Insulin Resistance: Causes, Symptoms, and Long-Term Outlook

Insulin is key to the metabolic process of regulating nutrients in the body. Insulin resistance is when your cells no longer respond, which can put your heart and health at risk. It’s important to work toward prevention right away, and here’s how.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 30, 2020

Insulin Resistance: Causes, Symptoms, and Long-Term Outlook

Insulin is a hormone in your body with important roles in several metabolic processes. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas, and it helps to regulate the nutrients circulating through your blood. 

Insulin is most commonly associated with blood glucose level management, but it can also affect protein and fat metabolism also. The problem of insulin resistance occurs when your cells no longer respond to the presence of insulin, and this is becoming a serious problem for heart health.

What is Insulin Resistance?

After a meal, your pancreas releases insulin to regulate the levels of blood glucose generated from any carbohydrates consumed. Insulin tells the cells in your body to pick up the glucose, thus reducing the level present in your bloodstream. 

Insulin resistance develops when the cells stop responding, and over time your pancreas produces even more, which leads to excessive insulin levels known as hyperinsulinemia. 

When cells no longer respond in this way to insulin, blood glucose levels grow and at high levels can create toxic effects. Eventually, the pancreas becomes damaged, and insulin production becomes impaired. 

Serious health problems or even death can result if these high blood glucose levels or insulin resistance is left untreated. Insulin resistance is known to be one of the most common causes of disease in the world. Without treatment, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes, which is a major risk factor of heart disease.

Causes of Insulin Resistance

There are several factors that contribute to the development of insulin resistance. Increased levels of fat in the blood are thought to be one of the most common causes. Free fatty acids in the blood can stop insulin from working properly, and these levels can become elevated as a result of eating too many calories. 

Overeating and obesity are linked to excessive fatty acids in the blood, which interferes with insulin activity. 

In addition to excess fat in the body and fatty acids in the blood, there are other factors that contribute to insulin resistance.

♦ Fructose, which is a sugar found in fruits, has been shown to interfere with insulin activity and the development of resistance. 

♦ The gut microbiome can become unbalanced as a result of too many antibiotics or an unhealthy diet, and when this happens, the resulting inflammation can exacerbate insulin resistance.

♦ A lack of physical activity contributes to insulin resistance by allowing for excess fat to accumulate. Being physically active has been found to increase insulin sensitivity, so being inactive will have the opposite effect.

Testing for Insulin Resistance

Your doctor will have a number of methods to help diagnose insulin resistance. 

♦ Oral glucose monitoring test to evaluate blood glucose level

♦ Testing for high fasting insulin levels

♦ HOMA-IR testing, which estimates insulin resistance by measuring blood glucose and insulin levels

Cholesterol testing to identify if there are low HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood, which would indicate insulin resistance.

Insulin Resistance and Disease

Not only can insulin resistance interfere with pancreatic health, but it is associated with serious health conditions that need attention and treatment. 

Diabetes: untreated insulin resistance increases your risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Heart disease: The metabolic alterations in your body caused by insulin resistance increase your risk for heart disease.

Stroke: The risk of stroke is significantly higher in those with insulin resistance and diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome: These conditions increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. They are both strongly linked to insulin resistance.

Fatty Liver Disease: Insulin resistance prevents the liver cells from responding appropriately, so they continue to send glucose to the blood where it accumulates. Fatty liver disease can develop alongside diabetes. 

Kidney disease: The kidneys work to push out excess blood glucose from your body, and insulin resistance can cause strain and excess work for the kidneys, increasing the risk for chronic kidney disease.

Alzheimer’s disease: Insulin contributes to normal cognitive function, and any abnormalities in insulin levels can exacerbate cognitive impairments linked to Alzheimer’s.

Insulin Resistance Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe medications that help to keep blood sugar levels under control, but most treatment plans for insulin resistance are based around lifestyle changes. Insulin resistance can be treated and prevented by getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and following a balanced diet. 

It is important to start treatment or prevention measures if you are at risk of or diagnosed with insulin resistance. Fast and effective treatment can prevent serious complications such as stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease.

Low carbohydrate diets are also common in the treatment of insulin resistance. Certain low carbohydrate diets can help to fight against metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes, but you need to take care not to limit carbohydrates completely. 

A ketogenic diet, where carbohydrate intake is very low, can induce an insulin-resistance state in your body. While this is not harmful, your body does need sugar for energy, so it is better to only limit carbohydrates rather than eliminate them completely. 

Natural Treatment for Insulin Resistance

In addition to the treatment program prescribed by your doctor, there are several things you can do to reduce insulin resistance and prevent more serious complications.

Exercise regularly: This produces immediate effects and is one of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity.

Stop smoking: Tobacco is linked to increased insulin resistance.

Lose weight: Specifically, target the belly fat because losing weight around your organs is important in preventing resistance.

Get sleep: Poor sleep increases inflammation through your body, which contributes to insulin resistance.

Dietary changes: Reduce overall sugar intake, paying careful attention to added and hidden sugars. It is also helpful to follow a balanced diet full of whole and unprocessed foods.

Supplements can also be added to your diet to help promote heart health. By regulating blood sugar levels, you can reduce the risk of heart problems associated with diabetes. The most beneficial natural ingredients to try, include: 

Berberine: This plant compound works to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as help you lose weight and reduce blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. 
Capsicum: Capsicum can help protect the heart and control diabetes in several ways. It contains antioxidants that scavenge free radicals associated with diabetes and heart disease and improves metabolism, which supports weight loss and heart health. 
Chromium: One of the best-known benefits of chromium has been facilitating the action of insulin. Chromium’s natural effect on the activity of insulin and the reduction of insulin resistance makes it an important resource in preventing elevated blood sugar levels.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Insulin resistance has been linked to many of the chronic diseases we face today, and yet it is easy to prevent and control. Lifestyle changes, losing and maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and eating a balanced diet all help to reduce the risk of insulin resistance. 

Even if diagnosed, these measures can prevent more serious complications from developing. Without intervention, you risk your heart and your health, so it is important to work toward prevention right away.

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