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Understanding insulin resistance: Mechanisms and implications

14 Jun 2024

Ever thought about what keeps your body going 24×7? It’s all that sugar! Sugar is fuel to your body. It’s quite interesting how our bodies break down food into energy, but when this process is disrupted, a lot of problems can arise. Obviously, the body can’t function right without its fuel. This falls under the category of what you can call “Insulin Resistance” and that’s exactly what we’re here to talk about today. 

Let’s get to know Insulin Resistance

Glucose is the fuel that provides energy to your body. But when glucose enters your bloodstream, it can’t directly convert itself into energy. It needs the help of a hormone produced by your pancreas – Insulin. Insulin helps glucose enter your muscle, fat and liver cells so they can use it for energy or store it for later.

Now when the cells in your body don’t respond to insulin the way they should, it’s called Insulin Resistance. This means they’re unable to take up glucose from your blood or store it. It can be both temporary and chronic. 

Naturally, this will mean that your glucose levels remain elevated. As a result, the pancreas tries to overcome the problem by making more insulin which may lead to something called hyperinsulinemia.

 as your pancreas produces enough amount of insulin to fix your cells’ weak insulin response, your blood glucose can stay in a safe range. However if your cells become too resistant to insulin, it may lead to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels. Eventually, type 2 diabetes or diabetes.

What is insulin sensitivity?

Insulin sensitivity means how well your body reacts to insulin. Being insulin sensitive means your cells can very well absorb sugar from your blood using insulin. When this process works smoothly, your glucose levels stay maintained and in range. Poor insulin sensitivity is when your cells are less responsive to insulin. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

What could be the Insulin resistance causes?

While the exact cause of insulin resistance has not been discovered yet, there have been some answers to what could it be. For instance several types of genes, the age group and more. However, the major contributing Insulin resistance causes are considered having excess body fat and not doing enough physical activity. 

More Insulin resistance causes could be:

  • Consuming a carb-rich diet
  • Having excess body fat, specifically around the belly
  • Physical inactivity
  • Health issues like NAFLD 
  • Smoking
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Having gestational diabetes
  • If you’re above 45 years of age
  • Taking certain medications
  • Sleeping disorders like sleep apnea
  • If you have hormonal disorders

What are the Insulin resistance symptoms?

There’s a chance you won’t get any Insulin resistance symptoms if your pancreas increases insulin production every time you have insulin resistance. This keeps your sugar levels in a safe and healthy range.

But, there’s a probability that your insulin resistance may worsen over time and your insulin-producing cells may wear out. Due to this your pancreas may no longer be able to make enough insulin in response to the resistance. This eventually leads to high glucose levels and also shows Insulin resistance symptoms.

But a lot of times, symptoms are not visible, which is why, especially in the case of insulin resistance, it is recommended to get a blood test.

Here are some Insulin resistance symptoms:

  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Increased hunger and thrust
  • A blurry vision
  • Having infections
  • Experiencing headaches
  • Having cuts and sores that heal slow

Experiencing insulin resistance for a long can also lead to prediabetes (when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to fall under the diabetic range). Prediabetes can be tricky because you may have it for years and still have no clue about it. It stays invisible until it finally progresses into type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetic people may experience these Insulin resistance symptoms:

  • Skin tags
  • Dark armpit skin or on your neck
  • Eye problems leading to diabetes-related retinopathy

In case you see any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible 

What is the Insulin Resistance treatment?

All the factors that induce insulin resistance in your body cannot be treated such as age-related factors, genetic factors etc. Therefore, making some lifestyle changes can help because those are the factors in your control. Following are the things you can try for insulin resistance treatment:

  • Healthy diet
    Try eliminating unhealthy foods, processed foods and carbohydrate-rich foods from your diet. These can make your insulin resistance worse and create more complications. Instead, opt for healthy options such as lean proteins, grains, fruits and veggies, fish etc. If needed, you can also take the help of a nutritionist to develop a diet suitable to your body.
  • Exercising
    When you exercise regularly, it improves your glucose energy usage. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly. You can also try activities like swimming, cycling or running to keep yourself active.
  • Weight loss
    Keeping your weight in check also plays a major role in your insulin resistance. Losing extra weight can help treat insulin resistance, it can also reduce the onset of type 2 diabetes. 

Through these lifestyle modifications, you may see changes like:

  • Better insulin sensitivity (low insulin resistance)
  • The blood pressure decreases
  • Good cholesterol levels increase
  • Bad cholesterol levels decrease
  • Blood glucose levels lower down

Fixing insulin resistance may look like a daunting task but with compassion and determination, you can overcome it. By opting for lifestyle modifications like eating healthy, staying active etc, you can make a lot of difference in your health.

Always look on the positive side. Instead of wondering what could go wrong, ask yourself “What if things go right?” and then wait for the change to happen. In the end, it will be worth all the effort.

About the Author

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Devina Aswal
MBBS, DDM, FCR, CIC

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