Insulin Resistance: Symptoms, Causes, and Solutions

Insulin resistance is simply when your body stops responding to insulin. The cells in your body no longer absorb the appropriate amounts of glucose to use for fuel.

This leaves too much glucose in the blood and not enough in the cells for energy.

Your pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps regulate how much energy your body receives.

This energy is called glucose. Insulin tells your body’s cells to absorb glucose, which the cells then use for energy. This is how your body is fueled for all actions, from breathing to running. Without enough glucose, your body would shut down.

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How do you test for insulin resistance?

The best way to check for insulin resistance is through blood tests. Your doctor can check your glucose levels, insulin levels, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. These will give your doctor a better understanding of how your body is processing glucose and can help him diagnose insulin resistance.

Doctors most often use the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test or the A1C test to diagnose prediabetes.  Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells, which carries oxygen throughout the body.

When glucose builds up, it binds to hemoglobin in your red blood cells. This test reveals how much glucose is bound. Less often, doctors use the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), which is more expensive and not as easy to give.

What happens in the body during insulin resistance?

When you consume carbohydrate-rich or high sugar foods, blood sugar levels go up.

Sugar is a source of fuel, and your body uses it for immediate energy needs. In a healthy person, the pancreas detects the presence of sugar in the blood and releases insulin to keep blood sugar levels from rising too high.

Insulin acts as a gatekeeper for your cells. It allows sugar to come in at a rate that you can use. If you can’t use all the available sugar, the excess is stored as fat.

As sugar is used to meet metabolic demands and store the rest, sugar levels start to decline. Once the pancreas notes that our blood sugar levels are back to normal, it stops secreting insulin, and your body goes back into balance.

For a person that is insulin resistant, we have a very different picture. When that person eats a carbohydrate-rich or high sugar food, although the pancreas may release insulin, the cells of the body do not recognize that insulin is present.

That means that the blood sugar is high, and blood insulin levels are high as well.

Sugar is not able to get into the cells for energy and becomes stored, leading to higher levels of fat in and around blood vessels (for example, in the form of triglycerides), internal organs, muscles and throughout the body.

Triglycerides put a more considerable strain on blood flow and heart function. Meanwhile, the pancreas becomes confused because although there are high levels of sugar in the blood, there are also high levels of insulin circulating.

Over time, the pancreas becomes exhausted and does not secrete any more insulin. This chain of events leads to obesity, cardiovascular problems, lack of energy, metabolic disorders, and diabetes.

Symptoms and causes of insulin resistance

What causes insulin resistance?

Scientists still do not understand what exactly causes insulin resistance. It appears to be caused by a variety of different factors. However, those who are usually diagnosed with insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes often share the same characteristics.

Most people with insulin resistance are overweight, sedentary, and eating a diet high in carbohydrates.

This combination leads to a higher production of glucose, which leads to high insulin levels. The more insulin your body produces, the higher your chance of developing insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is also linked to many other diseases. Women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to be insulin resistant. Fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer are also linked to insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is also associated with heart disease. The link between these diseases and insulin resistance is still unclear. Researchers are not sure what comes first, but insulin resistance might cause most of these diseases.

How do you know if you have insulin resistance?

People with insulin resistance typically do not show any symptoms. This can make it very difficult to diagnose insulin resistance, and many people do not realize they have a problem until they are diagnosed with prediabetes. If this happens, some of the symptoms experienced include:

Treatments for insulin resistance

How can insulin resistance be prevented or avoided?

What can be done to keep your body in good functioning order? Some basics to keep your insulin receptors sensitive are exercise, eating low glycemic foods that are high in fiber, and essential nutrients like lipoic acid, chromium, vanadium, and magnesium.

Regular exercise will help you lose weight and also helps the body regulate its insulin production. You should shoot for 30 minutes per session, and you should exercise at least three days per week.

You can even workout up to five days a week. Begin with simple exercises like walking and bodyweight exercises. As you increase your fitness, you can try more challenging exercises like running and lifting heavyweights.

A healthy diet is key to regulating insulin production. Your diet should consist of whole foods like vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats. Avoid sugary, processed, and low fiber, high carb foods. Drink water and ditch the sodas and energy drinks.

You can also decrease insulin resistance by quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol consumption. This will help you maintain a healthy weight and exercise more regularly.

What are the best treatments for insulin resistance?

Awareness of insulin resistance has gained significance, in its own right, as a contributor to the metabolic syndrome. There are a number of ways in which insulin resistance can be treated. These include:


As touched upon, regular physical activity can help to promote weight and regulate insulin production. When you exercise, your muscles use glucose for energy. This is what keeps you going during a strenuous exercise session.

Insulin helps play a role in this process since it helps move glucose out of the blood and into muscles for storage.

So, when you exercise, your sensitivity to insulin increases because your body needs glucose to work hard. In addition to increasing sensitivity during exercise, your body will also stay more sensitive to insulin after you finish working out! This effect can last from one hour to 24 hours after exercising.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Science researched the effects of a 12-week exercise program, on type 2 diabetic patients.

Their results found that the exercise program improved glucose utilization and tolerance, cardiorespiratory fitness, blood pressure, and QOL as well as depression status in patients with T2DM.

Studies have concluded that a lifestyle incorporating aerobic exercise and/or PA that complies with the guidelines of being of moderate intensity for at least 30 min on 3–5 days per week, is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and glycaemic control.


