What Is Insulin Resistance and How Is It Related to Diabetes?

What Is Insulin and What Does It Do?

Insulin is a hormone your pancreas makes to help your body control how much sugar (or glucose) stays in your blood. When you eat or drink, your body breaks down nutrients, such as carbohydrates, into glucose, which enters your bloodstream. Your pancreas then releases insulin to allow the body to turn that glucose into energy. Diabetes occurs when this process is compromised. With type 1 diabetes, your pancreas can't produce enough insulin. With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas produces enough insulin, but your body can't use it properly.

Your pancreas plays a delicate balancing act to manage blood sugar. Too much glucose in the blood is called hyperglycemia. Prolonged hyperglycemia can cause damage to your eyes, kidneys, heart, blood vessels and other parts of your body. On the other hand, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is more common in type 1 diabetes and can occur for many reasons such as taking too much insulin medication and not eating enough carbs. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include fast heartbeat, shaking, sweating, dizziness or hunger.

What Is Insulin Resistance?


Insulin resistance (sometimes called impaired insulin sensitivity) means your body's muscles, fat and liver don't respond to insulin as they should. In other words, they resist it.

Here's how resistance to insulin works: First, your body senses that it is not making enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels, so your pancreas produces more insulin to try to make up for it. This may work for a period of time, but it becomes increasingly difficult for your pancreas to keep up. Eventually, your blood sugar levels start to climb above normal levels, leading to prediabetes. Prediabetes often leads to type 2 diabetes. However, if you make changes to your lifestyle, including getting your blood sugar under control early on, you may delay the onset of diabetes or avoid it altogether.

Insulin resistance is commonly associated with type 2 diabetes. But insulin resistance can also happen with type 1 diabetes. If you have type 1 diabetes and notice that you need increasing amounts of insulin to keep your blood sugar levels stable, you may be developing a resistance to insulin.

What Are the Risk Factors for Insulin Resistance?

Certain genetic and lifestyle factors can put you at higher risk for developing insulin resistance:

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Age (45 years or older)
  • Family history of diabetes
  • History of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
  • Stroke
  • African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ethnicity

If you fall into any of these categories, speak with your healthcare provider for further guidance and testing.

Nutrition Tips to Manage Blood Sugar Levels

If you've been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, paying attention to what you eat can go a long way toward your health. There is not one meal plan recommended for prediabetes or diabetes, so it is important to work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find the best eating pattern for your lifestyle.

The American Diabetes Association recommends the Diabetes Plate Method. According to this method, half of your plate should be a non-starchy vegetable, such as broccoli, carrots or tomatoes. One-quarter should be complex carbohydrates, such as beans, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. The final quarter should be protein, like eggs, poultry or fish.

In addition to prioritizing balanced nutrition, follow these tips:

  • Exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week. It doesn't have to be high-intensity exercise — just get your body moving and your heart rate up.

  • If you take over-the-counter or prescription medications, ask your pharmacist if they might interfere with your blood sugar.

If you're feeling unsure about how to best manage your blood sugar, consult your healthcare provider. They may be able to refer you to a registered dietitian to help guide your nutrition choices. At the end of the day, you're not alone in your healthcare journey, but you have the power to set yourself on the right track.

Nutrition Changes May Lower Blood Sugar | Abbott Nutrition

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes and another 1 in 5 people don’t know they have the chronic condition. As the rate of diabetes continues to rise, it’s more important than ever to adopt healthy habits and strategies to manage diabetes. Keeping your glucose in check is of the utmost importance when you're managing type 2 diabetes. Often, ensuring your glucose levels stay within a healthy range requires a multifaced approach of a healthy eating plan and exercise along with potential medication.

Managing diabetes doesn't have to feel like work, though. In fact, even slight behavior and eating plan changes may have a significant impact on your glucose management. And according to a new pilot study, diabetes specific nutrition as part of a balanced diet shows promise to help improve glucose management.

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Tips for Reducing Prediabetes Risk in Teens | Abbott Nutrition

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Prediabetes is increasingly affecting children and young adults in the United States. A new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that around one in five adolescents (ages 12–18) and one in four young adults (ages 19–34) in the U.S. are now living with prediabetes.

People diagnosed with this condition have an excess of sugar in their blood, but not high enough to be called diabetes, which can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves over time. They're also at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the complications associated with diabetes. However, by incorporating good eating and exercise habits, this diagnosis can oftentimes be reversed. 

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