Yes. But weight gain is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the kind of health problems being insulin resistance can lead to. When you are insulin resistant, your pancreases slows production of insulin needed to regulate blood sugar levels. When this happens, excess blood sugar in your body is more likely to be stored as fat, raise your blood triglyceride levels, and lower good cholesterol levels.
These are risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes that claim the lives of an estimated 800,000 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, these deaths are largely preventable if people would develop healthier eating habits, get adequate sleep, and exercise more. Already an estimated 26 million people in the United States are insulin resistant and have type 2 diabetes. Another 79 million people are prediabetic and are already showing signs of insulin resistance, although they may not even know it.
When you eat a meal, your pancreas releases insulin to help fat and muscle cells absorb the blood sugar or glucose from your digested food. For a healthy person, a slow and brief release of insulin after a meal helps direct blood sugar levels where to go, how to store them, and how they will be used. Within a few hours after eating, blood sugar levels return to normal and the pancreas no longer needs to secrete insulin for the time being.
But if you’re gorging on a fast food meal or foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels will rise dramatically and your pancreas will respond by producing a surge of insulin. Over time, your body can become insulin resistant, and your pancreas may no longer be able to produce enough insulin to help control your spikes in blood sugar levels.
Causes of Insulin Resistance
Researchers with the National Institutes of Health have identified three main causes of insulin resistance. It’s important to note that most are preventable by eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise and adequate sleep. However, some risk factors for insulin resistance like ethnicity, certain diseases, drug use, age, smoking, and certain prescription medications can cause insulin resistance. The three leading causes of insulin resistance include:
1. Excess Weight
If you’re among the 68 percent of all adults in the United States who are overweight or obese, you’re at an increased risk for becoming insulin-resistant. Some health professional believe that excess fat stored around the waist isn’t just harmless flab. Studies show that this visceral fat may actively produce hormones that interferes with insulin released from the pancreas and contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
2. Lack of Exercise
If you live a sedentary life and spend most of your time sitting around (in the car, at work, and at home in front of the TV), you’re more likely to become insulin-resistant than an active person. And it should be a no-brainer that lack of exercise can lead to weight gain and obesity.
3. Lack of Sleep
If you’re the parent of a newborn, you’ve got a good excuse for not getting enough sleep. But other than that, you should be getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night for best health. Many adults don’t get enough sleep, and not because of some health condition, they’re just accustomed to staying up late to watch TV, hang out with friends, or fiddle around the house, instead of going to bed at an earlier time. Studies show that lack of sleep can increase your risk for weight gain, impede insulin sensitivity, and increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
People who are insulin resistant usually don’t have any symptoms. They may be overweight, live a sedentary life, and make poor food choices, but that doesn’t always mean someone is insulin resistant. The most common way to determine if you are insulin resistant and at risk for type 2 diabetes is through a simple blood test. A typical fasting blood sugar level for a healthy person is 80 to 120 mg/dL with an ideal range of 70 to 99 mg/dL. If your fasting blood sugar level is higher than these values, you’re likely insulin resistant and at risk for diabetes. In this case, your doctor will likely order an A1C test to get a better picture of your blood sugar levels over past few months.
Ways to Reduce Insulin Resistance
Unfortunately there is no magic pill to reduce insulin resistance. In some cases, people who have developed insulin resistance may need to take medications or insulin injections to keep blood sugar levels under control. But the best way to increase insulin sensitivity and manage your weight is by adopting healthy eating habits and getting regular fat loss exercise.