Obesity and diabetes 2 are kissing cousins. Type 2 diabetes occurs later in life or with obesity at any age. Insulin resistance precedes the development of type 2 diabetes, sometimes by years. Here’s how insulin works and what happens when cells can’t use insulin properly.
The consequence of too many carbs, every day
The most significant factor in fat storage is the level of insulin in the blood. Insulin is a hormone emitted from the pancreas that increases the storage of fat in cells and prevents fat cells from releasing fat in the production of energy.
When blood sugar levels rise above normal (70 to 90 mg/dL)—such as after eating a meal—the pancreas releases insulin to signal muscle, liver and fat cells to take up the blood sugar and remove it from the blood. This is a normal metabolic process to remove and use blood sugars—which are toxic in the body.
When a moderate amount of carbohydrates are consumed each day, the pancreas does its work without dysfunction. However, when too many carbohydrates are consumed each day, especially processed carbohydrates, muscle and fat cells become resistant to the effect of insulin; liver and muscle cells have a limited capacity to store glucose and when they’re “full” they shut the door—and glucose gets stored in fat cells. This effect is called insulin resistance, a condition in which cells cannot respond normally to the hormone insulin.
Explaining insulin resistance
Since blood sugar levels are not reduced to a healthy level in the body, the pancreas secretes more insulin—at least for a while—to reduce blood sugars. When individuals continue to consume more carbohydrates than their body can use, over time, blood sugar levels creep up, the pancreas works harder and the cells that should take up blood sugar resist the insulin.
Facts on insulin resistance
- Insulin resistance may be part of the metabolic syndrome, and it has been associated with higher risk of developing heart disease.
- Insulin resistance precedes the development of type 2 diabetes.
- Insulin resistance is associated with other medical conditions, including fatty liver, arteriosclerosis, acanthosis nigricans, skin tags, and reproductive abnormalities in women.
- Individuals are more likely to have insulin resistance if they have any of several associated medical conditions. They also are more likely to be insulin resistant if obese, Latino, African-American, Native American, or Asian-American.
- While there are genetic risk factors, insulin resistance can be managed with diet, exercise, and proper medication.
Individuals in their 20s who have a strong history of heart disease in their family or anyone in their 30s, or older, as a baseline for heart health and risk of diabetes should consider the Cardo Metabolic Risk Basic blood test to rule out metabolic syndrome. Also people who crave sugar or need to eat every 2-3 hours, experience sleepiness after eating, and/or have excess fat should take this test.