Insulin Resistance

What Is Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. That is, the normal response to a given amount of insulin is reduced. As a result, higher levels of insulin are needed in order for insulin to have its proper effects. The pancreas must then compensate by trying to produce more insulin. When the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas are not healthy, or when the demand is too high, the beta cells are not able to compensate for this increased demand of insulin and hence, blood sugar rises and type 2 diabetes develops.  

Insulin resistance is still poorly understood, but it is often part of a syndrome (the metabolic syndrome) which includes abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and high triglycerides.  Abdominal fat (also known as visceral fat) is metabolically active and sends cytokines and other messengers which signal the cells of the body not to respond to insulin, thus leading to insulin resistance.  People who are “apple shaped”- i.e. have abdominal fat are much more prone to insulin resistance than those who are “pear shaped.” 

Any kind of mental or physical stress will increase the production of the hormone cortisol in the body, which also increases insulin resistance.

How To Decrease Insulin Resistance

Dieting, just losing 5-7% of body weight will help to decrease insulin resistance. 

Exercise is also a key to awakening the cells to the effect of insulin, both at the time of exercise and up to 24 hours later.

Insulin Resistance Treatment

Since type 2 diabetes has two components (insulin resistance and beta cell failure) treating the insulin resistance is an integral part of treatment of diabetes.  The best medications for treating insulin resistance are metformin and thiazolidinediones, such as pioglitazone.  

Read more about Type 2 Diabetes.


Reviewed by Dr. Mariela Glandt, Nov. 2013

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