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What is Insulin Resistance?

Updated on June 15, 2012

The first thing that you need to know about insulin resistance is that insulin resistance is not something you want. Insulin resistance is a condition related to the metabolic syndrome where cells are not responding effectively to the effects of the hormone insulin.

So insulin resistance is not a good thing. Instead you want to increase insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is often a pre-cursor to Type 2 diabetes and obesity. However, with appropriate lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, one can reduce insulin resistance and hopefully prevent it from leading to obesity and diabetes.

The Role of Insulin

To understand what insulin resistance is we have to first understand the role of insulin in our metabolism.

When we eat food (especially carbohydrates and sugar) our body converts the food into sugar known as glucose, which gets into our bloodstream to be carried to the various cells of our body for fuel. The beta cells of our pancreas then secretes insulin into the bloodstream. When insulin reaches and attaches to receptors at the cell membrane, it acts as like key that unlocks the cell doors to let glucose into cell. More precisely it signals the glucose transporters in the interior of the cell to come up to the surface of the cell and take glucose into the cell.

Insulin resistance is a condition where the cell does not respond effectively to insulin. Insulin is still properly being produced by the pancreas and arriving at the cell. However for some reason, the cell is not responding to is effects. Using an analogy of lock and key, the insulin key is not working. It is almost as if the lock is gummed up. Insulin is not causing the gates of the cells to open and bring the glucose in. There are multiple causes of insulin resistance. But one theory is that the "lock" is gummed up with intramyocellular fat due to saturated fat consumption.

Insulin Resistance can Lead to Diabetes and Obesity

When cells do not respond to insulin, it becomes a problem because now the cells are not able to bring in glucose as fuel. The cells are starving. We feel hungry and tired.

UltraPrevention defines it this way ...

"If insulin is not functioning properly, digested food in the bloodstream is unable to enter the cells to provide energy, and metabolism is stalled. The blood becomes clogged with excessive amounts of food, including fats, cholesterol, sugar, and amino acids ... These sources of energy remain in the bloodstream and can't enter the cells, which, now starved for energy, start to malfunction." [p 191]

Furthermore, the glucose continues to remain in the bloodstream, resulting in high blood sugar. Chronic high blood glucose levels are very damaging to the various organs of the body.

Seeing that glucose levels are still high, the pancreas pumps out more insulin in an attempt to shuttle the glucose into the cells.This result in high insulin levels in the blood, which is also bad. Insulin is a hormone that also causes glucose to turn into fat for storage. In the more extreme cases, it leads to diabetes (a disease characterized by high blood sugar) and obesity (a disease characterized by excess fat). Although most Type 2 Diabetes are obese, even a thin person can get diabetes, such as Jeff O'Connel who writes about it in article on MSNBC.[8]

As the pancreas pump out higher and higher levels of insulin, your cells becomes even more and more resistant and a vicious cycle ensues.

Lab Tests to Check for Insulin Resistance

According to Dr. Mark Hyman's video on YouTube, these are the tests that one should check that might give a clue that one has insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome...

  • Check blood sugar and insulin levels after a glucose challenge test
  • check hemoglobin A1c
  • Cholesterol profile including HDL, and LDL as well as the size of the particle
  • High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein test
  • Homocysteine level
  • You may also want to check Fibrinogen, Ferritin, and liver

Beer belly is indication of insulin resistance

Fat in the abdominal region (beer belly) is often an indication of "insulin resistance". When insulin resistance is severe enough, often one can tell by the presence of a beer belly or abdominal fat. You can have insulin resistance with abdominal fat. But a beer belly often is accompanied by insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is metabolic syndrome that is a precursor to diabetes (which we know is a dis-regulation of blood sugar).

Insulin resistance is caused by the over consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates that turns into sugar. This floods the bloodstream with glucose. And the body has to respond by flooding the bloodstream with insulin to shunt the glucose into the cells. The problem is that when there is too much glucose for the cells to handle, the cells resists and no longer listens to insulin. Hence insulin resistance.

Because high glucose is toxic, the body needs to get it out of the bloodstream. It can no longer get it into the cells. So it converts the glucose into fat which is stored in the abdominal region.


Article was written in December 2011 and is only opinion at the time of writing. Author is not a medical professional and this is not medical advice.


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