Understanding Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance often goes unnoticed, silently wreaking havoc on our well-being. It's common among people with type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and a host of other metabolic disorders.

By URLife Team
23 Jun 2023

Insulin resistance also known as impaired insulin sensitivity refers to the body's ability to efficiently respond to and utilise insulin. When someone is insulin sensitive, their cells readily and effectively respond to insulin's signals, allowing glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream to enter the cells and be utilised for energy or stored for later use. This process helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and supports overall metabolic health.


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Diabetes is emerging as a global health problem and the prevalence of type-2 diabetes is increasing in Indians. A 2023 study by the Lancet has stated that more than a 100 million Indians are diabetic and are bound to increase by 44 per cent by 2027. It also has an estimated pre-diabetic population to reach around 136 million.


According to a 2022 study published in the StatePearl, insulin resistance is characterised by decreased insulin sensitivity. In this condition, the cells become less responsive to insulin, making it challenging for glucose to enter the cells. As a result, the pancreas compensates by producing more insulin, leading to elevated levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Over time, if left unaddressed, insulin resistance can progress to prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.


Related story: The Diabetes Guide: How To Balance Your Blood Sugar


Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance often develops gradually and may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages. However, as the condition progresses, several signs and symptoms may emerge.


Here are some common indicators of insulin resistance:

1. Elevated blood sugar levels

Insulin resistance interferes with the body's ability to regulate blood sugar effectively, leading to consistently higher-than-normal blood glucose levels.


2. Increased abdominal fat

Excess weight, particularly around the waistline, is often associated with insulin resistance. This is because abdominal fat cells release substances that can impair insulin action.


3. Fatigue and low energy levels

Insulin resistance can disrupt the normal energy utilisation process, leading to feelings of tiredness and decreased energy levels throughout the day.


4. Increased hunger and cravings

Insulin resistance can affect the signalling mechanisms that regulate hunger and satiety, leading to increased appetite, frequent hunger pangs, and cravings for sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods.


5. Difficulty losing weight

Insulin resistance can make it challenging to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, even with efforts to exercise and eat a balanced diet.


6. Frequent urination and excessive thirst

Elevated blood sugar levels resulting from insulin resistance can lead to increased urine production, causing more frequent urination. This can trigger excessive thirst and the need to drink more water.


7. Skin changes

Dark patches of skin, known as acanthosis nigricans, may develop in areas such as the neck, armpits, groin, or other skin folds. These patches may appear thickened, velvety, and darker in colour.


8. High blood pressure

Insulin resistance is often associated with hypertension (high blood pressure), which can increase the risk of cardiovascular complications.


9. Irregular menstrual cycles

Women with insulin resistance, particularly those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), may experience irregular menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, and fertility issues.


10. Poor wound healing

Insulin resistance can impair the body's ability to heal wounds and recover from injuries, as high blood sugar levels can interfere with the normal healing processes.


Related story: Managing Diabetes Naturally


What Causes Insulin Resistance?

Insulin sensitivity is influenced by various factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, body weight, physical activity levels, diet, and overall metabolic health. Improving insulin sensitivity through regular exercise, adopting a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress levels can help promote optimal metabolic function and reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance-related conditions. 

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While the exact causes are not fully understood, several key factors contribute to the development of insulin resistance:

1. Obesity

Excess body weight, particularly abdominal fat, is strongly associated with insulin resistance. Adipose tissue, especially visceral fat, releases substances that interfere with insulin action, contributing to insulin resistance.


2. Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle are significant contributors to insulin resistance. Regular exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity by enhancing glucose uptake by muscles and promoting overall metabolic health.


3. Unhealthy Diet

Diets high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed foods can contribute to insulin resistance. These foods can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, inflammation, and increased fat accumulation, all of which can impair insulin sensitivity.


4. Genetic Factors

Certain genetic variations can predispose individuals to insulin resistance. These genetic factors can affect insulin signalling pathways, glucose metabolism, and fat storage, increasing the likelihood of developing insulin resistance.


5. Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can disrupt insulin signalling and lead to insulin resistance.


6. Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation in the body, often associated with obesity and unhealthy lifestyle habits, can interfere with insulin action and contribute to insulin resistance.


7. Sleep Deprivation

Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep has been linked to insulin resistance. Lack of sleep can disrupt hormonal balance and negatively impact metabolic processes, including insulin sensitivity.


8. Medications and Medical Conditions

Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, antipsychotics, and some HIV medications, can induce insulin resistance. Additionally, medical conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and fatty liver disease are often associated with insulin resistance.


Related story: Keep Diabetes Under Check-How To Stop Diabetes Before It Stops


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How To Manage Insulin Better

Managing insulin resistance involves a comprehensive approach that addresses lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, regular physical activity, and, in some cases, medical interventions. 

Here are some strategies to help manage insulin resistance:

1. Adopt a balanced and nutritious diet

Focus on consuming whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Minimise processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars. Spread your meals throughout the day to avoid large spikes in blood sugar levels and aim for portion control.


2. Choose low glycemic index (GI) foods

Opt for foods with a lower glycemic index, as they have a smaller impact on blood sugar levels. Examples include whole grains, legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and most fruits. These foods help stabilise blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.


3. Regular physical activity

Engage in regular aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming, for at least 150 minutes per week. Additionally, incorporate strength training exercises to build muscle mass, as muscles play a key role in glucose metabolism. Consult with a healthcare professional to develop an exercise plan suitable for your fitness level and health conditions.


4. Keep weight in check

If overweight or obese, losing weight through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise can significantly improve insulin sensitivity. Aim for gradual, sustainable weight loss under the guidance of a healthcare professional or registered dietitian.


5. Monitor carbohydrate intake

Be mindful of your carbohydrate intake and consider working with a registered dietitian to determine the appropriate amount and distribution of carbohydrates in your meals. Some individuals with insulin resistance may benefit from a lower carbohydrate or moderate carbohydrate diet, but this should be done with professional guidance.


6. Get enough sleep

Prioritise quality sleep and aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Poor sleep habits and sleep deprivation can affect insulin sensitivity and overall metabolic health.


7. Medication and medical interventions

In some cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe medications, such as metformin, to help manage insulin resistance. These medications are typically used in conjunction with lifestyle changes. Consult with a healthcare provider to discuss appropriate medical interventions if necessary.


8. Regular monitoring and follow-up

Monitor your blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure regularly. Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help track your progress and make necessary adjustments to your management plan.


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It is important to work closely with healthcare professionals, such as doctors, registered dietitians, and diabetes educators, to develop a personalised management plan that suits your specific needs and health conditions. They can provide guidance, monitor your progress, and adjust treatment strategies as needed.


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Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have insulin resistance. Taking regular health checks can help detect insulin resistance at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.



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