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What is Insulin Resistance?


Updated March 31, 2011

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What is Insulin Resistance?

Excess weight around the waist is known to contribute to insulin resistance.

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What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is a condition where your body is unable to effectively use the insulin that it makes.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps your body use glucose (sugar) for energy. When you eat something, that food is digested and converted to sugar so it can be used for energy. Your body makes insulin to help move the glucose from your bloodstream to virtually all of the cells in your body. We need this glucose to fuel our cells in order to stay alive.

When you have insulin resistance, your body is having a difficult time using the insulin it makes to get the glucose into the cells. This means that too much glucose and unused insulin can build up in your bloodstream and put you at risk for diabetes and other health problems. This can lead to a condition known as pre-diabetes, which means you have a higher than normal level of glucose in your body.

What causes insulin resistance?

Researchers have identified genes that increase the risk of developing insulin resistance in some individuals. Excess weight and lack of physical activity are also contributors to insulin resistance.

What are the signs of possible insulin resistance?

Many people with insulin resistance have one or more of the following:

  • Elevated fasting blood sugar levels above 100 mg/dl
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal levels of cholesterol (low HDL, the “good” cholesterol) and high triglycerides (blood fat) in the blood
  • Acanthosis nigricans (increased skin pigmentation in areas like the folds of the neck and under the armpits)
  • Excess weight around the waist

The link between insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome

If you have these signs, you may be told by your healthcare provider that you have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is not a disease, but a term that describes a set of risk factors. Having these risk factors greatly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. The terms insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are sometimes used interchangeably. If a person is known to have insulin resistance, they are likely to have the additional signs of metabolic syndrome.

What treatments are available for insulin resistance?

In most cases, insulin resistance and the state of pre-diabetes can be reversed by losing weight and being more physically active. In many cases, weight loss and modest exercise can significantly decrease your body’s resistance to insulin and lower your blood glucose levels.

Medication is also available to help lower related symptoms of insulin resistance, such as high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.


National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. “Insulin Resistance and Pre-diabetes”.

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