Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes

Apr 02, 2019

Insulin Resistance (IR) is a condition in which the body is unable to properly use insulin.

IR is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and may be an early sign of Type 2 Diabetes.

To understand IR, it’s necessary to know a few things about insulin first.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. (A hormone is a chemical messenger that tells cells what to do.) Insulin sends many messages to various types of muscles. Here are a few of them:

  • Tells muscle and liver cells to allow sugar through cell membrane, where it can be used as energy to fuel the body
  • Tells fat cells to allow sugar through the cell membrane, where it can be stored to be used as energy in the future
  • Tells fat cells NOT to release stored energy

What does this look like in a non-IR body?

  1. Person eats meal with carbohydrates (sugar)
  2. Brain senses rise in sugar level in the blood and signals pancreas to release insulin
  3. Pancreas releases insulin, which is delivered to the cells via insulin receptors on the cell membrane
  4. Muscle and liver cells take in the sugar that they need
  5. Fat cells take in any excess sugar not needed by the muscle and liver cells
  6. Person feels energized by the fuel that has gotten to the muscle and liver cells, doing the work of the body.
  7. When blood sugar starts to drop because the person hasn’t eaten in a while, fat cells release fat to be used to fuel the body.
  8. Blood sugar maintains a stable state.

What does this look like in an IR Body?

  1. Person eats meal with carbohydrates (sugar)
  2. Brain senses rise in sugar level in the blood and signals pancreas to release insulin
  3. Pancreas releases insulin, which is delivered to the cells via insulin receptors on the cell membrane

Here’s where things get changed up:

  1. Some of the insulin receptors on the muscle and liver cells don’t recognize the message the insulin is bringing and malfunction, causing some of the sugar to be turned away. Muscle and liver cells get less energy than they need to function optimally.
  2. Brain senses that blood sugar level is still too high and signals the pancreas to release more insulin.
  3. Insulin receptors on cell membrane of fat cells continue to function and take in excess sugar, increasing size of fat cells.
  4. Person does not feel energized because the muscle and liver cells haven’t gotten the energy needed to do the work of the body. Person tends to be tired and hungry. Person gains fat from the sugar being stored in the fat cells. Excess circulating insulin has been found to increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
  5. Fat cells are unable to release energy to fuel the body.
  6. Blood sugar levels may fluctuate, going high after a meal and low prior to eating. Average blood sugar may continue to look normal or may rise to prediabetes levels.

So, what’s the difference between Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes?

(Type 1 Diabetes is generally unrelated to IR)

Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) is Insulin Resistance taken to the extreme. In people with T2DM, IR has gotten so severe that they are no longer able to keep their blood sugar at normal levels. Additional insulin can lower their blood sugar only through increasing fat storage. Non-insulin medication is required to improve insulin sensitivity in muscle and liver cells.

Can anything be done to improve Insulin Resistance and/or avoid Type 2 Diabetes?

In addition to medication, exercise and dietary changes can improve insulin sensitivity and help avoid the onset of T2DM.

Get Active!

Research has shown that exercise (both aerobic and resistance) improves insulin sensitivity. The improvement can last for as long as 72 hours following the activity.

Eat fewer carbs!

Avoid carbohydrates! This includes the obvious sugar that everyone tells people with diabetes not to eat. But it also includes things made with Flour (bread, pasta), Corn (tortilla chips, cereal), potatoes, and rice. Limiting these foods improves insulin resistance by limiting the amount of sugar your body has to deal with.

Insulin Resistance can wreak havoc in your body but you can get the upper hand! Please join the discussion in the comments below!

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