Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body's cells do not respond normally to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels by allowing the body's cells to use glucose (sugar) for energy. In individuals with insulin resistance, the cells do not respond to insulin as effectively, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is a risk factor for several serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is also associated with obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and a diet high in refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats.
The exact mechanisms behind insulin resistance are not fully understood, but it is thought to involve a complex interaction between genetics and lifestyle factors. Inflammation and oxidative stress have been implicated in the development of insulin resistance, as has an overconsumption of calories and an increase in fat accumulation, particularly in the abdominal area.
The diagnosis of insulin resistance is usually made based on blood tests that measure blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as the results of a glucose tolerance test. However, in many cases, insulin resistance may go undiagnosed until complications, such as type 2 diabetes, develop.
Treatment for insulin resistance typically involves lifestyle changes, such as regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and weight loss. In some cases, medications may also be prescribed to help manage blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.
Lifestyle changes that may help improve insulin sensitivity include: Regular physical activity: Exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and help prevent insulin resistance. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
Healthy diet: A diet that is high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats may help improve insulin sensitivity. Weight loss: Carrying excess weight, particularly in the abdominal area, can increase the risk of insulin resistance. Losing weight can help improve insulin sensitivity and lower the risk of related health conditions. Stress management: Chronic stress has been linked to insulin resistance and should be managed through techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and exercise.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Can insulin resistance lead to gestational diabetes? A: Yes, insulin resistance can get worse during pregnancy, leading to gestational diabetes.
Q: Can insulin resistance lead to type 2 diabetes? A: Yes, if left untreated, insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.
Q: What does insulin do? A: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels.
Q: How does insulin resistance present? A: Some people with insulin resistance may not show symptoms, while others may have weight gain or develop thicker or darker areas of the neck (Acanthosis Nigricans) or skin tags.
Q: What are the symptoms and signs of insulin resistance? A: Symptoms and signs of insulin resistance include Acanthosis, weight gain, upper body weight gain, and sugar cravings.
Q: How do you know if you are insulin resistant? A: You can use an insulin resistance calculator to determine your risk.
Q: How does insulin resistance affect a person? A: Insulin resistance can lead to weight gain, increased risk of diabetes, and increased intra-abdominal fat which increases inflammation and can result in health problems such as cardiovascular disease and various types of cancer.
Q: Can insulin resistance explain cravings for starchy foods? A: Yes, cravings for starchy foods can be due to insulin resistance. High insulin levels can keep fat stores in storage mode, leading to cravings for starchy food when the body needs to access its fat stores.
Q: Can insulin resistance be reversed? A: Yes, insulin resistance is a reversible and treatable condition.
Q: Can insulin resistance lead to weight gain? A: Yes, insulin resistance can lead to weight gain because insulin is an anabolic hormone.
Q: How common is insulin resistance? A: Insulin resistance is very common, with up to 70% of the US population having some degree of insulin resistance, and a third of the adult population in the US having metabolic syndrome or prediabetes, and 11% having type 2 diabetes.
Q: Did the failed and withdrawn food pyramid lead to increased insulin resistance? A: Yes, the failed and withdrawn food pyramid that recommended low-fat foods with a focus on high-starch grains resulted in increased insulin resistance.
Q: How does insulin resistance lead to weight gain? A: Insulin resistance leads to weight gain because insulin helps cells store sugar as fat. People with insulin resistance have to produce more and more insulin, leading to overproduction of insulin and making it harder for the body to burn fat.
Q: What is metabolic starvation and why does it lead to muscle wasting in obese people? A: Metabolic starvation occurs when high insulin levels prevent the body from accessing its fat stores, leading to increased hunger and cravings. If a person does not respond to their hunger and skips a meal, the only other way the body can get energy between meals is to burn muscle as the fat is locked away and all the sugar is stored as fat.
Q: How does the increased insulin levels in insulin resistance lead to weight gain? A: Increased insulin levels in insulin resistance cause weight gain because insulin regulates the amount of blood sugar allowed into cells. Insulin helps muscles, fat, and liver cells store sugar that can be released when needed, but high insulin levels prevent the body from accessing its fat stores, leading to weight gain.
Insulin resistance calculator
If you want to know whether you might be insulin resistant, use this free online checklist called insulin resistance calculator
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). (2019, November 21). Insulin Resistance. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/insulin-resistance
- American Heart Association. (2020, June 16). Insulin Resistance and Pre-Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/pre-diabetes/insulin-resistance-and-pre-diabetes
- American Diabetes Association. (2021, June 2). Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/pre-diabetes/what-is-insulin-resistance
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