- Insulin resistance: Causes, symptoms, and prevention
- How does insulin resistance become diabetes?
- Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes | NIDDK
- What is insulin?
- What is insulin resistance?
- What is prediabetes?
- How common is prediabetes?
- Who is more ly to develop insulin resistance or prediabetes?
- What causes insulin resistance and prediabetes?
- Excess weight
- Physical inactivity
- What are the symptoms of insulin resistance and prediabetes?
- How do doctors diagnose insulin resistance and prediabetes?
- How can I prevent or reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes?
- Clinical Trials
- What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?
- What clinical trials are open?
- 5 Factors that May Decrease Insulin Resistance
- Scientific Theories
- Disease Associations
- Animal Research
- When to See a Doctor
- Top Tips
- 1) Weight Loss
- 2) Exercise
- 3) Fiber and Resistant Starch
- 4) Sleep
- 5) De-stress
- Dietary Supplements & Specific Foods/Spices
- Insulin Resistance
- What is insulin resistance?
- Symptoms of insulin resistance
- Causes of insulin resistance
- Can insulin resistance be reduced or reversed?
- Insulin Resistance: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Consequences
- Defining Insulin: How the Hormone Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
- Understanding Insulin Resistance and Its Effect on Blood Sugar Control
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Metabolic Syndrome
- The Potential Causes of Insulin Resistance
- What Are the Main Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?
- How Is Insulin Resistance Diagnosed?
- Should You Be Tested for Insulin Resistance?
- Can Insulin Resistance Be Prevented or Reversed?
- How to Change Your Lifestyle and Diet to Prevent, Manage, or Help Reverse Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance: Causes, symptoms, and prevention
Insulin, a hormone that the pancreas makes, allows cells to absorb and use glucose. In people with insulin resistance, the cells are unable to use insulin effectively.
When the cells cannot absorb glucose, levels of this sugar build up in the blood. If glucose, or blood sugar, levels are higher than usual but not high enough to indicate diabetes, doctors refer to this as prediabetes.
Prediabetes often occurs in people with high insulin resistance. Around 1 in 3 people in the United States have prediabetes, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In this article, we look at the current understanding of insulin resistance and explain its role as a risk factor for diabetes and other conditions.
We also describe the signs and symptoms of insulin resistance and ways to avoid it.
Share on PinterestInsulin resistance might develop into type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance occurs when excess glucose in the blood reduces the ability of the cells to absorb and use blood sugar for energy.
This increases the risk of developing prediabetes, and eventually, type 2 diabetes.
If the pancreas can make enough insulin to overcome the low rate of absorption, diabetes is less ly to develop, and blood glucose will stay within a healthy range.
How does insulin resistance become diabetes?
In a person with prediabetes, the pancreas works increasingly hard to release enough insulin to overcome the body’s resistance and keep blood sugar levels down.
Over time, the pancreas’ ability to release insulin begins to decrease, which leads to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance remains a major feature of type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is essential for regulating the amount of glucose that circulates in the bloodstream. It induces the cells to absorb glucose.
Insulin is also the chemical messenger that instructs the liver to store some glucose, rather than releasing it into the bloodstream. The liver packages glucose for storage in the form of glycogen.
Insulin usually helps the body maintain a good balance of energy, never allowing the level of blood glucose to spike for too long.
The reasons for insulin resistance remain complex, and researchers continue to investigate.
- The following steps outline the medical community’s current understanding of insulin resistance:
- The body’s cells become less affected by insulin.
- This resistance initially causes the pancreas to secrete more insulin, in order to maintain safe blood sugar levels.
- The pancreas becomes unable to maintain the release of extra insulin to compensate for the cells’ increasing resistance.
- Consistently high levels of blood glucose develop, progressing into prediabetes and type 2 diabetes if a person does not adopt management strategies and receive treatment.
Insulin resistance does not usually present symptoms until diabetes develops. The CDC report that 90 percent of people with prediabetes are not aware that they have the condition.
Insulin resistance can also lead to the following health issues:
- Acanthosis nigricans: This skin condition can develop in people with insulin resistance. It involves dark patches forming on the groin, armpits, and the back of the neck.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Insulin resistance can worsen the symptoms of PCOS, which can include irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and periods that cause pain.
Doctors also associate high levels of insulin in the blood with an increased risk of vascular diseases, such as heart disease, even without the presence of diabetes.
