I get many questions about "insulin resistance." Since research shows the majority of people who carry excess weight are insulin resistant to some degree, it is an important concept to understand.
1) The carbohydrates we eat from are broken down into glucose in the body. Carbohydrates come from a number of food sources, including foods including starches (pasta, rice, cereal, bread, etc.), fruits and fruit juice, many veggies, dairy foods, and most sweets and junk foods. Glucose travels through the bloodstream as "blood glucose" or "blood sugar."
2) Glucose is the main energy source for the body and the only energy source that can be used by the brain. In other words, our bodies need glucose to survive.
3) There is definitely "too much of a good thing" when it comes to glucose. Excess glucose in the bloodstream leads to the development of diabetes and wreaks havoc on the body when it is not controlled.
4) Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to manage glucose levels in the body. In a healthy body, insulin is secreted in small amounts 24/7 and in additional larger amounts every time food is ingested. Insulin is like the key that unlocks the door allowing glucose to enter our liver, brain, and muscle cells. These cells are where glucose can safely hang out. Conversely, the bloodstream is not where glucose should loiter.
What is insulin resistance?
Over time, insulin can become less effective in "unlocking" these doors in our cells. Therefore, our body has to work harder to create more insulin to do the same job. As our tissues (muscles, brain, liver) become less sensitive to insulin they are becoming insulin resistant. In a nutshell, insulin resistance is a condition in which the body continues to produce insulin but the body does not use it properly. Eventually, the burden of producing more and more insulin becomes too much for the pancreas to bear. Glucose levels in the bloodstream rise leading to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance not only increases the risk for developing diabetes, but also heart disease and hypertension. The presence of insulin resistance can also make it harder for a person to lose weight, especially from the abdominal region. Risk factors for insulin resistance include genetics, excess weight and lack of physical activity.
What can you do about it?
Research tells us the most important preventative medicine for developing insulin resistance is exercise. Even if you exercise and are overweight, you are doing the right thing by helping your body's tissues stay more sensitive to insulin. Simply put, consistent moderate-to-vigorous exercise can delay the onset of insulin resistance and eventual diabetes...so keep moving!
Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.SkinnyintheCity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.