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Insulin resistance: What is it and how does it contribute to diabetes and weight gain

What is insulin?

Insulin is an important hormone in our body that helps us to regulate our blood sugar. We need sugar as it is the basic unit of energy that our cells use for fuel. Just like a car needs gasoline, our cells need sugar.

Unfortunately, if our blood sugar and insulin levels get out of whack, we can begin to develop changes that increase our risk for both weight gain and type two diabetes. 


How does insulin work?

In order to understand how this occurs it is first important to understand how insulin works. 


If our body is working smoothly, the following occurs:

- When we eat food, our body breaks it down and it is absorbed into our bloodstream as blood sugar. 

- Our body notices the increase in blood sugar after we eat and signals our pancreas to release insulin. 

- Insulin is a messenger. When it is released it travels to all the cells in the body and helps them to open up and take in sugar so it can be used for fuel. 

- Insulin also tells the liver to store blood sugar for later. 

- When blood sugar travels into the cells, the amount of sugar in your bloodstream decreases signaling your insulin levels to decrease as well. 


What happens in the case of insulin resistance:

- A large amount of sugar enters the blood stream

- Our body responds by signaling our pancreas to release a larger amount of insulin. 

- Insulin travels to our cells to tell them to open and take in sugar.

- Instead of opening and taking in the sugar, our cells ignore or resist the insulin. 

- Our pancreas reacts by producing more insulin to attempt to get our cells to respond. 

- If our cells are not taking in the sugar, then it remains in our blood stream leading to higher blood sugars. 

- Eventually our pancreas cannot keep up and blood sugar levels continue to rise putting us at risk for prediabetes and eventually diabetes.


How does elevated insulin contribute to weight gain?

When there is a lot of excess insulin and blood sugar in our blood stream, it signals our body to put that excess sugar in storage. We can store some sugar in our liver and muscles, however, when these are full our body start to store the extra sugar as fat. This of course starts to cause weight gain. 


What are the risks of prediabetes and diabetes?

When blood sugar levels are consistently elevated it can lead to many chronic health conditions including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, diseases of the nerves in our body, foot ulcers and infections.


What can I do about insulin resistance?

There are a number of factors that can lead to insulin resistance including diet, genetics and weight. 

The most exciting thing about insulin resistance is it can be delayed and/or prevented. Dietary changes, physical activity and even some medications can be powerful tools to help reduce both blood sugar and insulin levels. 

Knowledge is power! Learn more about insulin resistance and it’s role in health with our Oregon Medical Weight Loss Department. Contact us as or call 503.620.5556 to make an appointment.

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