Understanding Insulin Resistance: A Key Factor in Diabetes Management
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
Insulin resistance is one of the first indicators that your body cannot manage the circulating blood glucose levels. Left unaddressed, insulin resistance can progress to prediabetes, which may eventually lead to diabetes.
Understanding the concept of insulin resistance doesn’t only help you manage diabetes but also prevent it or at least delay its onset.
In this article, we’ll have an in-depth look at insulin resistance, its causes, and how you can use this knowledge to handle diabetes before and after it occurs.
Insulin resistance is when the cells in your muscles and liver fail to respond to the insulin in the bloodstream.
Insulin is a hormone secreted from the pancreas when you ingest food. Once you eat, your body releases this insulin to break down your food into glucose, your body’s fuel source.
However, for that glucose to be used as energy or stored later, the cells must uptake this glucose. Without insulin, this process isn’t possible.
Still, even with insulin in the bloodstream, your cells may show a reduced sensitivity to that insulin, reducing glucose uptake even with insulin present. This condition is known as insulin resistance.
No, it’s not. Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic increase of the glucose levels in the bloodstream beyond the normal levels. When the cause of this increase is reduced or nonexistent insulin production, that’s type 1 diabetes. When the reason is decreased insulin sensitivity, plus impaired insulin production, that’s type 2 diabetes.
Anyone can develop insulin resistance, whether for a short period or chronically. However, that doesn’t mean that every case of insulin resistance can be categorized as diabetes. Yet, most cases of untreated insulin resistance will progress to diabetes type 2.
In other words, all diabetes type 2 patients have insulin resistance, but not all patients who have insulin resistance have diabetes type 2.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of insulin resistance is yet to be determined by science. That’s why there’s no clear marker on one behavior to avoid if you want to prevent type 2 diabetes.
However, some common reasons are found among most people with insulin resistance. These include:
Being overweight or obese is one of the most common risk factors for insulin resistance, especially if excess fat, also called visceral fat, is present in the abdomen around the organs.
Excessive fat tissue typically causes inflammation and interferes with insulin signalling. Abdominal fat, in particular, releases proteins and hormones that reduce your sensitivity to insulin.
A sedentary lifestyle is never good for your health. Exercise helps regulate blood sugar uptake because the constant contraction of muscles readily helps absorb glucose without needing insulin.
That doesn’t mean everyone who doesn’t exercise will have insulin sensitivity, but it’s another risk factor.
While science cannot pinpoint the specific genes yet, it’s suggested that some family history increases the risk of insulin resistance.
Unfortunately, there’s not much a person can do if they’re genetically at risk, except minding and reducing the chance of other risk factors on this list.
Aging is a natural cause of most diseases. As we grow older, our muscles become smaller and become less sensitive to insulin.
When paired with reduced physical activity and exercise, the risk of insulin resistance in old age is even higher.
Whether it’s physical or mental, chronic stress can wreak havoc on all your systems. Chronic stress can release counter-regulatory hormones, like cortisol, that increase blood sugar levels.
With time, this will require more and more insulin secretion by the pancreas.
Stress during pregnancy is also a leading factor for gestational diabetes.
Certain medications like steroids, statins, and anti-seizure medicines can affect your insulin sensitivity as a side effect.
There are a few symptoms of insulin resistance syndrome that can help you identify the condition; they include:
All these symptoms can signal that something is wrong, but the definitive answer can only be acquired by testing. If you want to know for sure, the following blood tests can help you:
Understanding insulin resistance can help you with your type 2 diabetes because it can be managed mainly by lifestyle modifications, followed by medications, and sometimes, by administering insulin.
As such, knowing about insulin resistance will help you through two phases; the first is to prevent diabetes from happening to begin with, and the second is to reduce the effects of diabetes on your life if you get diagnosed.
Since you’re already aware of diabetes-predisposing factors, you should do your best to avoid or reduce them as much as possible. You can do this if you:
Being physically active is arguably the most effective way to battle type 2 diabetes (and many other diseases).
Regular exercise will improve your physical strength, mental health, blood circulation, and heart and lung health and improve countless quality of life.
Being physically active will also reduce the chances of gaining excess weight, a major contributor to insulin sensitivity.
A healthy lifestyle involves various factors that help you become mentally happy and physically capable.
While life is much faster now than before, you can still implement a few strategies in your day to reduce stress and potentially keep physical manifestations like insulin resistance at bay.
Once you start noticing the symptoms mentioned earlier, doing a blood test for insulin resistance is wise. The longer you leave the condition unchecked, the harder it’ll be to deal with.
If you discover and deal with the problem early, you may even stop it from progressing into type 2 diabetes.
Knowing the potential risk factors can also help in early identification. For example, if you have a sibling who’s overweight and a diabetes patient, these are warning signs that you’re at high risk of developing diabetes.
An insulin resistance diet is one of the most effective ways to handle insulin resistance. These foods are highly nutritious but won’t raise blood sugar levels, helping you manage your diabetes.
While it’s not scientifically proven that an insulin resistance diet will directly increase your insulin sensitivity, it can indirectly do so when paired with other ways of increasing insulin sensitivity.
You probably can’t control stressful situations, but you can control how this stress affects your life to reduce its effect to the minimum.
As soon as you start detecting a problem, please keep an eye on the progress of this problem. If you think or know that you have insulin resistance, checking your blood sugar levels daily will give you an insight into how the condition progresses.
This can even help you detect if your steps to solve the problem are working.
As mentioned earlier, many insulin resistance cases are temporary and can be handled. You may have warning signs of a future diabetes diagnosis, but you can take some steps to slow down its development or even eliminate it altogether.
You’ve probably already heard about glucometers. These devices can accurately measure your blood sugar levels and can be used conveniently at home.
The process is as simple as it gets; you’ll need a small blood drop, which you can acquire using an automatic lancet to prick your finger.
You then apply that drop of blood on the glucometer’s strip, and it’ll give you an accurate result.
A continuous glucose monitor consists of three parts: the sensor, the transmitter, and the external display.
The sensor is placed under the skin and remains there for a duration determined by the sensor type. You have to change it every 7-14 days if it's a disposable sensor. If it’s an implantable sensor, you can keep it there for a few months until it’s time to change its position.
A CGM is often more convenient than a glucometer because it provides results automatically. Plus, you won’t have to prick your finger daily to check the blood sugar levels.
However, remember that CGMs measure the insulin in the intra-cellular fluid, not the blood. While the results are mostly the same, CGM users must check their glucose levels occasionally with regular glucometers to calibrate the CGM and confirm the results.
Yes, diabetes can cause high blood pressure. The high blood sugar damages the blood vessels, making them stiffer and narrower, which increases their blood pressure.
Understanding insulin resistance is one of the most critical factors in diabetes management. If you don’t have diabetes, you can reduce your risk factors by eating healthy and being active.
If you are already showing signs of insulin resistance, you should quickly confirm whether you have reduced sensitivity to insulin and take some steps to reverse its progression.
Finally, if you already have diabetes, you should probably try an insulin resistance diet to help you lose weight and improve your insulin sensitivity. You should also exercise regularly to maximize your chances of keeping your blood sugar levels within normal ranges.
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