What is Insulin Resistance?
Throughout your diabetes journey, you most likely have heard many new terms such as blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A1C, simple carbohydrates and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is common in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes but can also be seen in type 1 diabetes. So what does this term mean and how can you manage it?
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. All people with a healthy pancreas release insulin when they eat. Eating also causes blood glucose levels to increase. Insulin then travels throughout the body with an insulin receptor, binding to cells so that they can utilize the glucose. “Without insulin to bind to the receptors and open the cell for glucose, the glucose cannot enter. Instead, it builds up to damaging and toxic levels in the bloodstream.”1 With insulin resistance, the body has built up a tolerance to the hormone and therefore needs even more of it to do the correct job. This can wear out the pancreas and lead to beta cell death, which means many people with type 2 diabetes will eventually need medication assistance.
What are the risks for developing insulin resistance?
Aging is associated with increased insulin resistance. Just like the rest of our body wears down with time, so do our organs. Other factors such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle and genetics can also increase our risk for insulin resistance. There are varying degrees of insulin resistance as well. “The more insulin resistant a person with type 2 is, the harder it will be to manage the disease because more medication is needed to get enough insulin in the body to achieve target blood glucose levels.”2
Can insulin resistance be reversed?
Although we do not currently believe that insulin resistance can be reversed, there are some steps we know may help to decrease the severity. If diabetes and insulin resistance run in your family, encourage your family members to make lifestyle changes that line up with decreasing the risk. If there is a need for weight loss, a change in activity level or diet, the sooner those changes are made, the better the chance for decreasing insulin resistance risk. In your own life, you can also make these changes, even if you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. “In addition to making the body more sensitive to insulin and building muscle that can absorb blood glucose, physical activity opens up an alternate gateway for glucose to enter muscle cells without insulin acting as an intermediary. This reduces the cells' dependence on insulin for energy. This mechanism doesn't reduce insulin resistance itself, but it can help people who are insulin resistant improve their blood glucose control.”2 Increasing physical activity may also lead to weight loss which in turn can improve insulin resistance.
If you have any questions or concerns about your own insulin or blood glucose levels, be sure to speak with your physician!
How well does your doctor explain diabetes care terms to you?