Insulin resistance: What is it and how is it affecting your health? (Part 1)

Insulin resistance: What is it and how is it affecting your health? (Part 1)
Insulin resistance: What is it and how is it affecting your health? (Part 1)

Insulin resistance: What is it and how is it affecting your health? (Part 1)

Dr. Richa Mittal

Many of us have wondered why we or a loved one seems to be doing the "right things" yet still gaining weight and perhaps even developing health problems as a consequence.

Today, I am going to delve into this topic by first giving you an overview of the factors that contribute to becoming overweight and unhealthy. Next week, part 2 will go into ways we can address this problem.

If you have ever read about weight gain or diabetes, you may have come across the term "insulin resistance". Before you can make changes that will make a difference, it is important to understand what is going on in our bodies.

Insulin is a major hormone involved in regulation of blood sugar and metabolism. It is released by our pancreas. The main triggers for release of insulin are glucose (sugar or carbohydrates digested from a meal) and to a small degree protein from a meal. Insulin's role is to drive the glucose (sugar) into the cells of muscle, fat and the liver in order to use it for energy. Whatever we do not use gets stored as energy in our muscles and liver as well as as fat in our fat cells.

Insulin also regulates our metabolism by communicating with a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

Two factors lead to the storage of fat: eating more carbohydrates than we need and physical inactivity. As we consume more food than we need, especially carbohydrates, the glucose gets stored as fat.

This fat, when it becomes stored in our abdominal region (visceral fat), is not just an inactive form of stored energy. This fat produces hormones and other factors that attract immune system cells, that in turn cause inflammation. The inflammation leads to the insulin not being able to do its job as effectively (aka resistance). To make up for this, the body ends up producing more and more insulin. At some point, the pancreas is unable to keep up with this process and the person now shows signs of pre-diabetes or diabetes.

You can imagine that this process does not occur overnight. We are in this inflammatory state for years before our labs will show abnormal glucose, which would alert your doctor about this process. Addressing this once you have developed diabetes is too late. All this time, the body has been exposed to harmful inflammation, which raises your risk for heart disease, stroke, inflammation and cirrhosis of the liver and even cancer.

So, how can we lower our risk for insulin resistance and what tests are there that can be done to check whether we are on the path to developing this dangerous condition? Stay tuned for next week in Part 2 of this article.

Until next time, be well!

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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