Insulin Resistance: What does this mean?

Insulin resistance is a condition that is characterized by a resistance of the body’s cells to the hormone insulin, which causes an increase in blood sugar. As a result, the amount of insulin is reduced and the body needs higher levels of insulin in order for the hormone to function properly. When a person is insulin resistant, the pancreas tries to make up for the reduced levels of insulin by trying to make more insulin. It is estimated that there are more than three million people who develop insulin resistance each year.


Insulin is a hormone that is produced by pancreas. Specifically, they are produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. The beta cells are spread out within the pancreas and are grouped in small clusters known as the islets of Langerhans. The beta cells produce insulin and release it into the blood stream. Insulin is essential to the body and is responsible for many important hormonal functions. The majority of insulin’s responsibilities include metabolizing carbohydrates, sugars, starches), lipids, and proteins. Insulin is also important for regulating the functions of the body's cells, such as their growth and development. Insulin is also important for using glucose as energy throughout the body.  

When a person is insulin resistant, the pancreas continues to produce insulin until it can no longer produce the sufficient amount of insulin that the body needs. Afterwards, the blood sugar goes up. Insulin resistance is a risk factor for development of diabetes and heart disease.  There are a number of things that can cause insulin resistance. Many of the causes are in fact genetic and inherited. There are also certain medications that may cause insulin resistance. Some of the underlying conditions that may cause insulin resistance include Metabolic Syndrome (a group of conditions involving excess weight, high blood pressure, and elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood), obesity, pregnancy, infection or severe illness, stress, lack of physical exercise, being overweight, and using steroids.

There are a number of risk factors that may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance. A person has a higher risk for developing insulin resistance if they are overweight, over 40 years of age, are Latino, African American, Native American or Asian American, has a close family member with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or arteriosclerosis, has had gestational diabetes, has a history of high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, has polycystic ovarian syndrome, or has a skin condition called Acanthosis nigricans.