Insulin is an essential hormone for our metabolism. Insulin allows us to absorb glucose from the blood to provide our bodies with energy.
People with type 2 diabetes have high insulin resistance; the body has become insensitive to insulin, causing the blood glucose to remain too high. But you don't get type 2 diabetes overnight, it takes a lot of time to develop.
In this article we will explain exactly what insulin resistance is, how it can cause type 2 diabetes, what is so dangerous about it and what the symptoms are.
What insulin does
After eating a meal, the carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream, causing the blood glucose level to rise. Via the blood the energy of the meal is transported through the body to the muscles and the brains.
However, the cells in our body cannot absorb glucose. Therefore insulin is needed. Insulin opens up the cells so they can take up the glucose from the bloodstream. After the cells have taken up the glucose, the blood glucose drops again.
Insulin is a metabolic hormone that not only takes care of the glucose uptake but also the fat uptake. It is involved in the synthesis of proteins, fatty acids and the glycogen which is stored in the muscles and liver. Insulin is produced by the pancreas.
In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin. This is because the immune system has attacked the pancreas. In people with type 2 diabetes it's different, the pancreas still produces insulin but the body does not respond (enough) to it.
What is insulin resistance?
In insulin resistance, the pancreas still produces insulin. However, the body does not respond well to it anymore. Because of this the pancreas has to produce more insulin in order to be able to take up the glucose from the blood.
The increased production of insulin causes problems. Under the influence of high insulin levels, the body stores and retains fat, so you gain weight. This only makes the problem of insulin resistance worse. Increased fat in the blood ensures that the cells respond less well to insulin.
Studies show that insulin resistance has a strong correlation with overeating, overweight and obesity.
By measuring the amount of glucose (fasting) in the blood and the amount of insulin, a the ratio between the two can be calculated. This blood test is called HOMA-IR. This abbreviation stands for Homeostasis Model of Assessment - Insulin Resistance. If there is relatively high glucose in the blood at relatively high insulin levels then you may conclude from this that there is insulin resistance. After all, the high insulin level should have caused the glucose to be absorbed from the blood. The body responds well to the insulin anymore. The higher the value the worse:
- less than
- greater than > 2.0 is an indication of insulin resistance
- greater than > 2.5 insulin resistance very likely
- greater than > 5.0 in type 2 diabetes
As you can see from the above, type 2 diabetes can also be diagnosed with the HOMA-IR test.
Type 2 diabetes is actually insulin resistance that has become so strong that high blood glucose levels start to cause serious health problems.
Type 2 diabetes may also require insulin to be injected. In insulin resistance the pancreas makes more insulin. After years of walking around with insulin resistance, the pancreas at a certain point becomes exhausted and it is necessary to inject insulin.
For people with type 2 diabetes, injecting insulin is nothing more than a form of symptom control, it does not cure the disease.
Recognizing insulin resistance
Insulin resistance can often be recognized by several signs. These are:
- Getting a belly; fatter around the waist
- Weight gain
- High craving for sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods
- Fluctuations in energy
- A dip or a feeling of lethargy after a meal
- Sleep problems
- An irregular menstrual cycle
- Elevated cholesterol
- Mood swings
- Depressive feelings
- Sugar dips give you the urge to snack on sweets
The above signals can also have other causes. It is therefore wise to have your blood tested for insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can in time turn into type 2 diabetes. This is not the case for everyone and can be prevented by making lifestyle changes. The most important are to maintain a healthy weight by eating less sugar and refined carbohydrates and by exercising more. The effect of exercise is directly noticeable for the insulin sensitivity.
Why insulin resistance is dangerous
The situation of increased insulin resistance is also called pre-diabetes because in many cases it will result in type 2 diabetes. Serious and even life-threatening complications can develop with type 2 diabetes. These are the result of prolonged elevated blood glucose levels. The blood vessels and nerves are damaged as a result, which causes complications in various areas, namely with:
- The eyes
- The cardiovascular system
- Nerve damage
- On the sexual level
- The kidneys
- The hearing
- The stomach and intestines
- The feet
- The brain
- The skin
- The joints
Even people with pre-diabetes can already have problems with the above complications.
People often think that type 2 diabetes is chronic and progressive. Fortunately, this is not the case. Type 2diabetes can be brought into remission through lifestyle adjustments. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes will then disappear into the background and the quality of life will return.