Diabetes And Diagnosis

Understanding Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:45 am

Insulin resistance and diabetes are tightly intertwined. Insulin is a hormone that helps people use glucose as energy. When cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, there can be too little insulin to help glucose enter cells. This can cause high blood sugar levels and sometimes other symptoms such as excessive thirst, weight loss and blurred vision.

Carbohydrates, sugars and starches found in many foods are the primary sources of fuel for your body. Your digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose, or sugar, which is then released into your bloodstream. And with the help of insulin, glucose can absorb into the cells of your body to be used for energy or storage. But if you have insulin resistance, your cells will have trouble absorbing this glucose, and your body will require more insulin to function properly.

What is the Insulin Resistance?

There is a link between pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance means your body cannot respond to the amount of the hormone insulin it is producing. Insulin is made by your pancreas, one of your body’s organs. It helps protect your body from getting too much sugar (glucose). Glucose gives you energy. However, too much sugar is harmful to your health.

It is possible to overcome insulin resistance. But before you can deal with this problem, you must understand what insulin is, and how insulin affects control of blood glucose.

How does Insulin Help Regulate Blood Sugar?

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas, and it plays an important role in metabolism. Your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream after you eat a meal. Insulin allows sugar in your bloodstream to enter muscles, cells, and fat.

This hormone is also important because it stops sugar from accumulating in your bloodstream. The more you eat, the more insulin your body releases to regulate your blood sugar and keep it within a healthy range. Although the production and release of insulin is a natural metabolic response after eating, some people don’t use insulin properly.

To receive energy, your cells, fat, and muscles must be able to absorb the glucose in your bloodstream. If your body doesn’t respond well to insulin, glucose can build up in your blood and raise your blood sugar level. To help you maintain a normal blood sugar level, your pancreas compensates for this resistance by releasing more insulin.

The effects of insulin resistance on the body vary from person to person. Sometimes, the increased production of insulin by the pancreas is enough to overcome insulin resistance and normalize blood sugar levels. But other times, the pancreas cannot produce sufficient amounts of insulin to overcome the resistance. This triggers high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and other health problems.

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Most people don’t realize they have insulin resistance until they have a blood test. Everyone has high blood sugar levels from time to time. However, when your body’s sugar level is consistently high, you may notice you are more thirsty, urinate more, are more tired, have blurred vision, and have some tingling at the bottom of your feet.

Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Although insulin resistance can exist on its own without another diagnosis, it relates to certain health conditions, too. 

Prediabetes

If your pancreas struggles to produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in your body, your blood sugar level can become mildly elevated and you may develop prediabetes. This means your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.

This condition, which affects about 84.1 million people, is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes also is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, eye problems, neuropathy (nerve damage), and kidney disease.

Type 2 Diabetes

With prediabetes, your pancreas works overtime to secrete enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar. But if your pancreas can’t keep up with the demand, insulin resistance can progress from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. Most people diagnosed with prediabetes end up with type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is also closely related to insulin resistance. Interestingly, metabolic syndrome isn’t a condition but a collection of metabolic risk factors that can set the stage for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Insulin resistance is included among these risk factors, along with high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high triglycerides (fat storage is often related to lifestyle factors), and large waist circumference.

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What Causes Insulin Resistance?

Although the exact cause of insulin resistance is unknown, certain factors have been linked to this condition. These include;

  • Obesity (defined as having a certain body mass index, or BMI)
  • A sedentary (not active) lifestyle
  • Eating a high-calorie, high-sugar diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Chronic stress
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or Cushing’s disease
  • With a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • With a personal history of gestational diabetes
  • Over the age of 45
  • Who are Hispanic, African-American, Native American, or Asian-American
  • With a waist circumference larger than 40 inches (men) or larger than 35 inches (women)
  • With a history of high blood pressure (hypertension) or high triglycerides

The risk factors for insulin resistance are like the risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. But lifestyle changes can help your body use insulin properly, which can reduce your risk of diabetes.

Certain risk factors are associated with insulin resistance, including

  • Hormones
  • Taking high doses of steroid
  • Some medicines
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Smoking

How is Insulin Resistance Diagnosed?

Although insulin resistance rarely has symptoms, your doctor may recommend testing your blood sugar if you have risk factors for this condition, such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, or high blood pressure. This involves a series of tests, which are the same for diagnosing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

  • Hemoglobin A1C Test This blood test measures your average blood glucose level over two to three months. This test can determine your blood sugar level, and help your doctor assess how well you’re managing diabetes.
  • Fasting Blood Sugar Test, you will not consume food or liquids for at least ten hours, and then your lab technician will draw blood to measure your blood sugar level after fasting. If you have elevated blood sugar, you’ll return a few days later to repeat the test. A repeated high level can show either prediabetes or diabetes. 
  • Glucose Tolerance Testing (OGTT) Your laboratory measures your blood glucose level, gives you a sugary liquid to drink, and then repeats the test two hours after you drink the liquid.

Should I test for insulin resistance?

You should be tested for insulin resistance if you’re showing signs of having a high blood sugar level. Again, there’s no specific test to confirm insulin resistance. But if you’re experiencing fatigue, brain fog, or increased hunger, see your doctor. Getting tested may reveal elevated blood sugar or prediabetes. With an early diagnosis, you can take steps to help reverse the condition and avoid full-blown type 2 diabetes.

Can the Insulin Resistance be Prevented or Avoided?

You cannot prevent or avoid risk factors, such as race, age, and a family medical history. You can take steps to reduce your insulin resistance by losing weight (even 10% can make a difference), exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. Choose healthy carbohydrates. For example, eat whole grain bread instead of white bread, drink water instead of soda, and reduce your intake of sugary foods.

If you have or have had gestational diabetes, insulin resistance typically goes away after you give birth. However, you are at greater risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when you are older. That should be a warning to change your diet and lifestyle early so that you can delay it for as long as possible.

Insulin Resistance Treatment

Diet, weight loss, and exercise can improve insulin resistance. However, most people need medicine as well. Your doctor will prescribe a medicine that works best for your health and lifestyle needs. If your insulin resistance leads to uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, you may need insulin (given through a pump or daily injection).

Living with insulin resistance requires lifestyle changes, as well as regular use of prescription medicine. Be more careful in making meal and snack choices, reading labels, and maintaining a lower weight. You also will have to commit to regular exercise and take your medicines as prescribed.

Conclusion

Having insulin resistance may increase the risk of prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. But changing your diet and lifestyle can help reverse this health state.

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