What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance (IR) is when your body cells, including liver, muscle and fat cells fail to respond to the signal of insulin to open the doors for glucose to get in. Glucose is a form of sugar which is one of the main sources of energy. As a result, IR leads to a build up of glucose in the blood. IR could lead to the risk of having type 2 diabetes, including heart disease, stroke and cancer. When IR develops, your body will respond by producing more insulin to help the body cells absorb glucose for energy. Insulin refers to a natural occurring hormone that is produced by the pancreas to help transport glucose from the bloodstream into body tissue. However, with time the beta cells which is in the pancreas, will get worn out and fail to keep up with the demand to produce more insulin. This will lead to a condition known as IR, which contributes to type 2 diabetes. IR can arise as a result of different factors, including genetics, weight, age, smoking and lack of physical activity.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 70 percent of people with insulin resistance are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if no lifestyle changes are made. Also, some people who have IR are likely to develop a skin problem called acanthosis nigricans. This skin condition which results in dark patches on the armpit, groin and back of the neck is believed to be caused by insulin build up inside the skin cells. This skin condition has no cure. IR can also lead to increase in blood pressure, high triglycerides, and low HDLs. You cannot quite tell that you have IR by checking the signs and symptoms. Hence, it is encouraged that you have regular blood tests to check your blood sugar levels. Also, you cannot say that you have other medical condition caused by IR like high blood pressure and low HDL without regularly checking your blood glucose levels. Checking your blood sugar levels regularly is one of the most effective ways of preventing IR.

Signs and Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

IR has no signs and symptoms initially. However, symptoms will start to show when IR leads to a secondary condition such as high blood sugar levels.

Signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Difficulty concentration
  • Tingling sensations in your feet and hand

Causes of Insulin Resistance

Although it is not yet known what causes insulin resistance, there are different factors which scientists believe can contribute to having this condition.

It can occur if the following factors apply:

  • Overweight

Being overweight refers to a condition where your body has excess fat. This condition is difficult to treat and is believed to cause insulin resistance that leads to diabetes. Fat cells are known to be more insulin resistant compared to muscle cells. Hence it is important to cut weight so as to reduce the risk of having IR. The goal of overweight treatment is to achieve a healthy weight. Therefore, patients need to have regular exercise, eat the right food and be committed to losing weight in the long term

  • Taking high steroid doses

Scientific research shows that taking high doses of anabolic steroids can lead to IR. Anabolic steroids are often taken by people who want to build muscle mass and increase strength. The research showed that even though men who use steroids have a lower body fat compared to those who don’t use it, they had more fat around their body organs. This is known as visceral adipose tissue and is associated with increased IR.

  • Lack of physical activity

Studies show that lack of physical activity can lead to insulin resistance which can contribute to diabetes. One of the study found out that reduced physical activity can lead to significant changes in insulin sensitivity, which increases central adiposity that can cause IR.

  • Cushing’s disease

This condition is caused by tumor of the pituitary gland. As a result of tumor, there will be excess hormones being secreted which leads to high levels of blood cortisols. This in turn will cause IR.

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Being inactive is one of the contributing factors for insulin resistance. This is because when your body becomes inactive, the muscle cells lose their ability to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. In addition, physical inactivity can contribute to risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

Insulin Resistance Treatment


People who are insulin resistant cannot manage high levels of carbohydrates in food. Therefore, they secrete too much insulin in response to eating carbs. As a result they will feel hungry soon after eating and are likely to overeat so that they can satisfy themselves. Carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index are likely to be broken down faster and absorbed more quickly than those with low GI. As a result, when you consume high GI carbs like table sugar and white bread, it will increase your blood glucose level. Instead, eat vegetables which have a low GI carbs, and small amount of seeds, nuts, and fruits. In your healthy diet plan, you can reduce consumption of alcohol and restrict caloric intake.

Increase physical activity

When you engage in physical exercise, your body will burn the stored glycogen into glucose. The more glycogen that is burnt during physical exercise the more your body will be sensitive to insulin. Increase in physical activity can help reduce central adiposity and increase oxidative enzymes.


There are medications which can be used to reduce IR. They include metformin and thiazolidinediones drugs. Metformin is a biguanide that helps to reduce blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Metformin drug acts by reducing the output of hepatic glucose while increasing glucose uptake by the muscle cell. In addition, metformin enhances weight loss as well as improve the lipid profile. This in turn helps to lower IR. Thiazolidinediones which is shortened as TZDs is a medication that works by lowering insulin resistance. When your insulin resistant, your body cells, such as fat cells cannot absorb glucose from the blood. Thiazolidinediones work by making your body produce new fat cells that are sensitive to insulin. The new fat cells will help reduce blood sugar levels by making your body absorb glucose better and make better use of insulin.

Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.