The following are risk factors for insulin resistance, prediabetes, and diabetes:
- being overweight or having obesity, especially when the extra weight is around the midriff
- a sedentary lifestyle or one that is low in exercise
- sleep issues
- high blood pressure, which one 2018 study has linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance
Certain risk factors for prediabetes and diabetes are also risk factors for heart disease and other cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health concerns, such as stroke and heart disease.
Because some of these risk factors are widespread and may be avoidable, such as obesity, health authorities are increasing their focus on lifestyle measures that can help reduce the risk of the disease.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that all people who are overweight and over 45 years of age receive testing for diabetes.
A number of tests can help diagnose prediabetes and diabetes:
- A1C test: This measures a person’s average blood sugar level over the previous 2–3 months.
- Fasting blood glucose test: A doctor checks glucose levels after a person refrains from eating or drinking for 8 or more hours.
- Random glucose test: This involves a medical professional checking blood glucose levels at some point during the day.
Doctors usually request more than one of these tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
If blood sugar levels consistently fall outside of a normal range, it might indicate that the body is becoming resistant to insulin.
Learn more about the A1C test by clicking here.
Share on PinterestStaying active can reduce insulin resistance.
It is not possible to influence some risk factors for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, such as family history and genetic makeup.
However, a person can take some steps to reduce the chances of becoming insulin resistant. Some of the same strategies are key to preventing heart disease and stroke.
Also, the American Heart Association (AHA) report that individuals can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by making preventive lifestyle changes, primarily by losing weight and increasing physical activity.
Muscles become more sensitive to insulin after exercise, and a person can reverse insulin resistance with an active, healthful lifestyle.
While a diagnosis of insulin resistance or prediabetes might cause alarm, making rushed lifestyle changes and expecting immediate results is not a sustainable way to proceed.
Instead, increase levels of physical activity gradually, replace one item per meal with a healthful, low-carbohydrate option, and be sure to keep this up, week after week.
The most effective way to reduce insulin resistance is to make slow, sustainable changes.
Here, read about the best foods to eat and avoid to reverse prediabetes.
Prediabetes is only a warning.
Research, including that involving the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program, shows that lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of prediabetes progressing to diabetes by over 58 percent.
Start taking steps today to reduce insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes.
I have type 2 diabetes. Will I need to start taking insulin every day?
No, having type 2 diabetes does not automatically mean that you will need to take insulin. For some people, especially in the early stages, simply changing your diet to limit the carbohydrate intake and increasing the amount of exercise can control blood sugar.
The next step for treatment is usually oral medication. While type 2 diabetics sometimes requires insulin, other treatment plans are generally tried before advancing to insulin.
Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes | NIDDK
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Insulin resistance and prediabetes occur when your body doesn’t use insulin well.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps glucose in your blood enter cells in your muscle, fat, and liver, where it’s used for energy. Glucose comes from the food you eat.
The liver also makes glucose in times of need, such as when you’re fasting. When blood glucose, also called blood sugar, levels rise after you eat, your pancreas releases insulin into the blood.
Insulin then lowers blood glucose to keep it in the normal range.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood. As a result, your pancreas makes more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. As long as your pancreas can make enough insulin to overcome your cells’ weak response to insulin, your blood glucose levels will stay in the healthy range.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
Prediabetes usually occurs in people who already have some insulin resistance or whose beta cells in the pancreas aren’t making enough insulin to keep blood glucose in the normal range.
Without enough insulin, extra glucose stays in your bloodstream rather than entering your cells. Over time, you could develop type 2 diabetes.
How common is prediabetes?
More than 84 million people ages 18 and older have prediabetes in the United States.1 That’s about 1 every 3 adults.
Who is more ly to develop insulin resistance or prediabetes?
People who have genetic or lifestyle risk factors are more ly to develop insulin resistance or prediabetes. Risk factors include
- overweight or obesity
- age 45 or older
- a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes
- African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander American ethnicity
- physical inactivity
- health conditions such as high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels
- a history of gestational diabetes
- a history of heart disease or stroke
- polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS
People who have metabolic syndrome—a combination of high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and large waist size—are more ly to have prediabetes.
Along with these risk factors, other things that may contribute to insulin resistance include
Although you can’t change risk factors such as family history, age, or ethnicity, you can change lifestyle risk factors around eating, physical activity, and weight. These lifestyle changes can lower your chances of developing insulin resistance or prediabetes.
Being overweight or having obesity are risk factors for developing insulin resistance or prediabetes.
