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.
- The circadian misalignment phase’s eating window started 5 hours after waking
- The circadian alignment eating window began 1 hour after waking.
The results showed that delayed breakfast consistently resulted in insulin resistance. “Here, the meals are identical in both conditions, so we know that the impact is solely due to the timing of eating,” she said. “But we also know that when people eat a little later in the day, they tend to have different types of foods, and by looking at this after an ad libitum eating [meaning as much or as often as the participant chose] occasion, we’ll be able to see if there’s a compounded effect of an adverse diet that’s associated with eating later.”
This is yet another study that highlights the importance of eating closer to your waking time. In response to a different study, Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, a New Jersey based registered dietitian explained, “The results are consistent with other research showing that eating according to our circadian rhythm yields improvements in blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.” She continued, “We tend to metabolize carbohydrates better earlier in the day so it makes sense that eating before 8:30 am would yield a benefit. Similar studies in time-restricted eating have shown benefits when subjects began eating earlier in the day and ended earlier as well.”
This information is key for those that may be in the stage of pre-diabetes. And the reality is that group includes more people than may suspect; 84% of those with prediabetes have no idea they have it, making it very likely that over time, it will develop into type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes also puts people at risk of heart disease and stroke, making it especially important that people approach prevention and mitigation well before prediabetes sets in and transitions to more serious health concerns. For this reason, speak to your provider to determine your risk for diabetes, and to also set in place habits- like eating a healthy breakfast early in the day- to better sustain consistent blood sugar levels throughout the day.
It’s never too early to set good habits in place
This information isn’t just for adults, either. A study carried out in over 1,900 school-aged children in Greece over a period of two years showed that the absence of breakfast in children has been associated with increased waist circumference, obesity, and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can raise a child’s risk for type 2 diabetes and other health problems. The study pointed out that skipping breakfast has been reported to lead to “erratic dietary patterns during the day, which consequently can adversely affect cardiometabolic risk factors.”
Prevention of childhood obesity cannot start early enough. “The risk of obesity starts in the womb,” says Dr. Mangarelli. “Therefore, any and all policies aimed at supporting the mental and physical health of young girls and women will likely support the prevention of childhood obesity and ensure the health of our future generation. This [support] includes access to safe school and community environments that support recreational activities for young girls, as well as policies aimed at reducing childhood poverty and hunger.”
Addressing and preventing chronic insulin resistance is important. While not discussed as often as other health concerns, it significantly impacts our overall health, including the risk of developing obesity. The worldwide obesity rate has nearly doubled since 1980. It is projected that by the year 2035, 51% of the global population will be obese. In the past three decades, childhood obesity in the U.S. more than tripled in adolescents and more than doubled in children. Obesity is an epidemic and it is gaining traction across the world. It isn’t about vanity or being a certain size. Obesity can wreak havoc on your entire body, from your heart, joints, pain levels, cardiovascular system, digestion, to your mental health, sleep quality, brain health, and more.
The good news- even small changes, for people of all ages, can make a significant difference.
- walk at least 4,000 steps a day (the more the better)
- work towards meeting recommended physical activity levels (beyond walking)
- eat a quality diet full of veggies, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats
- stay hydrated
- get adequate sleep
- cut back on alcohol
- decrease stress
Don’t let it overwhelm you if this seems like too much to address at once. Work on improving one element every couple of weeks. Instead of it being a chore, celebrate moving towards improving how you feel and how your body functions. First task tomorrow morning- enjoy a healthy breakfast before you head out the door.