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Insulin resistance – causes, diagnosis, treatment and more

Jun 6, 2019 |
6 min read

Insulin resistance also called impaired glucose tolerance, generally develops slowly with no noticeable symptoms.  With insulin resistance, the body “weakens” because it does not correctly respond to insulin.

The condition can make an individual feel tired and low in energy. When left untreated, long term complications can result. The condition can progress to prediabetes or metabolic syndrome. Long-term complications include type 2 diabetes, vascular disease, and heart disease. Because symptoms can be contributed to factors like fatigue, it can go unnoticed for years. While it can affect any age, it is most commonly diagnosed between 40 to 60 years of age.

Insulin diabetes introduction

With insulin resistance, the cells of your body are insensitive to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. As a result, glucose (sugar) begins to build in the blood. Because the cells don’t receive the energy they require, they begin to starve.

The condition is often associated with obesity, high triglyceride fat levels, and high blood pressure. However, scientists are unsure what causes it, and many experts feel there are different defects in the process of unlocking cells that cause insulin resistance. (1) (2)

When insulin resistance impairs glucose metabolism, doctors will diagnose patients with prediabetes. Prediabetes can lead to diabetes.

Also, signs and symptoms of prediabetes and metabolic syndrome patients include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Dark, dry patches of skin on the armpits, groin, or back of the neck, known as acanthosis nigricans
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglyceride levels and low HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Heart disease

Henceforth, insulin resistance does not mean patients will experience symptoms. It can be a symptom-free condition. However, the symptoms are warnings that should be discussed with your doctor due to the risk of diabetes.

Increased cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension, dyslipidemia, impaired fibrinolysis, and coagulation, are risk factors of nondiabetic insulin resistance patients. In patients with type 2 diabetes, there is less information available on the connection between insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk factors. (3)

Insulin resistance causes

With insulin resistance, the tissues of the body have a lower response level to insulin. Consequently, the body must produce larger quantities of insulin to maintain normal glucose levels in the blood. Ultimately, there is still much to learn in the causes of insulin resistance development.

However, identified factors contributing to insulin resistance include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Obesity
  • Low level of physical activity
  • Aging
  • Certain Medications
  • Infections
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Sleep apnea
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking

Insulin resistance is a condition that affects everyone, even those with no symptoms of high blood sugar.

Regardless of a person’s current health status, a healthy lifestyle is crucial to remain insulin sensitive:

  • Eat a diet with no more than 15 percent of calories from fat.
  • Restrict fake carbohydrates from the diet.
  • Exercise regularly.

Insulin resistance symptoms

Not every insulin resistance patient will experience the same symptoms. Furthermore, symptoms may not appear until the patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure or develop signs of heart disease.

Patients with high blood sugar levels may experience symptoms of diabetes, including:

  • Frequent urination
  • Thirst
  • Weight loss

Acanthosis nigricans is a common insulin resistance symptom in a small percentage of women. Acanthosis nigricans is a discoloration of the skin; typically, a dark brown or blackish color with a velvety texture.

Moreover, the symptom most commonly appears on the neck, armpits, knuckles, knees, or groin. Ultimately, acanthosis nigricans tends to appear when blood insulin levels are high.

Insulin resistance-related disorders

Insulin resistance-related disorders include:

  • Obesity
  • Prediabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes (4)
  • Heart disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

In recent years, techniques have been used to research the interaction between insulin and its cellular receptors. The research provides vast information on the connection of insulin receptors in normal and abnormal physiologic states. Obesity and nonketotic diabetes are two abnormal states which insulin resistance exists. (5)

Insulin resistance diagnosis

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, all adults 45 years of age and older should be tested for type 2 diabetes. Often, insulin resistance is a silent condition and a condition that can lead to severe illness and disease.

Doctors will complete a physical exam and medical history of patients:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Criteria for metabolic syndrome- high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Gestational diabetes (pregnancy diabetes)
  • Smoking history
  • Giving birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
  • African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian American/Pacific Islander heritage

A physical exam and patient history will allow doctors to determine associated insulin resistance symptoms. Doctors also consider blood pressure, body shape, weight, and skin’s condition. These factors will help determine if obesity is a factor, or less severely overweight.

In addition to a physical exam and patient history, laboratory tests will be administered. However, these tests do not diagnose insulin resistance in themselves.

Tests administered are to help confirm an insulin resistance diagnosis. Tests include:

  • Blood glucose tests
  • Tests of blood insulin levels
  • Lipid profile test
  • Measurement of blood electrolytes and uric acid

Insulin resistance treatment

Patients diagnosed with insulin resistance need to modify their lifestyles for health. Healthy lifestyles help manage the condition:

Weight reduction

Weight contributes to insulin resistance. For this reason, it is necessary for patients to maintain a healthy weight for the body’s ability to increase sensitivity to insulin.

Exercise

Insulin resistance patients need to engage in regular exercise to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Weight contributes to insulin resistance, and often, patients have fat around their abdomens. (6)

Ultimately, exercise increases the circulatory system, and glucose transport increases the muscles uptake of glucose from the blood and helps to reduce belly and body fat. Therefore, patients should engage in no less than 30 minutes of daily exercise, like walking, five days a week.

High fiber foods

High fiber foods help to lower blood insulin levels and the patient’s risks of high blood pressure. Insulin resistance patients should eat plenty of high fiber foods like vegetables and whole grains.

Stop smoking

Insulin resistance patients should restrict smoking from their lifestyles.  Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer and decreases the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Reduce alcohol consumption

Patients with this condition should practice alcohol-free lifestyles. Alcohol is nothing but empty calories, a depressant, and can lead to other conditions.

>>What Does Alcohol Do To Your Body?

Insulin resistance prevention

A healthy lifestyle is key in preventing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance prevention includes:

A diet high in vegetables and fruits

Think of your fruit and vegetable colors as each color helps to provide nourishment to different organs. Therefore, choose a variety of colors for the best nutrients and overall wellbeing. Avoid starchy vegetables like corn. A better choice is green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, or green beans.

Eliminate bad carbohydrates from the diet

Eliminate foods high in sugar, as well as processed flour from the diet. Choose healthy grains like oats, barley, and brown rice. Carbs should be kept to a minimum. No more than 15 percent of calories from fat. (7)

Healthy grains are low on the glycemic index (GI.) The GI is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. High levels of glucose are a contributing factor in insulin resistance.

Eat healthy, low GI level snacks

Replace the processed snacks like chips with dried fruit, nuts, and beans.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is preventative in insulin resistance. Individuals should engage in at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, five days a week.

Calculate your body mass index

Obesity is a contributing factor in insulin resistance and prediabetes. BMI charts are online and quickly help an individual to determine if they are overweight or obese. BMI charts measure height and weight to determine if an individual is at their ideal weight or overweight.

Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol

High blood pressure increases a person’s risk of insulin resistance. Individuals should check their blood pressure regularly. A blood pressure reading of 130/85 increases the risk of insulin resistance. Schedule an appointment with your physician to check your cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol also contributes to insulin resistance. Good cholesterol measures above 40-50 mg/dL. Overall levels should be less than 200 mg/dL to help reduce the risk of insulin resistance.

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