What causes insulin resistance and prediabetes?
Researchers don’t fully understand what causes insulin resistance and prediabetes, but they think excess weight and lack of physical activity are major factors.
Experts believe obesity, especially too much fat in the abdomen and around the organs, called visceral fat, is a main cause of insulin resistance.
A waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women is linked to insulin resistance. This is true even if your body mass index (BMI) falls within the normal range.
However, research has shown that Asian Americans may have an increased risk for insulin resistance even without a high BMI.
Researchers used to think that fat tissue was only for energy storage. However, studies have shown that belly fat makes hormones and other substances that can contribute to chronic, or long-lasting, inflammation in the body. Inflammation may play a role in insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Excess weight may lead to insulin resistance, which in turn may play a part in the development of fatty liver disease.
Not getting enough physical activity is linked to insulin resistance and prediabetes. Regular physical activity causes changes in your body that make it better able to keep your blood glucose levels in balance.
What are the symptoms of insulin resistance and prediabetes?
Insulin resistance and prediabetes usually have no symptoms. Some people with prediabetes may have darkened skin in the armpit or on the back and sides of the neck, a condition called acanthosis nigricans. Many small skin growths called skin tags often appear in these same areas.
Even though blood glucose levels are not high enough to cause symptoms for most people, a few research studies have shown that some people with prediabetes may already have early changes in their eyes that can lead to retinopathy. This problem more often occurs in people with diabetes.
How do doctors diagnose insulin resistance and prediabetes?
Doctors use blood tests to find out if someone has prediabetes, but they don’t usually test for insulin resistance. The most accurate test for insulin resistance is complicated and used mostly for research.
Doctors use blood tests to find out if someone has prediabetes.
Doctors most often use the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test or the A1C test to diagnose prediabetes. Less often, doctors use the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), which is more expensive and not as easy to give.
The A1C test reflects your average blood glucose over the past 3 months. The FPG and OGTT show your blood glucose level at the time of the test. The A1C test is not as sensitive as the other tests.
In some people, it may miss prediabetes that the OGTT could catch. The OGTT can identify how your body handles glucose after a meal—often before your fasting blood glucose level becomes abnormal.
Often doctors use the OGTT to check for gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy.
People with prediabetes have up to a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes over the next 5 to 10 years. You can take steps to manage your prediabetes and prevent type 2 diabetes.
The following test results show Prediabetes2
- A1C—5.7 to 6.4 percent
- FPG—100 to 125 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)
- OGTT—140 to 199 mg/dL
You should be tested for prediabetes if you are overweight or have obesity and have one or more other risk factors for diabetes, or if your parents, siblings, or children have type 2 diabetes. Even if you don’t have risk factors, you should start getting tested once you reach age 45.
If the results are normal but you have other risk factors for diabetes, you should be retested at least every 3 years.2
How can I prevent or reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes?
Physical activity and losing weight if you need to may help your body respond better to insulin. Taking small steps, such as eating healthier foods and moving more to lose weight, can help reverse insulin resistance and prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes.
Physical activity can help prevent or reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes.
The National Institutes of Health-funded research study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), showed that for people at high risk of developing diabetes, losing 5 to 7 percent of their starting weight helped reduce their chance of developing the disease.3 That’s 10 to 14 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds. People in the study lost weight by changing their diet and being more physically active.
The DPP also showed that taking metformin, a medicine used to treat diabetes, could delay diabetes. Metformin worked best for women with a history of gestational diabetes, younger adults, and people with obesity. Ask your doctor if metformin might be right for you.
Making a plan, tracking your progress, and getting support from your health care professional, family, and friends can help you make lifestyle changes that may prevent or reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes. You may be able to take part in a lifestyle change program as part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.
What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.
What clinical trials are open?
Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.
 National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html. Updated July 17, 2017. Accessed October 19, 2017.
 American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes—2017. Diabetes Care. 2017;40(Suppl 1).
 Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Long-term effects of lifestyle intervention or metformin on diabetes development and microvascular complications over 15-year follow-up: the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. The Lancet: Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2015;3(11):866‒875.
5 Factors that May Decrease Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance disrupts the body’s ability to effectively regulate sugar levels. It is one of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome and an early stage in developing type 2 diabetes. Read on to uncover five factors that may help decrease insulin resistance.
You may hear doctors say that the problem isn’t insulin, but rather insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the body is using more insulin than normal to keep blood sugar in balance.
