What to Know About Insulin Resistance

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Insulin resistance occurs when the body's ability to process glucose becomes impaired. Glucose enters the blood after food is eaten. Normally, the pancreas will excrete insulin, which helps the glucose move out of the blood and in to the cells, where the body can use it for energy.

Impaired glucose tolerance happens when the pancreas either does not release enough insulin or the cells become resistant to the insulin. Insulin resistance (or impaired glucose tolerance) is classified as a fasting glucose level of 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl. Several factors can contribute to the development of insulin resistance:

The Aging Process

As we age, our body processes can become slower or diminished. The pancreas is no exception. Sometimes the pancreas naturally produces less insulin as we get older.


When a person is overweight, the cells in the body become less sensitive to the insulin that is released from the pancreas. There is some evidence that fat cells are more resistant to insulin than muscle cells.

If a person has more fat cells than muscle cells, then the insulin becomes less effective overall, and glucose remains circulating in the blood instead of being taken in to the cells to be used as energy. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin. This overproduction of insulin, can cause the pancreas to get "tired" and reduce it's ability to produce insulin.

Where the Fat Is

That spare tire around the midsection is visceral fat or abdominal fat. There is a correlation among abdominal fat, insulin resistance and resulting hyperglycemia. Visceral fat is very resistant to the effects of insulin.

The more fat concentrated in this area, the more insulin resistance occurs. Carrying extra abdominal fat can not only lead to diabetes, it can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Activity Matters

When someone lives a sedentary lifestyle, using minimal exertion to carry out the tasks of the day, their body doesn't use insulin effectively, resulting in insulin resistance. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise five times a week for heart health. Incorporating this amount of exercise into your life also improves insulin sensitivity and helps with weight loss as well.

Medications That Cause Insulin Resistance

Some medications prescribed for other disorders increase the risk of insulin resistance. Some drugs used to manage bipolar disorder fall into this category. Other medications, such as some steroids, also can lead to insulin resistance.

Genetics and Family History

Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at a higher risk for developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. A family history of type 2 diabetes also increases the risk.

Is Insulin Resistance Inevitable?

Sometimes insulin resistance can be prevented or reversed. Although insulin production in the pancreas usually cannot be increased in the instance of reduced insulin excretion, weight loss, diet and exercise make a considerable difference in the body's resistance to the insulin that the pancreas is able to is produce.

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Article Sources

  • (2007, Oct. 17). Exercise and Fitness. Retrieved July 19, 2008, from American Heart Association Web site: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200013
  • Gastaldelli, Amalia (2008, May). Abdominal Fat: Does it Predict the Development of Type 2 Diabetes?. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87, Retrieved July 19, 2008, from http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/87/5/1118