What is insulin
To answer the question “What is Insulin Resistance?” you must first understand what insulin is and what is does.
Insulin is the primary – and by far the most active – metabolic hormone.
Although insulin has other important functions, it’s main purpose is to regulate blood sugar/glucose by telling cells to open up and take in the glucose for use as energy or store it for later as fat.
Muscle cells absorb sugar from the blood and turn it into glycogen which is then burned. Fat cells turn glucose into fat and store it hopefully to be burned later.
Blood sugar/glucose tells your pancreas to release insulin. Although blood sugar can increase a little if you eat more protein than you need. The primary cause of blood sugar is eating carbohydrates.
What is Insulin Resistance
When your muscles and other organs have all the sugar they can handle, the cells become resistant to insulin effectively saying “no more sugar, we’re full.” They resist insulin’s demand to open up and take in more sugar and that is insulin resistance.
Why Insulin Resistance Matters
You may have noticed that I said “muscle and organs” and didn’t mention fat. That’s because fat cells work the other way.
When you increase your blood sugar by eating carbohydrates, that blood sugar goes first to muscles and organs to be burned for energy. But when there is more glucose than the muscles can use, it has to go somewhere, and fat cells don’t resist insulin, they take in all they can and turn it into fat.
In fact, insulin also tells fat cells to hold the triglycerides and not release them. Insulin simultaneously makes you fatter and stops you from burning fat.
In the short term this is not a problem. You store fat for a time when you don’t have enough to eat. So, if you eat too much one day, it’s going to be okay if you don’t get enough to eat some other day.
The problem is that when you overeat for a long time you not only gain weight, the receptors on muscle and organ cells get more and more resistant to insulin.
Your pancreas will release more and more insulin and your cells will become more and more resistant – it’s a vicious cycle. And fat cells will get bigger and bigger, and the excess insulin will make burning fat harder and harder.
The fat will form around your internal organs making their work harder too.
And one more huge consequence of insulin resistance: Insulin tells your kidneys to recirculate sodium, and sodium makes you retain water, and that makes you bloated and gives you high blood pressure.
What You Can You do About Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is reversible with time and a little effort.
First you need to take control of your diet. Especially reduce the amount of sugar and processed carbs, and get enough fiber.
Second, get some regular exercise. It doesn’t have to be training for the Olympics, but it needs to be every day.
This explanation covers the common form of insulin resistance – i.e. Insulin resistance caused by long term continuous over consumption of carbohydrates (especially highly processed carbs). Just for full disclosure, there are other causes including genetics, but most commonly it is
I highly recommend that you ask your doctor about insulin resistance. While mostly insulin resistance does not have symptoms, it can lead to other really bad things like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.