What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin Resistance
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What is insulin resistance? 

Insulin resistance is an abnormal cellular response to insulin.

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach.

Carbohydrates that are eaten are broken down into glucose in the digestive tract. Glucose then enters the bloodstream.

The pancreas will release insulin when the blood sugar rises.With the help of insulin, cells throughout the body absorb glucose and use it for energy.

What happens when insulin resistance occurs?

Increasing levels of insulin are needed to lower the glucose levels. When insulin resistance occurs blood sugar levels rise. Excess glucose will build up in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputations.

What causes insulin resistance?

The cause of insulin resistance is unknown.

There are several known risk factors.

Why is insulin resistance important?

Insulin resistance increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Factors that increase the risk of insulin resistance

  • Family history. Insulin resistance and diabetes in a relative will increase your risk of developing insulin resistance.
  • If you had diabetes when you were pregnant, you are more likely to develop insulin resistance.
  • Medical conditions such as high blood pressure and elevated triglyceride level will increase your risk of insulin resistance.
  • Obesity increases your risk of insulin resistance.
  • A waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women is associated with increased risk of insulin resistance.

Excess weight and insulin resistance

Excess weight will increase the risk of insulin resistance. Studies have shown that belly fat produces hormones that increase the risk of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Belly fat is also thought to be associated with inflammation. Over time, this inflammation can lead to insulin resistance

Physical inactivity and insulin resistance

Exercising increases muscles sensitivity to insulin. Muscles burn glucose which will lower the blood sugar level.

Older age and insulin resistance

As we age with are at increased risk for insulin resistance.

Sleep loss and insulin resistance

Loss of sleep increases the risk of insulin resistance, especially if sleep apnea is present.

Studies show that untreated sleep problems such as sleep apnea can increase the risk of obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

Night shift workers may also be at increased risk for insulin resistance.

Processed foods and insulin resistance

Foods that are highly processed such as white bread and pasta are easily broken down in the intestines, this will cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This spike of insulin places extra stress on the pancreas as the pancreas produces insulin.

If you are going to eat processed food try to combine it with protein or healthy fats which will lower the spike of insulin. This will reduce stress on the pancreas.

Eating food high in fiber will also decrease insulin resistance.

Beans are an excellent source of fiber and have a low glycemic index, which means they raise blood sugar levels slowly. Remember canned beans are higher in salt.

increase fruit and vegetable servings.

Exercise and insulin resistance

Muscle uses more glucose than other tissue in the body.

Regular exercise can help prevent diabetes by lowering your blood sugar and reducing weight.

participate in activities that reduce stress

Can supplements reduce the risk of insulin resistance?

Vitamin D and insulin resistance

Vitamin D studies show an association between healthy blood glucose levels and vitaminD. There are no special recommendations have been made about vitamin D levels or supplements for people with prediabetes.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) which recommends supplementation levels based on current science provides the following guidelines,

  • People ages 1 to 70 years may require 600 International Units (IUs).
  • People ages 71 and older may require as much as 800 IUs.
  • No more than 4,000 IUs of vitamin D per day as there is a risk of toxicity.

Berberine and insulin resistance

According to WebMD, “Berberine seems to slightly reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Also, some early research suggests that taking 500 mg of berberine 2-3 times daily for up to 3 months might control blood sugar as effectively as” some medications that are used to treat diabetes ( metformin).

Magnesium and insulin resistance

“Eating a diet with more magnesium is linked with a reduced risk of developing diabetes in adults and overweight children. Research on the effects of magnesium for people with existing type 2 diabetes shows conflicting results. In people with type 1 diabetes, magnesium might slow the development of nerve problems caused by diabetes.”

Prevention of prediabetes

Maintain a healthy weight

Exercise at least 150 minutes a week

Avoid processed foods

Make an effort to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night

Diagnosis of insulin resistance

Blood tests are usually used to determine blood sugar level.

Random plasma glucose test

This test measures blood glucose a single point in time without fasting.

Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test

This test measures glucose at a single point in time. it is usually given in the morning and requires a fast.

A1C test

The A 1C test orHbA1C averages your blood glucose over the last 3 months. Fasting is not required for this test.

Euglycemic clamp

Euglycemic clamp is a test that s used in research, it is too costly and not practical to use in a medical office.  Infusion of both insulin and glucose is given, then serial measurements are performed.

Physical examination

Dark patches may develop on the skin usually in the neck area which is referred to as acanthosis nigricans.

What do you think of insulin resistance?

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About Sharon T McLaughlin MD FACS 170 Articles

I am a physician who is interested in providing health information and health tips so that we may live healthy lives.


  1. Very interesting article. I have a great number of friends who have diabetes and I often wonder if it has a lot to do with diet. It seems there may have been less of this before processed foods were introduced to our diet on a regular basis. I try not to eat them myself.

    Enjoy the journey!

  2. Hi Dr. Sharon,

    Good write up about insulin resistance as related to our health, particularly with it’s role in causing diabetes. Diabetes is a very serious ailment and aging increases its dangers.

    Interesting how lifestyle choices like, regular exercise, healthy diet and adequate sleep, could help protect us from insulin resistance. Good information, thank you. Edward

  3. Hi, Wonderful share about insulin resistance. Today small age people also getting diabetes. Valid points about prevention. Eating too much without hunger also one of the main cause of diabetes. Thanks for sharing

  4. I’m not sure when I developed Diabetes Type II because I didn’t have any obvious symptoms. I’d always been slim but did put on some weight just before I was diagnosed in my early 50’s (my belly showed it most). At the same time I found out that my triglycerides levels were high and my Vitamin D levels low.

    I was totally uneducated about Diabetes and insulin resistance, thinking that it was only related to actual sugar consumption and I’d never had a sweet tooth. I now take meds and stick to a low carb diet. I now know that if I’d been more careful of the type of carbs ate the diabetes might not have developed.

    This article is valuable. It definitely pays to be informed.

  5. My family has a history of diabetes. Starting with my grandpa and grandma and then my dad.

    I better watch out. Thanks for sharing. Take Care

  6. Hi Dr. Sharon,

    I have been exercising consistently all my life although I did have a bit too much sugar in my diet in the past. Even though my blood sugar has been within normal range, the A1C is still a bit high, but my other markers are okay. I eat mostly fresh fruit and veges (not processed), but it is most healthy when I eat at home – all organic and fresh. When I eat out, several times each week, I never know how good the quality is or what additives they have used to make the food taste good. It’s an ongoing effort to eat healthy and enjoy life.

    Dr. Erica

  7. That was really interesting post explaining what diabetes is for the novice people like me. The detailed explanation on what is insulin and how our body need to react is given and the cases of abnormal reaction are explained clearly.

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