Fighting The Resistance

Insulin resistance can lead to not only diabetes but other diseases

Resistance can be a good thing. Heroes from history have resisted unjust rule, our immune system builds resistance to certain diseases, and you feel good when you resist a second piece of cake. But insulin resistance, which has increased in the United States by 35 percent, is not one of those good things. In fact, the condition can lead to diabetes and other serious conditions.

Insulin is a hormone that is released in the body when a person’s blood sugar is too high. It helps to regulate the metabolism of a carbohydrate called glucose. Insulin allows glucose to both enter cells to be used as energy and to be stored as glycogen for later energy use. The decreased ability of insulin to perform these biological functions is insulin resistance.

“This is a pre-diabetic condition,” says endocrinologist Joseph Dehaven, MD. “That’s the first stage of the progression to diabetes. People get cellular resistance to their own insulin.”

Patients are able to make extra insulin to overcome that resistance at first, but at that point a vicious cycle is developing.

 “Because of this chronic high level of insulin in the blood, the cell receptors don’t work as they should and blood glucose levels rise,” says Bonnie Hutchinson, a dietician and diabetes education specialist at St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Center for Diabetes Management, where Dr. Dehaven is the medical director. “This causes even more insulin to be produced by the pancreas, which over time can no longer keep up, and the patient develops pre-diabetes.”

What people may not know is the number of other serious diseases that can develop from this condition.

“Insulin resistance and pre-diabetes is associated with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and atherosclerosis,” says Dr. Dehaven.

Hutchinson adds that eye, kidney, and nerve disease have been linked to hyperinsulinemia, the excess amount of insulin in the blood that is a marker for insulin resistance. Breast cancer in postmenopausal women and prostate cancer in men, as well as colon, endometrial, and pancreatic cancer have also been linked to hyperinsulinemia.

So what can a patient do to battle the resistance?

“You can prevent progression of insulin resistance with lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a proper diet,” Dr. Dehaven says, noting that obesity can be a major cause of insulin resistance.

“Good carbohydrate choices reduce post-meal blood glucose levels,” Hutchinson says. “These are foods that are high in fiber content and lower in high fructose corn syrup. Replacing foods that contain saturated or trans fat with those that have polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats will also help deter insulin resistance.”

Hutchinson says that chronic sleep loss can be a risk factor as well. Both she and Dr. Dehaven hope that people are motivated to acquire beneficial lifestyle habits before the insulin resistance and the more serious conditions to which it can lead arise.

“Insulin resistance usually develops long before the diseases that it can lead to appear,” Hutchinson says. “It helps to build your own opposition—in the form of weight loss, regular activity, and good sleep and eating habits—early.” 
  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

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