Dietary changes can have a significant impact on insulin sensitivity. Therefore, it is important to avoid foods that can raise blood sugar levels, as this puts unwarranted pressure on your pancreas to produce insulin.  

A study randomized 89 overweight or obese women to either a standard diet (StdD), that was intended to be low in fat and relatively high in carbohydrate or to a relatively high protein, relatively high fiber diet for 10 weeks.

Their results found that women on the high protein, high fiber diet, experienced weight loss, improvement in lipid concentrations, and improved reduced insulin sensitivity.

Your diet should consist of:


When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones that increase blood sugar levels and trigger insulin production.

Stress hormones also contribute to your body’s inability to respond to insulin appropriately. Try to lower the stress levels in your life and actively seek out calming practices like yoga, reading, meditation, and relaxation.


When you have diabetes, you are already at risk of developing health complications, including a heart attack, stroke, and poor circulation. By smoking, you could increase your risk of developing these health complications by double.

A combination of high glucose levels in the blood and smoking, damages the walls of the arteries making it easier for fatty deposits to build up.

As a result, the blood vessels become narrow, making it harder for the blood to circulate, which can ultimately increase your risk of a heart attack.

Even if you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, giving up smoking is still a good idea. Studies have shown that smoking is a risk factor for insulin resistance, which can lead to you developing diabetes.


Several studies have suggested that decreased magnesium levels may contribute to the insulin resistance of patients with Type 2 diabetes. Despite this, around 80 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient.

Supplementing with magnesium, or consuming magnesium-rich foods could be beneficial. In fact, one study found that those with the highest magnesium intake reduced their risk of metabolic problems by 71 percent.


The American Diabetes Association recommends metformin as the initial pharmacological option for most people with type 2 diabetes.

It has a strong record of safety and efficacy, as well as a favorable effect on weight. A meta-analysis of 26 randomized, controlled trials assessed the impact of metformin plus insulin versus insulin alone.

Metformin combined with insulin resulted in a significant reduction in A1C (mean difference –0.60%, P <0.001) and lower insulin requirements (mean difference –18.9 units/day, P <0.001) when compared to insulin therapy alone. However, metformin can result in gastrointestinal (GI) side effects, such as cramping, dioahera, and nausea.

Best supplements for treating insulin resistance

What are the best kinds of supplements to reverse insulin resistance?

  • Berberine is an extract that comes from tree bark. Studies have shown that a concentrated supplement made from it can control blood sugar levels by inhibiting the absorption of sugars in the intestine and enhancing insulin production. Other research has shown that Berberine also reduces blood lipids (fats) and aids in weight loss.
  • Cinnamon is potent diabetes curing nutrient. A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of cinnamon supplementation on people diagnosed with metabolic syndrome was carried out for 16 weeks.

    The participants were encouraged to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Half the participants were received 6 grams of cinnamon and the rest were given 6 grams of a placebo.

    There was a reduction in HbA1c and fasting blood sugar in the cinnamon group compared to placebo by week 16. There was also a greater reduction in waist circumference and BMI compared to placebo.
  • Chromium plays a vital role in metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats as well as helping you maintain maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Chromium actually enhances the efficacy and absorption rates of insulin in the body, making it an essential nutrient for people with diabetes.
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid actually mimics the function of insulin and research has also shown that it protects against oxidative stress caused by high blood sugar levels, meaning it could very well save you from a diabetic amputation.

    It also reduces blood fats, blood sugar levels, and helps with weight loss. Not to mention that other studies have shown that Alpha Lipoic acid has been proven to help with nerve pain for diagnosed diabetes.
  • Gynostemma is a well-known diabetes curing nutrient; the plant has been used for centuries in South Asian countries as a weight loss and diabetes cure. It is traditionally brewed in Tea; however, studies have shown that a concentrated extract taken as an oral capsule enhances insulin sensitivity, which in turn leads to improved glucose control.
  • Fenugreek is another powerful diabetes curing nutrient that may already be sitting in your spice rack. The seeds are often ground and powdered to make spice, and the leaves of the plant can be usually found as a dried herb in most large supermarkets.

    The plant has been recognized for its health benefits since the Romans began using it to spice wines almost 2000 years ago.

    Research has shown that Fenugreek works to lower blood sugar levels and improves glucose tolerance. Additionally, Fenugreek is packed full of fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar. Overall it’s one of the best nutrients you can take to help regulate your blood sugar levels.
  • Bitter Melon is a subtropical vine that has been used in traditional Asian medicine and cuisine since it was first introduced to China in the 14th century. Studies in the last 10 years have shown that bitter melon actually increases insulin secretion while decreasing insulin resistance, helping to restore normal blood sugar levels and pancreatic function.


Insulin resistance is the first indicator that you may develop type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to diagnose since there are no apparent symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to have your glucose levels regularly tested, especially if you are overweight or lead a sedentary life.

The best way to avoid developing insulin resistance is to eat a healthy diet that is rich in protein and healthy fats.

Some carbohydrates are okay to eat, but sugary, processed foods should be avoided. Regular exercise is also essential in preventing insulin resistance.

If you suspect you may have developed insulin resistance, contact your doctor and have your blood sugar tested. Catching irregular insulin activity as early as possible will make it much easier to correct your lifestyle and prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

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