Insulin resistance is a complex condition in which your body does not respond as it should to insulin, a hormone your pancreas makes that’s essential for regulating blood sugar levels. Several genetic and lifestyle factors can contribute to insulin resistance. It happens when muscle, fat, and liver cells don’t respond to insulin as they should. Insulin resistance can be temporary or chronic and is treatable in some cases.
Under normal circumstances, insulin functions in the following steps:
- Your body breaks down the food you eat into glucose (sugar), which is your body’s main source of energy.
- Glucose enters your bloodstream, which signals your pancreas to release insulin.
- Insulin helps glucose in your blood enter your muscle, fat and liver cells so they can use it for energy or store it for later use.
- When glucose enters your cells and the levels in your bloodstream decrease, it signals your pancreas to stop producing insulin.
- For several reasons, your muscle, fat and liver cells can respond inappropriately to insulin, which means they can’t efficiently take up glucose from your blood or store it. This is insulin resistance. As a result, your pancreas makes more insulin to try to overcome your increasing blood glucose levels. This is called hyperinsulinemia.
As long as your pancreas can make enough insulin to overcome your cells’ weak response to insulin, your blood sugar levels will stay in a healthy range. If your cells become too resistant to insulin, it leads to elevated blood glucose, which, over time, leads to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
In addition to Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance is associated with several other conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Metabolic syndrome
Insulin resistance can affect anyone, you don’t have to have diabetes and it can be temporary or chronic. The two main factors that seem to contribute to insulin resistance are excess body fat, especially around your belly, and a lack of physical activity.
People who have prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes usually have some level of insulin resistance. People with Type 1 diabetes can also experience insulin resistance.
- Increased thirst.
- Frequent urination (peeing).
- Increased hunger.
- Blurred vision.
- Vaginal and skin infections.
- Slow-healing cuts and sores.
- Excess body fat
- Physical inactivity
- Certain medications
Risk factors for developing insulin resistance:
- Certain genetic and lifestyle risk factors make it more likely that you’ll develop insulin resistance or prediabetes. Risk factors include:
- Overweight or obesity, especially excess fat around your belly.
- Being age 45 or older.
- A first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with diabetes.
- Having a sedentary lifestyle.
- Certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- A history of gestational diabetes.
- A history of heart disease or stroke.
- Having a sleeping disorder, such as sleep apnea.
People of the following racial or ethnic backgrounds are also at a higher risk of having insulin resistance or prediabetes:
- Asian American.
- Indigenous people from Alaska.
- Indigenous people from the continental United States.
- Indigenous people from the Pacific Islands.
Although you can’t change certain risk factors for insulin resistance, such as family history or age, you can try lowering your chances of developing it by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.