What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It helps cells absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood to use as energy. Your body digests foods that contain carbohydrates and releases them as glucose into your blood. Insulin, which is released when you eat, helps the body maintain a healthy level of circulating glucose by allowing glucose from the blood to go into the cells. This lowers blood sugar, and the cells use the glucose for energy.
Some people may begin to have problems using insulin correctly. This is referred to as insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, your pancreas produces insulin, but your cells aren’t using it as well as they should. When insulin is not working the way it should, your cells don’t absorb glucose properly, which leads to a buildup of sugar in your blood. If your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but aren’t high enough to be considered Type 2 diabetes, you are said to have pre-diabetes.
It’s not entirely clear why some people develop insulin resistance and others don’t. However, being overweight or obese are leading risk factors. A sedentary lifestyle can also result in pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, especially if you’re also overweight.
The Effects of Insulin Resistance
Unfortunately, insulin resistance doesn’t usually have any noticeable symptoms. You could be insulin resistant for years and not know it, especially if you don’t have your blood glucose levels checked.
Some people with insulin resistance may develop a condition known as acanthosis nigricans. It is characterized by dark patches on the back of the neck, groin, and armpits. Having acanthosis nigricans is a sign of insulin resistance, which puts you at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. There is no cure for acanthosis nigricans, but if you treat the causes, some natural skin color may return.
Insulin resistance may damage your blood vessels without you realizing it, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
You are at significant risk for progressing to diabetes if you have insulin resistance. Just like insulin resistance, people with Type 2 diabetes may not feel any symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. Classic diabetes symptoms include extreme thirst and frequent urination. You may eat normally, or even more than you should, and still feel hungry if you have diabetes. Having Type 2 diabetes can also lead to nerve problems that result in tingling sensations in the hands and feet. You may also feel more tired than usual if you have diabetes that isn’t well controlled.
Preventing Insulin Resistance Problems
If you exercise daily and eat a balanced diet to help keep your weight in a healthy range, you may be able to prevent diabetes. There are no guarantees, of course. But losing weight and keeping your weight down give you the best odds of maintaining normal insulin and cell function and keeping your blood glucose levels in the desired range. Staying active is important as well.
It’s important to remember that a diagnosis of insulin resistance or pre-diabetes is a warning. These early conditions can often be reversed with healthy lifestyle choices, and you can keep from developing Type 2 diabetes. This is crucial, because the complications from diabetes not only include heart disease, but kidney, eye, and nervous system problems, too.
Insulin resistance might sneak up on you, but you may be able to come out on top if you eat right and are physically active throughout the week.