Research suggests that in most “healthy” people, insulin resistance is mainly caused by two factors: overeating and lack of physical activity. Eating too much and being inactive can cause a buildup of fat in the liver and muscles, which makes these tissues less responsive to insulin .
Other causes of insulin resistance include stress, pregnancy, and various disorders and diseases.
Scientists think that, in insulin resistance, the brain will not get the message that insulin is trying hard to convey (that blood sugar levels are high) .
In line with this theory, insulin resistance is thought to promote hunger. As people eat, insulin is released. But the body senses as if it needs more food despite, bypassing insulin’s satiety hormone action. Hence why obesity has been linked to brain insulin resistance, though more human research is needed to verify this .
The majority of studies covered in this section deal with associations only, which means that a cause-and-effect relationship hasn’t been established.
Researchers have proposed a correlation between insulin resistance and fat accumulation in the liver. In a literature review, insulin resistance was suggested to be directly correlated to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [3, 4].
In another study, elevated blood free fatty acids (FFA) were associated with insulin resistance .
In diabetics, insulin resistance was shown to inhibit glycogen synthesis and uptake . Also, waist and thigh circumference (predictors of insulin resistance) were negatively correlated with the percentage of type 1 muscle fibers .
In prediabetic subjects, insulin resistance was linked to atherogenic changes .
TNF-a levels were linked to the development of insulin resistance in obese patients. TNF-a was suggested to inhibit the ability of insulin to exert its effects on the insulin receptor .
In adults with human growth hormone (HGH) deficiency, rHGH lowered insulin sensitivity .
Another study suggested a correlation between insulin resistance and chronic kidney disease pathology .
Animal findings can’t be applied to humans.
The research outlined here should guide further investigational efforts. However, it should not be interpreted as supportive of any health effects in people.
When rats had their brain insulin receptors removed, they ate more, developed insulin resistance, and became obese .
Rats fed a high-fat diet insulin resistance occurred first in fat and liver tissue than in muscle tissue .
IKKB (a mediator of inflammatory cytokine Nf-kb production) has been linked to the development of insulin resistance in lab animals .
Scientists are investigating the following mechanisms in cells and lab animals:
- Whether an anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10) can counter insulin resistance caused by an inflammatory cytokine (IL-6) in cells .
- If insulin can induce the secretion of an inflammatory marker (MCP-1), which may contribute to many diseases associated with hyperinsulinemia .
- Whether leptin worsens insulin sensitivity  by preventing insulin from stimulating glucose uptake and fat synthesis in fatty tissue .
These pathways have yet to be explored in humans.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re struggling with insulin resistance, it’s important to schedule a visit with your doctor.
He or she should diagnose, treat, and monitor any underlying conditions causing your insulin resistance.
Your doctor may also order some blood tests. HOMA-IR is one important measure of insulin resistance. It is not measured directly in the blood but is calculated from your fasting blood sugar and insulin levels.
You may try the complementary approaches listed below if you and your doctor determine that they could be appropriate for your metabolic health.
Read through and discuss the strategies listed here with your doctor. Remember that none of them should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.
The best approach to decreasing insulin resistance is to change your lifestyle. The two most important steps you can take are [19, 1]:
- Improving your nutrition: reduce the amount of overall calories in your meals, eat more fiber and less processed carbs
- Becoming more active: get plenty of exercise and takE regular active breaks from prolonged sitting. Be persistent, but don’t overdo it!
1) Weight Loss
Weight loss in people who are overweight has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity .
If you have extra pounds, the single most important thing you can do is lose weight by eating less, i.e. consuming fewer calories [21, 22, 23]!
According to a meta-analysis of 11 studies with 846 diabetics, exercise was effective in decreasing insulin levels and lowering insulin resistance .
But does the type of activity matter?
According to a study in 1229 people, leisure-time physical activity is beneficial for reducing markers of insulin resistance, while occupational and household physical activities are not. Strenuous eccentric exercises running downhill do more harm than good .
3) Fiber and Resistant Starch
Whether it’s whole grains, insoluble cereal fibers, resistant starch, or soluble fibers – studies generally agree that more fiber is good for your sugar balance [26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31].
High intake of dietary fiber (>25 g/d in women and >38 g/d in men) has been consistently associated with 20-30% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes [26, 30, 32].
In two studies with over 11k people in total, those with higher dietary fiber intake had lower markers of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) [33, 34].
