Insulin Resistance: What is it?

Insulin resistance happens when our cells can no longer effectively use our body’s naturally produced insulin. Insulin is created by beta cells in the pancreas to help transport sugar in the form of glucose to cells throughout the body. When insulin resistance occurs, it results in excess sugar in the blood.

Diabetes may result when insulin resistance is not managed properly. With this condition, you might end up having to inject insulin directly into your body because the pancreas can no longer create enough on its own. You would also need to check your blood sugar regularly by pricking your finger and using a blood glucose monitor. Many people with diabetes have to eat sugar-free options and avoid a lot of sweets.

One of the main causes of insulin resistance is obesity. The obesity epidemic in the United States has become the leading cause of death and one of the major causes of diseases such as diabetes. About one-third of US adults are considered obese and approximately 17% of children and adolescents are obese which is typically the result of a lack of physical activity, increase in fat consumption, and increase in total calorie consumption.

How to avoid insulin resistance

To combat insulin resistance causes such as obesity and physical inactivity, it’s critical to have a plan that you can follow through with. Even the smallest changes can have a large impact on your health.


Start by using substitutes for some of your favorite foods. Perhaps you love hamburgers? By switching to a 100% whole wheat bun and a leaner meat option like light ground turkey or even a veggie bean burger, you can decrease calories and fat. Many people have to do a little trial and error when creating new healthy menus, but you should find that not much is given up in taste.

Next, you should increase your daily vegetable consumption. Vegetables are a healthy option offers a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and contain a lot of fiber to keep you feeling satiated.

Senior Couple cooking Healthy Diabetic Diet

Physical Activity

To fight obesity and insulin resistance, physical activity is extremely beneficial. The good news is that you do not need to spend hours in a gym or running on a treadmill. Making small changes to your daily life, such as incorporating a daily 30-minute walk could drastically reduce obesity and improve your overall health.

Diabetes Exercise


Another one of the main causes of insulin resistance is genetics. While we sometimes cannot get away from our family tree, in this instance, eating right and exercising both go a long way to battle genetic predispositions.

Insulin Resistance: Causes

Not every person who has diabetes experiences insulin resistance. People who have type 1 diabetes rarely have insulin resistance since their beta cells are producing no insulin for their bodies to resist. On the contrary, just about everyone who has type 2 diabetes has insulin resistance.

The beta cells in your pancreas are in areas called the Islets of Langerhans. Beta cells make and then release insulin, which is the hormone that controls the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. With insulin resistance, the beta cells of your pancreas overcompensate and pump out a lot of insulin to compensate for it. When the pancreas can no longer pump out enough insulin you develop diabetes.

Since 1936, we have known the difference between those who have insulin resistance and those who don’t. What used to be referred to as insulin-sensitive and insulin-insensitive is now known as type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

No one knows for sure which comes first – insulin resistance or beta cell dysfunction. It is clear, however, that research shows insulin resistance precedes type 2 diabetes.

Unlike blood pressure or cholesterol, it is difficult to measure insulin resistance. There are only two methods that provide a true measure of insulin resistance – the euglycemic insulin clamp and the minimal model analysis. Both methods are somewhat complex in one way or another. Neither test is suitable for routine clinical use. This is probably why your doctor will likely never mention insulin resistance.

If you have type 2 diabetes, it is a safe assumption that you have insulin resistance, even if you are not able to measure or test for it. If you have many of the risk factors of the insulin resistance syndrome without having been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s also safe to assume that you have insulin resistance.

Having insulin resistance may be in your genes. The indication of a genetic basis comes from research studies of identical twins. Different rates of insulin resistance and resulting type 2 diabetes in different ethnic groups also suggest there may be a genetic basis.

Insulin resistance is also something you can acquire. Research has not yet determined if obesity causes insulin resistance, if insulin resistance causes obesity, or if they develop independently. We do know that insulin resistance is aggravated by obesity – particularly that type of obesity where your weight collects around your middle as in a pear shape. Physical inactivity and a lack of exercise also aggravate it. Even certain drugs that fight against the action of insulin are implicated as possible contributing factors. The research experts no longer think that aging alone is a factor.

Insulin Resistance: Symptoms

Obesity is a condition that is often linked to this syndrome, especially if it is concentrated in the upper body. Along with this, if obesity coincides with an inactive lifestyle and or stressful lifestyle, the risk of getting this syndrome increases dramatically.

High cholesterol and triglyceride levels can also be an indicator of Insulin Resistance. These symptoms can be linked to obesity, but can also occur in healthy-weight individuals. These levels can indicate a disorder in lipid or glucose metabolism. The levels of these compounds can be tested by your doctor during routine blood work.

Glucose intolerance is a condition that can occur alone, but when linked with the other symptoms can point to insulin resistance. Glucose intolerance is a condition in which the body can no longer use the glucose in the bloodstream effectively. This can also be measured by your doctor but may require fasting, or a special sugary drink to be consumed, and then blood glucose measurements are taken.

High blood pressure is a fourth condition associated with insulin resistance. High blood pressure is when the systolic (or “working phase of the cardiac cycle) is measured to be 140mm Hg (mercury) and the diastolic (or “resting” phase of the cardiac cycle is 90mm Hg. This means that your heart is working harder than normal to pump your blood throughout your body. This should be measured by your doctor at every visit.

Other factors that may contribute to the development of insulin resistance, but are not necessary to have for the diagnosis are smoking, certain conditions of aging, a familial history of diabetes or obesity, stress that cannot be coped with effectively, and an inactive lifestyle.

Having all four of these conditions may cause your doctor to diagnose you with Insulin Resistance. This diagnosis can only be done by a qualified physician after several indices have been identified. Always contact your physician if you think you may have this syndrome or any other health-related problems.

Woman checking blood pressure

Insulin Resistance: Treatments

Insulin resistance is a reduced sensitivity in the tissues of the body to the action of insulin, which is, importantly, to bring glucose into those tissues to be used as a major source of energy. When insulin resistance (or reduced insulin sensitivity) exists, the body will attempt to overcome this resistance by secreting even more insulin from the pancreas.

Insulin Resistance treatment is based on improving glucose control and preventing complications, especially cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet is the best treatment approach, along with proper exercise and weight loss. A low-calorie diet reduces insulin resistance levels within days, even before much weight loss has taken place. Losing ten to twenty pounds (5-10 kg) can substantially help glycemic control and a loss of 16% of body weight can improve glucose metabolism by 100%.

Bowl of fruit, weights and glucose meter