What Is Insulin Resistance?

What Is Insulin Resistance?

‘What is insulin resistance’ is a common question among patients newly diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. In this condition, your body still produces insulin, but it is not effective. This results in elevated blood glucose levels. In most patients, insulin resistance pre-dates an actual diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes.

In fact, most patients will have insulin resistance for years before being diagnosed with pre-diabates or diabetes.

What Is Going On In The Body When I Have Insulin Resistance?

When you develop insulin resistance, cells in your body do not assist in uptake of blood glucose into muscle, fat, and other organs from the blood stream. Your body progressively requires higher insulin levels to get glucose from the bloodstream and into cells and organs that wish to use glucose for fuel.

Insulin is produced in the pancreas by beta cells. Blood glucose remains normal until the increased insulin levels are able to no longer counter act the insulin resistance or the beta cells cannot produce enough insulin to keep the bloodstream glucose normal.Over time the end result is elevate blood glucose levels, pre-diabetes, and then diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

While your doctor can answer the ‘What is insulin resistance’ question, the ‘What is the the cause of insulin resistance’ is more difficult to answer. There are a number of different reasons experts believe that insulin resistance develops:

  • Obesity. Excess body fat is hypothesized to cause insulin resistance. Fat around the waist and belly fat are particularly problematic. Increased waist circumference and fat around the belly are associated with the production of hormones that increase insulin resistance. Increased waist circumference and belly fat are also associated with chronic inflammation that can be damaging to the body over long periods of time.
  • Inactivity. Inactivity has been shown in research studies to be associated with insulin resistance. Normally, muscles use stored glucose for energy and then take in more glucose from the blood stream. In fact, one of the reasons physical activity is good for you is that exercise makes muscles more sensitive to insulin.
  • Poor sleep. Sleep problems such as sleep apnea increase risk of obesity and insulin resistance. This is especially noted amongst night shift workers.
  • Genetics. Unlike the previously mentioned causes, you cannot do anything about your genetic risk. If your mom, dad, brother or sister have insulin resistance, you are more likely to develop insulin resistance.

    What Can I Do About Insulin Resistance?

    Woman exercising with dog

    Woman exercising with dog

    There are a number of things you can do to prevent progression to diabetes:

  • Change your lifestyle. Beginning an exercise program can make dramatic improvements. While many people shy away from exercise because of perceived barriers, walking for for as little as 30 minutes per day most days of the week can bring significant benefits. If you do this you will not only burn more calories, but also likely decrease caloric intake and fat.
    In the Diabetes Prevention Program, a federally funded program that looked to prevent diabetes in high risk individuals, patients losing 15 pounds reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58% over a 3 year time frame.
    Increasing physical activity can help you:

    • Lose weight
    • Control glucose
    • Control blood pressure
    • Control cholesterol
  • Metformin. While not as successful as modifying risk factors, patients receiving metformin plus standard info about physical activity and diet decreased their risk of developing diabetes by 31% over a 3 year time frame.
  • Reduce risk. Insulin resistance increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Not surprisingly, it is important to treat hypertension and high cholesterol in patients with insulin resistance. Additionally, smoking cessation is important in decreasing your risk of heart disease.


  • What Is Insulin Resistance?. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Accessed September 10, 2013.
  • Weir, Gordon and Bonner-Weir, Susan. “Five Stages of Evolving Beta-Cell Dysfunction During Progression to Diabetes.” Diabetes 53 (2004): S16-S21.

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