In another study with almost 5,5k people, those who ate more whole grains had lower insulin resistance, less inflammation, and lower chances of getting diabetes .
Additionally, in ten healthy people, resistant starch was able to increase insulin sensitivity .
Get enough good-quality sleep. Studies suggest this may support insulin and blood sugar balance. In a study of 245 high school students, shorter sleep was associated with higher HOMA-IR–the main marker of insulin resistance .
Similarly, in 280 adolescents, poor sleep quality was related to a greater HOMA-IR .
Take time to deal with stress in your life. Research suggests that any activity that helps you unwind and decreases your cortisol levels may have a beneficial effect on your insulin levels – whether it’s a relaxation technique, meditation, yoga, exercise, a hobby, or simply having fun.
Several studies found that relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation may have beneficial effects on insulin resistance [39, 40, 41].
Dietary Supplements & Specific Foods/Spices
The following foods, spices, or supplements helped lower insulin resistance in limited studies:
- Cinnamon [42, 43]
- Ginkgo biloba 
- Green tea extract [45, 46]
- Ginger 
- Broccoli sprouts 
- Beta-carotene 
- Cocoa/dark chocolate [50, 51]
- Fenugreek 
- Grape seed oil 
- Flaxseed 
- Nuts – including pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts [55, 56, 57]
- Vitamin D [58, 59, 60, 61]
- Magnesium [62, 63, 64, 65]
- Zinc [66, 67, 68]
- Chromium [69, 70]
- Alpha-lipoic acid 
- L-Carnitine 
- Histidine 
- Arginine 
- CoQ10 
- Resistant starch 
- Probiotics and synbiotics (probiotics + fiber) [77, 78, 79, 80, 81]
However, proper evidence is lacking to rate their effectiveness and safety in people with insulin resistance.
Dietary supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective.
Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Some genetic variations have been linked with Insulin resistance . Go to SelfDecode to explore your own genetic makeup.
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Insulin resistance is the name given to when cells of the body don’t respond properly to the hormone insulin.
Insulin resistance is the driving factor that leads to type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and prediabetes
Insulin resistance is closely associated with obesity; however, it is possible to be insulin resistant without being overweight or obese.
Modern research has shown that insulin resistance can be combatted by treatment methods that reduce how much insulin the body is producing or taking via insulin injections or insulin pumps.
Reducing insulin resistance can be achieved by following low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets.
What is insulin resistance?
The role of insulin is to allow cells of the body to take in glucose to be used as fuel or stored as body fat. 
It also means that glucose is more ly to build up in the blood and this can lead to too high blood sugar levels
When the body becomes resistant to insulin, it tries to cope by producing more insulin. People with insulin resistance are often producing too more insulin than healthy people.
Producing too much insulin is known as hyperinsulinemia
Symptoms of insulin resistance
Initially, insulin resistance presents no symptoms. The symptoms only start to appear once it leads to secondary effects such as higher blood sugar levels. When this happens, the symptoms may include:
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Difficulty concentrating (brain fog)
Other signs that often appear in people with insulin resistance include:
If insulin resistance develops into prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, the symptoms will include increased blood glucose levels and more of the classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Causes of insulin resistance
Whilst the exact cause of insulin resistance is still not fully understood, it is well-known which factors can lead to insulin resistance developing.
Insulin resistance can commonly develop if one or more of the following factors apply:
In terms of what is happening inside the body that causes insulin resistance, researchers have observed that insulin resistance occurs in people that have:
- High levels of insulin circulating in their blood
- Excessive fat stored in the liver and pancreas
- High levels of inflammation
Insulin resistance is a state where the body does not respond to insulin as well as it should. It’s almost a lack of communication between insulin and the cells of the body. Insulin resistance is a key feature of type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance is a problem because it affects the body in a number of ways.
Resistance to insulin causes the body to produce more insulin which leads to increased hunger higher blood pressure and weight gain.
It is still not fully understood what causes insulin resistance. There does seems to be a strong link between weight gain and insulin resistance.
Studies have shown that significantly reducing calorific intake can improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Download a FREE blood glucose chart for your phone, desktop or as a printout.
Can insulin resistance be reduced or reversed?
It is certainly possible to reduce the effects of insulin resistance and there are a number of effective ways to do this.
Effective methods include:
- Low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets
- Very-low-calorie diets
- Weight loss surgery
- Taking a lot of exercise in combination with a healthy diet
These methods share a similar way of working in that they all help to reduce the body’s need for insulin and help people to lose weight.
