insulin resistance in diabetics

What Is Insulin Resistance?

If you have diabetes you're probably familiar with the term "insulin resistance."

Even if you don't have it, it's likely something your doctor has talked about, and it's certainly something everyone with diabetes should be aware of.

In this post we're going to discuss what it is, what causes it, and the effect that it can have on your body.

Lets start with the basics.

What Is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas.

Its job is to "unlock" your cells and shuttle sugar from the bloodstream into the cell, where it can be used as energy.

So What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is when your cells stop responding to insulin, and no longer open up to allow sugar to enter the cell.

It's important to note that this is not an all-or-nothing affair - instead insulin resistance happens on a spectrum.

One individual might have mild insulin resistance, meaning that the cells do open and accept sugar, just not as much as they would in a healthy person without insulin resistance.

Another individual might have severe insulin resistance, which in most cases will require the use of medications to manage.

No amount of insulin resistance is good, but the greater degree of insulin resistance a person has, the more at-risk they are of developing complications.

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

While insulin resistance may not be "caused" by one particular thing, there are a number of factors that will put you at increased risk of developing it, including:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Excess belly fat
  • Inactivity or sedentary lifestyle
  • A family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep issues like sleep apnea

What Are The Effects Of Insulin Resistance?

The direct result of insulin resistance is that sugar is unable to enter your cells and "piles up" in your bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to rise.

If left untreated, elevated blood sugar levels can lead to neuropathy, retinopathy (blindness), and even amputations.

How Is Insulin Resistance Treated?

Traditionally insulin resistance is managed via the use of medications.

Metformin is often used to reduce insulin resistance in the cell, allowing for more sugar to enter and be burned as fuel for the cell's activities.

Exogenous insulin injections can also be used as a way to "break through" the insulin resistance of the cell.

But brute force method doesn't come without drawbacks. Exposing the cell to increasing levels of insulin can actually exacerbate insulin resistance and cause it to get even worse. This often leads to a negative cycle where increasing levels of insulin are required to combat increasing levels of insulin resistance.

Can Insulin Resistance Be Reversed?

Fortunately, it seems the answer is YES.

Regular exercise, alongside a healthy diet and getting to a healthy weight can all contribute to reduced insulin resistance.

Depending on your particular condition, how long you've had insulin resistance, and to what degree, it may or may not be possible to fully reverse your insulin resistance, but for most people you can improve your condition, regardless of how much damage has already been done.

Final Thoughts

Insulin resistance is a challenging issue that many with people living with diabetes struggle with every day.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be permanent.

Through combinations of diet and exercise it is possible to improve the condition and in some cases even reverse it entirely.

If you're wondering what kind of diet is great for those with diabetes, you can check out this blog post on effective diets for diabetes where we discuss the latest science in diabetes remission and what science says about the types of foods you should eat.

Back to blog