Insulin Resistance

The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin that regulates the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. Insulin acts like a key that unlocks the doors to cells, allowing sugar to enter.

Insulin resistance is when the door becomes stuck and glucose struggles to enter the cells….

What is Insulin Resistance? 

In healthy people, insulin regulates the quantity of glucose in the bloodstream. After a meal, the pancreas releases extra insulin to shuttle glucose into cells, keeping blood sugar levels healthy.

However, some patients have insulin resistance. Here, cells do not want to accept sugar from the bloodstream, even though insulin levels are high. To bring the body back into balance, the pancreas has to compensate by pumping out even more insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.

What Happens During Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance begins in muscle and liver cells. Glucose in the blood cannot move into muscles to power them during exercise or get into the liver to form glycogen, a form of energy storage.

You can think of insulin as a key that unlocks the door to the cell, allowing glucose in. Under normal conditions, it activates structures in the cell which then reach out into the bloodstream, grab onto glucose molecules, and draw them into the cell. When insulin resistance occurs, though, it is like there is gunk in the lock mechanism, preventing it from turning easily, or not at all. There is plenty of insulin in their blood but the key won’t turn. Hence, when you eat food, the level of glucose in your bloodstream rises higher than it should, causing damage to sensitive tissues, like blood vessels and nerves.

No form of insulin resistance is harmless. Even if your pancreas is able to produce enough insulin to shuttle glucose into cells, higher insulin levels can cause weight gain and other symptoms of metabolic syndromes, such as high blood pressure. It can also downregulate sirtuins and other longevity pathways and cause pancreatic exhaustion. Therefore, the goal is always to minimise insulin resistance in the body.

What Causes It? 

At a cellular level, insulin resistance occurs because of fat in muscle cells or chronic inflammation. Cells simply don’t want to respond when insulin comes knocking at the door. Tiny fat globules disrupt the insulin signalling process

At a lifestyle level, though, the following factors increase the risk of insulin resistance:

  • Lack of physical activity, particularly activities that involve the activation of skeletal muscles

  • A high-fat, low-fibre diet

  • A high animal protein diet

  • Being overweight around the middle (that is, having a fatty liver or large quantities of visceral fat around internal organs)

People with type I diabetes are not insulin resistant. If you provide them with insulin injections, their cells will usually take up glucose from the blood. Type I diabetes results from an inability of pancreatic beta cells to produce insulin.

What conditions is it linked to?

Insulin resistance builds slowly over time, usually a decade or more in most patients. At first, there is no disease and the condition is reversible. However, over time, it can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes plus a host of other metabolic syndrome-related conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

The side effects of uncontrolled type II diabetes are severe. High blood sugar levels can damage sensitive blood vessels, leading to retinal and kidney damage, and the risk of limb amputation. Therefore, swift treatment and lifestyle modification is essential.

If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail with one of our doctors, please get in touch here.