What is Insulin Resistance?

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!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. Ford- Martin, P. Baker MD, Jason. The Everything Guide to Managing Type 2 Diabetes. Adams Media, Massachussetts. 2013
  2. Gebel, E. Understanding Insulin Resistance (June 2011). Retrieved October 24, 2018, from http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2011/jun/understanding-insulin-resistance.html


View Comments (4)
  • Riddler
    5 months ago

    Good article.

  • Katie Gutwald, RD moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks, Riddler!

  • Katie Gutwald, RD moderator author
    4 months ago

    I am so glad you found it helpful and informative. I commend you for continuing to want to learn about your diabetes. Thanks again for being part of our community! Sincerely, Katie Gutwald RD community moderator

  • Riddler
    4 months ago

    I’m glad you wrote this Katie. For the longest time I had problems understanding the difference between Insulin Resistance and Diabetes. I know someone who is Insulin Resistant. She told me about it after I had found out that I was type 2. I still didn’t quite grasp the differences and this article helped me to understand it a lot better. For some reason I kept thinking was same thing but different way of describing diabetes due to it messing with the insulin as well.

    Again, I greatly appreciate the article.

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