Read more on reversing the effects of diabetes
Insulin Resistance: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Consequences
Having insulin resistance may increase the risk of prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. But changing your diet and lifestyle can help reverse this health state.
The hormone insulin helps keep blood sugar levels steady, but when insulin resistance occurs, glucose accumulates in the blood, either leading to or exacerbating prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Carbohydrates — sugars and starches found in many foods — are a main source of fuel for your body. Your digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose, or sugar, which is then released into your bloodstream.
And with the help of insulin, glucose can absorb into the cells of your body to be used for energy or storage.
(1) But if you have insulin resistance, your cells will have trouble absorbing this glucose, and your body will require more insulin to function properly. (2)
It is possible to overcome insulin resistance. But before you can deal with this problem, you must understand what insulin is, and how insulin affects control of blood glucose. (2)
Defining Insulin: How the Hormone Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas, and it plays an important role in metabolism. Your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream after you eat a meal. Insulin allows sugar in your bloodstream to enter into muscles, cells, and fat. (2)
This hormone is also important because it stops sugar from accumulating in your bloodstream. The more you eat, the more insulin your body releases to regulate your blood sugar and keep it within a healthy range. (3)
RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Insulin if You Have Type 2 Diabetes
Understanding Insulin Resistance and Its Effect on Blood Sugar Control
Although the production and release of insulin is a natural metabolic response after eating, some people don’t use insulin properly.
To receive energy, your cells, fat, and muscles must be able to absorb the glucose in your bloodstream. If your body doesn’t respond well to insulin, glucose can build up in your blood and raise your blood sugar level. To help you maintain a normal blood sugar level, your pancreas compensates for this resistance by releasing more insulin. (3)
The effects of insulin resistance on the body vary from person to person.
Sometimes, the increased production of insulin by the pancreas is enough to overcome insulin resistance and normalize blood sugar levels.
But other times, the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin to overcome the resistance. This triggers high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and other health problems. (3)
RELATED: How to Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
Although insulin resistance can exist on its own without another diagnosis, it relates to certain health conditions, too. Here are a few:
If your pancreas struggles to produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in your body, your blood sugar level can become mildly elevated and you may develop prediabetes. This means your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.
This condition — which affects about 84.1 million people — is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes also is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, eye problems, neuropathy (nerve damage), and kidney disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
In the case of prediabetes, your pancreas works overtime to secrete enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar. But if your pancreas can’t keep up with the demand, insulin resistance can progress from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. Most people diagnosed with prediabetes end up with type 2 diabetes within 10 years. (3)
Metabolic syndrome is also closely related to insulin resistance.
Interestingly, metabolic syndrome isn’t a condition in itself but rather a collection of metabolic risk factors that can set the stage for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Insulin resistance is included among these risk factors, along with high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high triglycerides (a form of fat storage often related to lifestyle factors), and a large waist circumference.
RELATED: 10 Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Metabolic Syndrome
The Potential Causes of Insulin Resistance
Although the exact cause of insulin resistance is unknown, certain factors have been linked with this condition. These include: (4)
- Obesity (defined as having a certain body mass index, or BMI)
- Eating a high-calorie, high-sugar diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Taking high doses of a steroid
- Chronic stress
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or Cushing’s disease
Some people are also at higher risk for developing insulin resistance. These include people: (3)
The risk factors for insulin resistance are similar to the risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. But lifestyle changes can help your body use insulin properly, which can reduce your risk of diabetes.
RELATED: 10 Bad Habits That Raise Your Diabetes Risk
What Are the Main Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance may not cause any noticeable symptoms, so you can have insulin resistance and not know it. Symptoms don’t usually occur until you develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
If your blood sugar level becomes elevated and you have prediabetes, symptoms may include increased thirst and hunger, tiredness, and blurry vision. Insulin resistance can also cause the formation of dark patches on the neck, groin, and armpits called acanthosis nigricans. (5)
When insulin resistance progresses to type 2 diabetes, you may also have tingling sensations in your hands or feet. (6)
How Is Insulin Resistance Diagnosed?
Although insulin resistance doesn’t usually have symptoms, your doctor may recommend testing your blood sugar if you have risk factors for this condition, such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, or high blood pressure.
