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What is Insulin Resistance, and How is it Related to Diabetes and Weight Gain?

What is insulin?

Insulin is an important hormone produced in the pancreas by the islets of Langerhans which helps to transport and regulate the amount of glucose and amino acids in our blood to our cells. We need sugar as it is the basic unit of energy and plays an essential role in fueling our body. Just like a car needs gasoline to provide power to keep moving, our cells need sugar to provide us with energy.


Unfortunately, if our blood sugar and insulin levels get out of whack, the movement of glucose and amino acids in our cells decreases. Also in the absence of insulin, our satiety center or sense of fullness cannot find the presence of glucose resulting in an intense feeling of hunger in spite of an increase in our blood sugar levels. Which causes us to develop changes that increase our risk for both weight gain and type two diabetes.

How does insulin work?

First, in order to understand how it works, it is important for us to understand how it occurs.

If our body is working smoothly, the following occurs:

- When we take in food, our body breaks it down into carbohydrates and it is absorbed by our bloodstream as blood sugar.

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

- Insulin serves as a messenger and when it is released it travels to all the cells of our body and helps them to open up and take in sugar so it can be used for energy.

- Insulin then stimulates the liver to produce and store blood sugar as glycogen to be released depending on the body’s need for glucose.

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

- Glucagon then makes the liver break down the stored sugar named glycogen that is being released into the bloodstream which helps regulate our blood sugar to normal levels.

What happens in the case of insulin resistance:

- A large amount of sugar enters the bloodstream

- Our body responds by signaling our pancreas to keep trying to release a larger amount of insulin until it wears out.

- Insulin travels to our cells, specifically our liver, muscles, and fats to tell them to open up and take in sugar.

- But, instead of opening and taking the sugar into our bloodstream, our cells ignore or resist the insulin.

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

- When our cells are already full and cannot take in sugar anymore, it remains in our bloodstream, leading to a higher blood sugar level also known as Insulin Resistance.

- Eventually, when our pancreas cannot keep up and blood sugar levels continue to rise, this makes us at risk for prediabetes or being in a diabetic range.

How does elevated insulin contribute to weight gain?

Since insulin is a hormone produced by our body to help control the amount of sugar in our blood, when there is an excess of insulin and blood sugar in our bloodstream, it signals our body to put that excess sugar in storage. Some of that sugar can be stored in our liver, adipose tissue, and muscles; however, when these are full, our body starts to store the extra sugar as fats, which causes an imbalance in our system that leads to 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 such as a high risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease (can lead to kidney failure), peripheral neuropathy or blindness, various diseases of the nerves, poor healing of wounds, foot ulcers, and an increase of 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 uplifting thing about insulin resistance is that it can be delayed and/or prevented. Lifestyle and dietary changes such as eating food rich in fiber like whole grains, vegetables, and beans; low fat dairy products; and a low sodium diet. Adding physical activity such as exercise on a daily basis and even some medications might reverse the process and can be a powerful tool to help reduce and prevent both high blood sugar and high insulin levels.

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