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What is Insulin Resistance and How Do You Prevent It?

women looking at camera
Insulin keeps blood sugar, or glucose, at a healthy level. When insulin resistance occurs, there is an excess of glucose in the blood.
When resistance develops, a person is at an increased risk for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. However, you can prevent and even reverse insulin resistance if you understand the condition and its risk factors.

How does insulin resistance occur?

Insulin resistance essentially means the body’s cells in the liver, muscles, and fat aren’t able to take in glucose when the pancreas secretes insulin. When the pancreas produces more insulin to try and make the cells respond, the pancreas can’t keep up.
Over time, the pancreas may start to burn out and lose its ability to produce as much insulin as it once did.
This leads to glucose or blood sugar entering the bloodstream, and more insulin entering too.  Lots of sugar “gets stuck” in the bloodstream with nowhere to go, along with all the extra insulin being produced. The liver and muscles start to store blood sugar to compensate.
When the cells in the liver are full, the liver sends out the message to store the excess blood sugar in the fat cells. This process results in weight gain which leads to even more insulin resistance.

What are the leading causes?

Having insulin resistance can lead to the development of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. It’s important to be mindful of several contributing risk factors. While lifestyle, age, ethnicity and genetics are primary causes, the exact reason why this condition occurs is unknown.

Some include:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight (you do not have to be overweight to have insulin resistance)
  • Being of Hispanic, African-American, Native American, or Asian-American ethnicity
  • Sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity
  • A high-sugar diet
  • Chronic stress
  • High blood pressure
  • Age – over the age of 45
  • Smoking

Man holding apple insulin resistance

Other risk factors to consider

Those with insulin resistance often share other common risk factors. Not everyone with insulin resistance will have the same or all risk factors.

These include:

  • High blood sugars
  • High LDL or “bad” cholesterol
  • Low HDL or “good” cholesterol
  • Carrying more weight in mid-section
  • Sleep apnea (including poor quality sleep)
  • High blood fats (triglycerides/cholesterol)

Insulin resistance is also associated with prediabetes, diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) a condition where cysts form on a woman’s ovaries and acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition where dark patches develop on the back of the neck, groin, and armpits.

walking insulin resistanceTreatment and remission

Insulin resistance may or may not result in physical symptoms. The changes that occur from insulin resistance are invisible. You do not know it is happening.
Your doctor may recommend testing your blood sugar if you are considered high risk.
Symptoms typically don’t occur until the condition has progressed to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that insulin resistance isn’t forever. Changes in your diet, losing weight (if needed) and lifestyle changes can lead to remission.
Increasing exercise to at least 30 minutes most days of the week is a very effective first step that will also support weight loss. Eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diet also improves insulin sensitivity.
With the support of your Level2 care team, you can start making the necessary changes today.