Insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and other metabolic or cardiovascular disorders, is a condition in which the insulin produced by the pancreas is not able to be used by the body to lower blood glucose levels.
In a person with insulin resistance, the parts of the body that normally metabolize glucose, such as the muscles, fat, and liver, are impaired such that they cannot take in the glucose. As a result, the pancreas attempts to work harder to produce more insulin so that more glucose can be passed through the cells. After some time, the pancreas is no longer able to keep up with the increased demand for more insulin and glucose builds in the blood stream, leaving a steady high level of blood sugar.
In most cases, insulin resistance is not accompanied by any symptoms. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, serious cases of insulin resistance may result in a dark patch around the neck, elbows, knees, knuckles and armpits. Because insulin resistance is not usually suspected until another disorder, such as diabetes, is diagnosed and the tests to diagnose insulin resistance are costly, most people go without a diagnosis of insulin resistance until after it leads to more severe diseases.
The causes of insulin resistance are not known, but Dr. Goutham Rao of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center stated as early as 2001 that lack of exercise, genetics, and diet all are linked to the development of insulin resistance. Many times, those diagnosed with insulin resistance also have other diseases or attributes which contribute to an increased risk for diabetes and other cardiovascular disease, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Excess belly fat, high blood pressure, abnormal triglycerides, and blood cholesterol contribute to insulin resistance.
Lifestyle changes can be made to dramatically decrease the negative effects of insulin resistance and even help the body respond better to insulin produced by the pancreas. Scheduled exercise, even an increase in light or moderate exercise, can have a significant impact on insulin resistance. Adding a walk after dinner or during a lunch break or scheduling a morning swim can help the body use insulin more efficiently by metabolizing blood glucose and decreasing overall glucose levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that all adults get at least 150 minutes of light to moderate activity each week plus two days of strength or resistance training that uses all the main muscle groups.
Moderate weight loss can also help the body use the insulin in its blood. One study, undertaken by Goutham Rao for American Family Physician, shows that obese individuals who lose just 15 percent of their body fat show increased sensitivity to insulin. Restricting calories and increasing dietary fiber can help achieve these goals. Aim to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean proteins while decreasing refined and processed, sugary and fatty food products.
Insulin resistance is difficult to detect and dangerous if left untreated. But, it is also relatively easy to address. In most cases, lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise are all it takes to increase one’s sensitivity to insulin. With these adjustments, serious complications can be avoided.