Whether you have a longstanding family history of type 2 diabetes or you’ve been told to watch your blood sugar levels, you’ve probably come across the term insulin resistance. But before we delve deep into what insulin resistance is, and its causes and treatments, it’s important to fully understand what the hormone does.
Insulin is made in the pancreas and used to help the body break down glucose. It’s a vital hormone—you can’t survive without it—that regulates blood sugar (glucose) in the body. But, in types of diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body doesn’t respond properly and/or doesn’t make enough of the insulin it does produce (type 2 diabetes).
While there are many types of diabetes (yes, more than just two), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicates that insulin is a key player in developing type 2 diabetes. So insulin resistance is more closely associated with that type, and with prediabetes.
What is insulin resistance?
“Insulin resistance is characterized by insufficient insulin concentration in the circulation to achieve the expected glucose response,” explains Marcelo Bendix, M.D., endocrinologist and DigiVibe Medical Advisor. “Patients with insulin resistance have supranormal levels of insulin in their system and still cannot utilize the glucose in the blood, resulting and hyperglycemia or elevated blood glucose.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) puts it a bit more plainly: Insulin resistance happens when someone has built up a tolerance to insulin, making the hormone less effective. As a result, more insulin is needed to persuade fat and muscle cells to take up glucose and the liver to continue to store it.
Because you can’t feel insulin resistance, there aren’t symptoms, per say—you’ll need to visit your doctor for a diagnosis. But, as insulin resistance is usually an indicator of other conditions like prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, there are symptoms and signs to watch out for, like:
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Blurry vision
- Increased urination
- Increased hunger
What causes insulin resistance?
According to Dr. Bendix, the number one cause of insulin resistance is obesity. “But stress, some medications, pregnancy, and more rare conditions can lead to insulin resistance,” he says. And, insulin resistance itself is not associated with symptoms, but rather is usually a component of certain conditions. “Insulin resistance is a feature of certain diseases [and metabolic syndromes] including type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, PCOS, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” explains Jacquelin Lonier, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.
How is insulin resistance diagnosed?
“There is no specific test for insulin resistance in the clinical setting,” explains Dr. Lonier. “People with the above diseases or the ‘metabolic syndrome’ are presumed to have some degree of insulin resistance. There are methods for quantifying insulin resistance that are only used in the research setting.”
Can insulin resistance be reversed?
The answer to this isn’t as cut and dry as one would hope. It is possible to become more sensitive to insulin, but insulin resistance can really only be reversed in those who are overweight or obese. “Insulin resistance in someone who is overweight or obese can be reversed with weight loss,” says Dr. Lonier. She also says there is a genetic component, too. Meanwhile, Dr. Bendix agrees, stating that “insulin resistance is usually secondary to obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, [and] poor eating habits.” Though he does say insulin resistance can occur due to “some medications such as steroids and psychotropics use for psychiatric disorders.” If you believe one of these medications might be causing insulin resistance, it’s best to discuss it with your medical team before stopping the use of any medications.
So for the most part, your best bet to combat insulin resistance is to strive to maintain a normal weight and lead an active lifestyle.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io