This involves a series of tests, which are the same for diagnosing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. (7)
Hemoglobin A1C Test This blood test measures your average blood glucose level over a period of two to three months. This test can determine your blood sugar level, and help your doctor assess how well you’re managing the diabetes.
A normal A1C test result is under 5.7 percent; results between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent is prediabetes; and results equal to or above 6.5 percent is type 2 diabetes.
(7) You’ll repeat testing at different intervals over three months to confirm an initial diagnosis.
RELATED: 5 Ways to Lower Your A1C
Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) You will not consume food or liquids for at least eight hours, and then your doctor will draw blood to measure your blood sugar level after fasting.
If you have an elevated blood sugar, you’ll return a few days later to repeat the test. A repeatedly high level can indicate either prediabetes or diabetes.
A number under 100 milligrams per decliliter (mg/dL) is normal; a number between 100 to 125 mg/dL signals prediabetes; and a number greater than 125 mg/dL signals type 2 diabetes. (7)
Glucose Tolerance Testing (OGTT) Your doctor measures your blood glucose level, gives you a sugary liquid to drink, and then repeats the test two hours after you drink the liquid.
If after two hours your blood sugar level is less than 140 mg/dL, your blood glucose level is considered normal.
A number between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL is considered prediabetes, and a number 200 mg/dL or higher signals type 2 diabetes. (7)
Should You Be Tested for Insulin Resistance?
You should be tested for insulin resistance if you’re showing signs of having a high blood sugar level. (3) Again, there’s no specific test to confirm insulin resistance.
But if you’re experiencing fatigue, brain fog, or increased hunger, see your doctor. Getting tested may reveal an elevated blood sugar or prediabetes.
With an early diagnosis, you can take steps to help reverse the condition and avoid full-blown type 2 diabetes.
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If you see your doctor for symptoms, your doctor can perform a random blood sugar test.
This may happen if you’re having obvious symptoms of diabetes, and you have risk factors for insulin resistance and diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. A random blood sugar test can be completed anytime of the day. Results over 200 mg/dL may confirm diabetes. (7)
Can Insulin Resistance Be Prevented or Reversed?
This metabolic condition doesn’t have to progress to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Making lifestyle changes can help reverse insulin resistance so that your body can respond properly to insulin. (4)
Lose weight. One study found that losing weight combined with getting regular exercise could improve insulin sensitivity in obese older individuals. (8) Reduce your fat and calorie intake and get physically active. Do a moderate-intensity exercise, biking or speed-walking, five days a week at minimum. (9)
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Choose activities that you find enjoyable, such as walking, biking, swimming, or playing sports. Losing as little as 10 to 15 pounds may help reverse and prevent insulin resistance. (7)
Eat a low-carb diet. Reducing your intake of carbohydrates may also improve glucose metabolism and reduce insulin resistance. Other research found that eating three low-carb meals in a 24-hour period could reduce post-meal insulin resistance by more than 30 percent.
Study participants limited their carbohydrate intake to no more than 30 percent per meal.
(10) Although more research is needed to confirm these results, eating a balanced diet that consists of moderate portions of carbohydrates and sugars may improve how your body uses insulin and reverse insulin resistance.
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Change your medication with doctor supervision. You may have insulin resistance if you take steroid medication to treat pain and inflammation.
(11) These drugs prompt the liver to release extra glucose, increasing the risk for steroid-induced diabetes. Lowering your dosage or slowly weaning yourself off steroids may improve insulin sensitivity.
Speak with your doctor before modifying your medication.
Quit smoking. Giving up cigarettes may also reverse insulin resistance. Nicotine can cause your body to produce extra glucose, which makes it harder to control your blood sugar level. (12)
Get plenty of sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night for optimal health. (13) Not getting enough sleep may increase your risk for diabetes or make it harder to control. (14) Speak with your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping. This may indicate a sleep disorder.
Manage stress well. When you’re under stress, your body produces higher amounts of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. (15) This hormone can make your muscles and cells resistant to insulin, resulting in higher blood sugar. As a result, chronic stress may increase your risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. (16)
How to Change Your Lifestyle and Diet to Prevent, Manage, or Help Reverse Insulin Resistance
Having insulin resistance doesn’t mean that you’ll develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, but this can happen if you don’t make changes to your diet and lifestyle habits.
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Consuming carbohydrates in moderation, prioritizing fitness, and giving up bad habits smoking not only may help you avoid diabetes but also all the health complications related to the disease, including heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, and vision problems. (17)