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What is Insulin Resistance?

Ziqian (Jasmine) Li. RD, CDCES, CNSC
3
September 2, 2021

You’ve probably known what diabetes is, and may have heard about insulin resistance. But how is insulin resistance linked to diabetes? This article will help you understand what insulin resistance is and how it can lead to diabetes.

To understand insulin resistance, we first have to understand insulin: What is it and what it does.

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas. When sugar increases in your blood after eating, insulin is released to help sugar enter your liver, muscle, and fat tissue. As sugar goes into your tissue, the sugar level in your blood will decrease. 

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance happens when your liver, muscle, and fat cells do not respond well to insulin. Your pancreas then releases more insulin to compensate. As long as your pancreas can make enough insulin to overcome the insensitivity of the cells, you should feel fine. However, there will come a time when the resistance is so strong that the insulin production is maxed out, and your blood sugar will rise.


Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Normally, insulin resistance by itself doesn't cause any symptoms. If you feel any of the symptoms listed below, it is likely that your insulin resistance has increased your blood sugar.

  • Lethargy (tiredness or low energy)
  • Hungry
  • Difficulty concentrating (brain fog)

Other signs that often appears in people with insulin resistance are:

  • Weight gain around the waist area
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Who is at Risk for Insulin Resistance?

People with the conditions below may be at higher risk of developing insulin resistance

  • Overweight and obesity, especially in the waist area
  • High carbohydrate diet
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Ethnicity. Increased risk if your ancestry is African, Latino, or Native American
  • Over 45 years of age
  • Long-term use of steroids
  • Sleep problems like sleep apnea

How Can You Reduce or Reverse Insulin Resistance?

If you have insulin resistance, don’t panic. It is still possible to reverse it before it develops into diabetes. Steps you can take to reduce insulin resistance include:

  • Exercise. Take a 30 minutes brisk walk (moderate activity) for 5 or more days a week. Read this article to learn more about different types of exercise and their benefits.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. If you are unsure about your healthy weight, talk to a registered dietitian to find out.
  • Eat a healthy diet. A balanced meal with healthy carbohydrates can help improve insulin resistance and achieve a healthier weight.
  • Take medications. Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help control your blood sugar.

There is no better time than now to take action to improve your insulin sensitivity. Taking small steps towards a healthy lifestyle can help reverse some of the resistance your body has developed to insulin! With time and patience, you can resolve this issue in no time.