impact of insulin resistance on weight loss

While it is obvious that diet plays a major role in people becoming overweight, there are however some overlooked but important factors in our lives that are equally responsible for excess weight gain. Our metabolic health – the state of the different chemical reactions related to the production of energy and other products needed to sustain life derived from ingested food – is one major weight loss factor that is affected by diet and other factors such as stress, sleep and exercise but which is too often taken for granted.

The type and amount of foods we eat play a significant role in our body’s metabolism and its ability to make use of these foods. For instance, certain types of carbohydrate-containing foods – those especially with a high glycemic index – are known to zoom into the bloodstream at very fast speed causing an almost instant increase in blood glucose levels. With the body’s awe-inspiring ability for creating system checks and balances in order to maintain its metabolic health, insulin will be secreted from the pancreas to salvage the situation.

However certain metabolic imbalances occasioned by various unhealthy lifestyle practices can offset this all important function of insulin in the human body.

Insulin’s Functions

Insulin is a hormone produced by specialized cells in the pancreas and its main role in the body is to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrate, fats, and proteins. Insulin controls blood glucose (sugar) levels by removing excess glucose from the bloodstream into muscle, liver, and fat cells for storage.

Put more succinctly, insulin essentially helps the body to make use of glucose – the body’s preferred energy fuel derived mostly from carbohydrate-containing foods. Insulin does this by allowing glucose molecules in the bloodstream to bind themselves to insulin receptors on the surface of cell membranes which then allows the glucose (as well as other nutrients) to flow into the cells – most especially muscle, liver and fat cells. Thus insulin serves as a gatekeeper for glucose to get into body cells.

The body’s extreme sensitivity to glucose levels in the bloodstream make it work vigorously to ensure its stability. Unhealthy eating lifestyles caused by either a "conditioned response" (learned habit) or an "emotional eating" habit often make people to engage in overeating leading to increased blood glucose levels which makes the body to secrete excessive amount of insulin in order to normalize the situation. Excess insulin production promotes the excess storage of fat. However this situation can over time degenerate to a situation where insulin receptors become less sensitive and fail to respond as expected.

Insulin Resistance

When there is a cycle of fluctuating elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream due to consuming high-glycemic carbohydrate-containing foods and a counter but corresponding amount of insulin secretion by the body, over time, this interplay causes the insulin receptors on the cells to become "numbed" or "de-sensitized" to the effect of insulin. This condition is what is known as insulin resistance.

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Insulin resistance is thus a situation in which normal amount of insulin in a person’s blood becomes inadequate in producing an insulin response from muscle, liver, and fat cells. The cells of the body essentially fail to respond to insulin’s effect to the degree they normally ought to. This creates a situation whereby the pancreas has to secrete more and more insulin to be able to control and normalize blood glucose levels. This resistance may however be overcome by the body producing more insulin.

Unfortunately, not everybody is capable of producing sufficient amounts of insulin to overcome this resistance and as a result there is an inevitable elevation of blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance changes the way glucose and fat are metabolized in the liver, muscles and fat cells and this condition has been shown to encourage the excessive storage of fat in body cells. In such a condition, the body will be more predisposed to storing the excess glucose as fat in major fat-storage areas such as the hips, thighs and stomach. This type of fat deposition especially around the stomach vs. hip areas is referred to as “toxic fat” because it is strongly associated with the development of heart disease and stroke.

Insulin resistance is a precursor of one of the two types of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, which has a 90 percent prevalence rate among people with diabetes. Figures equally suggest that nearly everyone with a fatty liver has some degree of insulin resistance, and 90 percent of people with diabetes have fatty liver. It is also estimated that up to 80 million Americans have insulin resistance.

Apart from diet, sleep deprivation has also been shown by recent studies to reduce insulin sensitivity. A Boston study of twenty healthy men aged between 20 and 35 found that when deprived of adequate sleep for a one-week period, the participants experienced a 20 percent drop in insulin sensitivity. Another study also found that eight out of their nine participants showed markers of insulin resistance after just three nights of lack of deep sleep.

Therefore, the more fatty tissues a person has, the more insulin resistant the body cells become and this consequently makes permanent weight loss almost impossible. Fortunately, most of the major risk factors for insulin resistance especially being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle are preventable and well within our control.

Eat a Healthy Diet

For people with insulin resistance, it is very important to keep carbohydrate intake as low as possible and ensure that the carbohydrate-containing food sources come from mostly those in the low and moderate glycemic index range. It is also imperative to have frequent meals that are "complete", containing a good amount of high quality fats and oil and to always remember to keep the portion size small.


A sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular exercise are risk factors for developing insulin resistance. Regular physical activity helps burn glucose and thus controls weight and is believed to help the body to be more sensitive to insulin. Engaging in aerobic exercises helps the body to increase its utilization of oxygen which results in more efficient fat burning providing significant improvements and relief for those with insulin resistance.

Resistance training however can “up the ante” because it leaves the muscles depleted of its glycogen (mixture of glucose and water) store and therefore necessitating the body to replenish it with glucose from the bloodstream. The dire need for the body to replenish its glycogen stores in the muscles, virtually forces the insulin receptors on the surface of cell membranes to become more responsive to insulin. This essentially makes resistance training one of the most effective methods to restore insulin sensitivity.

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Reduce Stress, Relax More, and Sleep Better

Stress causes lack of adequate sleep and vice versa. This interplay has been shown to cause increase in the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol, which has severally been shown to interfere with glucose metabolism resulting in insulin resistance.

Therefore, stress and sleep don’t ever make good bed fellows; relaxation is only bridge that can help reduce stress levels in order to enjoy better sleep. Exercise more to soothe your nerves with some endorphin rush or treat yourself to a snack of good chocolate – but watch it – to get the same endorphin-like effect. Have a small bowl of cereal and milk, take a warm bath, or practice such relaxation techniques as deep breathing to calm your nerves and send you to dreamland.

Herb and Supplements

Although there is no herbal substitute for insulin, some herbal remedies may however be helpful in adjusting blood sugar levels. Some recommended herbal options includes fenugreek (reduces blood insulin and glucose levels as well as lowers cholesterol); garlic (lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels); and onions (lower glucose levels by freeing insulin to metabolize them).

Supplements are also very beneficial in handling insulin resistance. Supplemental or dietary Omega-3s can help in significantly increasing cell membrane fluidity and thus increase the sensitivity of insulin receptors. Equally helpful are high-dose Vitamin D supplements; supplements containing the trace element chromium which makes insulin more effective; magnesium from diet or supplement with calcium regulates blood sugar and helps with normal insulin functions; and also some natural insulin mimickers contained in black tea.

Insulin resistance is therefore not something you should have to live with for the rest of your life because as have been pointed out above, there are definitely alternative route you can take to get a healthier you. Willingness and determine to positively modify certain lifestyle habits that might have contributed to this condition will go a long way to help you once again become sensitive to insulin.