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Causes and Treatment of Insulin Resistance

Updated on February 19, 2011

Insulin resistance is a metabolic condition in which muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin. At one point in time, insulin resistance was also referred to as pre-diabetes because of the underlying risk for developing type II diabetes. Insulin resistance poses other serious health risks as well. The lack of reception from fat cells, muscle cells, and cells of the liver hinders the ability of insulin to properly convert blood glucose into energy. Glucose is the number one source of energy for the body. Sugars that are consumed are converted into glucose, which is then called blood glucose or blood sugar. Insulin is responsible for converting blood glucose into energy. Insulin is released by the pancreas as blood glucose levels rise. 

As more glucose enters the bloodstream following meals, the body produces more and more insulin in order to be able to process it. If the cells are not receptive to the insulin, then the glucose is not converted and remains in the bloodstream. People with insulin resistance will have both high levels of glucose and high levels of insulin in the blood, setting the stage for type II diabetes. People with insulin resistance are more likely to develop both diabetes and heart disease later in life.

The causes of insulin resistance are both dependent on genetics and lifestyle. People with excess body fat, particularly around the waist line, and who are mostly sedentary are more likely to develop insulin resistance. Even in people with a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance, a diet that is lower in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, as well as routine physical exercise, can help prevent insulin resistance, type II diabetes, and heart disease later in life.

Insulin is a hormone. Fat and muscle cells require insulin in order to be able to properly absorb glucose that is present in the bloodstream. The liver also helps to regulate blood glucose levels by limiting the secretion of glucose when insulin is present in the bloodstream. However, in people with insulin resistance, the liver may fail to restrict glucose secretion. When glucose uptake is limited by insulin resistance, glycogen and triglycerides are stored in the fat and muscle cells, which can also result in higher levels of cholesterol.

In fat cells, insulin resistance leads to decreased effects of insulin on stored lipids and reduced uptake of lipids circulating in the bloodstream. The result is a higher level of free fatty acids in the blood plasma. Higher levels of fatty acids in the blood, increased levels of glucose production by the liver, and reduced glucose uptake by muscle cells all lead to higher levels of blood glucose. High levels of blood glucose, when there is an absence of compensatory insulin production, eventually lead to the development of type II diabetes. High levels of both glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, which are the result of insulin resistance, are the main causes of what is known as metabolic syndrome.

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