Shining a Spotlight on the Biggest Health Problem in the US

November is Diabetes Awareness Month.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month. (Courtesy photo)

Insulin resistance is our nation's biggest public health problem and potentially will get much worse in our future.

"When humans become insulin resistant, the glucose receptors of our liver and muscle cells get clogged," E.J. Greenwald of Specialty Health in Reno, Nevada, said. "Insulin has a difficult time allowing glucose to get into the cell. Glucose stays in the bloodstream, and blood glucose levels increase. So do the blood insulin levels as the pancreas keeps pumping more and more insulin to try to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels under control."

Insulin resistance leads to many potentially deadly health issues, such as a heart attack, Alzheimer's Disease, cancer, kidney disease, stroke, gout, obesity and diabetes. Obesity and diabetes alone will continue progressing and cause lower back pain, joint pain, amputation, blindness and slow-healing wounds.

This is not just a military, law enforcement or firefighter problem. It is a national problem, and the reasons for this epidemic is a combination of poor nutrition, a lack of fitness, stress and poor sleep. This cycle is difficult to reverse without a conscious daily effort and lifestyle change.

Here is a four-step solution:

Fitness: You have to move more and burn calories through walking, biking, calisthenics or some form of resistance training. Adding fitness can start as easily as walking 10-15 minutes after every meal or going to a fitness center and doing a 15- to 20-minute circuit, followed by a light cardio workout. See ideas at Circuit Training and Cardio and Resistance Training.

insulin resistance - fitness - nutrition - sleep - stress reduction

Nutrition recommendations: Too many try to starve themselves, only to find themselves quickly losing and gaining even more weight back within months. Also, if you are restricting calories, you could be neglecting your health and missing out on essential nutrients. All calories are not the same, and your body will process them differently. You have to be more detail oriented with your food planning and focus on limiting or eliminating simple carbohydrates (sugars, breads, grains) from your diet and focus on lean meats, complex carbohydrates and good fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated fats).

The food plan that will be most beneficial for your issues is a low-carb diet, not a no-​​​​carb diet. There are many diets out there, but Greenwald said the latest clinical trials suggest that America would benefit greatly from limiting sugars, refined grains and starchy vegetables. This is the poison that is making us fat. Greenwald and his team prefer a Paleo/low-carb approach.

"Paleo nutrition is very solid," Greenwald said. "The addition of an exercise and sleep program makes it just perfect for our nation's military and first responders. Insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and the obesity epidemics that are plaguing our country can be reversed. With 30% to 35% of our first responders being insulin resistant, we have an incredible opportunity to make a huge paradigm shift. We can avoid so much human misery."

Some suggested reading for diet ideas, recipes, and background on the problems with the typical modern American diet can be found in the following book:

"The Paleo Solution" by Robb Wolf

Stress: Relax and breathe deeply. Whenever you feel stressed or​ anxious, stop and take five deep breaths. Breathing is one of the most basic and natural methods to help you reduce stress. All of the same treatments to relieve insulin resistance will help you reduce stress: nutrition, fitness and sleep.

Reducing stress in our lives is a tough prescription to follow because stress is everywhere. It is how you deal with it that is the key. Reducing caffeine, nicotine and alcohol will help you nutritionally deal with stress, but so will eating natural foods high in protein and amino acids. See De-​​stressing Ideas for more tips.

Sleep helps with stress and fitness recovery: Black out your room. No LED lights from alarm clocks, fire alarms, TV's, etc. Do not watch TV or check email for at least one hour before bed. Go to bed early and get eight to nine hours of sleep optimally.

You should wake up without an alarm, feeling refreshed. This will help you in so many areas of your life. It is our natural recovery and​​ stress-reducing tool.

Also, the best training plans will not work if sleep and nutrition are neglected. Without adequate sleep, there is not enough rest for muscle-cell growth and repair. When you sleep, growth hormone is produced and protein synthesis in the muscles occurs if you eat foods with protein during the day.

For adolescents especially, sleep is critical as growth can be impaired when the quality and quantity of sleep is lacking. Lack of sleep also can affect your mood and increase hormonal stress levels, which will have a negative impact on performance.

To see whether you are insulin resistant, take your current triglycerides and divide by your HDL number. If that number is greater than 3.5, you are insulin resistant. Find out more on Health Screening scores.

If you have several of these symptoms, take a good look at your daily schedule and find out what is out of balance.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues