Insulin is produced by the pancreas and moves sugar out of the blood and into the body's cells. Insulin resistance occurs when blood sugar levels are constantly high.
This means approximately 422 million people were living with diabetes in 2014. These astounding statistics do not take into account the additional number of people with prediabetes or insulin resistance.
Contents of this article:
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance leads to a condition known as prediabetes, which means that a person's blood sugar level is high, but not high enough to qualify as diabetes.
Having insulin resistance is a warning that, without intervention and effective lifestyle changes, someone with prediabetes may go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
Sugar (glucose) is the body's main source of food energy. People obtain it from the food they eat. After food is broken down in the body, the sugar enters the bloodstream.
In order to use it as energy, the body's cells need to "pick up" the sugar. Insulin, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps this happen by moving the sugar out of the blood and enables it to enter the body's cells.
Insulin maintains blood sugar levels, ensuring they are not too high or too low. However, when blood sugar levels are persistently high, the body's cells stop responding to insulin as effectively. This is known as insulin resistance.
When insulin resistance occurs, sugar is unable to enter the cells as successfully, and too much remains in the bloodstream. Higher levels of sugar in the blood place a demand on the pancreas to secrete more insulin.
Over time, the pancreas is unable to meet that demand, and too much sugar builds up in the bloodstream, leading to prediabetes and diabetes.
Insulin resistance and weight
Insulin resistance and weight have a complicated relationship. Some doctors believe that being overweight can cause insulin resistance.
Carrying extra weight around the waist is a particular danger for this reason. Research has shown that belly fat produces hormones and other chemicals that can cause health complications, such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Belly fat also contributes to the development of inflammation in the body. Over time, chronic and widespread inflammation also increases the risk for developing many of the same health complications.
Losing weight with insulin resistance
Studies suggest that successfully losing weight may help to reduce the risk of developing prediabetes or diabetes.
Research has found that a weight loss of only 5-7 percent is enough to increase insulin sensitivity. For someone who weighs 150 pounds, that is only a loss of around 8 pounds.
Successfully losing and maintaining that weight loss can help to reduce the risk of developing prediabetes or diabetes. It can also prevent the serious complications associated with the disease.
Sensible and life-long lifestyle changes are needed to produce this effect. It is not enough to simply "crash diet" to lose the weight.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Diabetes Prevention Program focuses on long-term health and lifestyle changes. The year-long program is based on research showing that undertaking a structured lifestyle change program can reduce the risk of diabetes by more than 50 percent.
The CDC program emphasizes eating more healthful foods and participating in at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week, to lose weight and build healthful habits.
Reversing insulin resistance
In addition to weight loss, there are a few other things that can be done to help reverse insulin resistance.
Developing healthful eating habits is crucial for both weight loss and to stop insulin resistance. Choosing healthful foods and controlling portion size are two of the most important healthful eating habits.
The DASH eating plan, developed by the National Institutes of Health, has been shown to work. This stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
People following this diet eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and beans. It encourages people to avoid empty carbohydrates and sugars, and increase their intake of heart healthy proteins.
Regular use of tobacco products can increase the risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. Finding a way to quit smoking is essential for someone diagnosed with insulin resistance.
A doctor can help to find resources and strategies to make quitting easier.
Regular activity of 30 minutes, 5 days a week, is all that is needed to improve insulin resistance. For best results, people should combine cardiovascular training with muscle building exercises and stretching.
It is important for everyone to talk to a doctor before beginning any new exercise plan, especially if it has been a while since they were physically active.
Vitamin D has been linked to blood sugar levels, but a healthcare professional should be consulted before taking supplements.
Some research has shown a link between a person's vitamin D level and their ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels. There are no specific recommendations about taking vitamin D supplements to prevent diabetes or prediabetes.
The Institute of Medicine suggest that people up to 70 years old can take up to 600 international units each day. People should ask their doctor about whether vitamin D supplementation is appropriate.
Too little sleep is known to increase a person's risk for developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Getting plenty of sleep each day can help to regulate the hormones associated with feeling hungry, and to reduce the risk of glucose metabolism dysfunction.
Sometimes, medication may be needed to help improve insulin sensitivity, especially when dietary and lifestyle changes have not been effective.
In the Diabetes Prevention Program, a medication known as metformin was shown to be most effective at reducing insulin resistance. This was particularly the case in people younger than 60 years of age and those who had other risk factors. There are further medication options, although they may not be as effective, or may carry the risk of side effects.
A diagnosis of insulin resistance does not automatically mean that a person has diabetes. However, such a diagnosis should be taken seriously. Without intervention, it is likely that continued sugar and metabolic dysfunction will lead to prediabetes and, eventually, diabetes.