Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that is made by beta cells within the pancreas. It plays a key role in the regulation of blood glucose levels by helping cells to take in glucose (sugar) from the blood and storing it for future use. It helps keep blood glucose levels from getting too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia).
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is a pathological condition in which your body is producing an adequate amount of insulin but is unable to take up glucose from the blood and does not respond as it should. It means that sugar levels are most likely to rise. Insulin resistance is a driving factor that leads to high blood pressure, obesity, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. (1)
The causes and risk factors of insulin resistance include:
- High blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- Diet high in calories and carbohydrates.
- Hormonal disorders such as Cushing’s disease or polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Medications such as steroids, antipsychotics, and HIV medications.
Relationship between insulin resistance and weight gain
Which comes first, weight gain or insulin resistance? There are many schools of thought that have different perspectives towards weight gain and insulin resistance, but both of them are interlinked.
Our body is producing insulin naturally, and all the process of storing glucose for future energy use is going smoothly but, in patients with insulin resistance, it is the other way around. Insulin is continuously being produced in their bodies, promoting more and more fat storage. The fat and sugar keep on accumulating in the bloodstream, causing more futile insulin secretion. It is believed that insulin resistance starves the cells of glucose, which increases your hunger and leads you to get more cravings for sugary food. Insulin is an anabolic hormone which means it preserves, builds, and conserves energy. Liver and muscle cells are insulin resistant, but the fat cells are not. Summing this all, here is how insulin resistance causes weight gain. (2)
- Insulin resistance leads to high insulin levels in the blood, known as hyperinsulinemia.
- Insulin is a fat-storing hormone.
- Insulin prevents you from burning already stored fat and keeps on accumulating more.
- Insulin makes you hungry, so you take more carbohydrates.
- It makes you lazy, preventing you from doing any exercise.
- Blood sugar levels keep on increasing, and so are insulin levels.
This whole vicious cycle leads to weight gain. In short: The higher the insulin levels, the higher weight gain.
- In patients with insulin resistance, cells are unable to absorb all the glucose, and the liver converts it into fats leading to obesity. The body is unable to burn fat for fuel, instead, it leads to weight gain. If this process continues, the pancreas eventually wears out and stops producing insulin.
- Another school of thought believes that obesity is one of the main causes of insulin resistance. A study found out that obesity causes stress in the endoplasmic reticulum, which in turn suppresses the signals of insulin receptors leading to insulin resistance and also inflammation in cells.
With this cascade of problems, it is quite easy to understand the relationship between weight gain and insulin resistance. With careful attention, insulin resistance can be reversed.
How to overcome weight gain and insulin resistance?
Fortunately, insulin resistance can be fixed, and there are multiple ways to reduce weight as well. All it takes is consistency and a positive mindset towards betterment. Here is how to overcome weight gain and insulin resistance: (3)
- Exercise regularly
The key to overcoming insulin resistance and weight gain is exercise. Physical activity burns calories and improves the uptake of glucose by your muscles keeping the blood glucose levels low. Muscles burn glucose for energy, and that’s what we want as it helps to lower the blood sugar level.
- Appropriate diet
One of the single most effective things you can do to treat insulin resistance and weight gain is to change your diet. Take a diet low in fats and carbohydrates. Reduce the intake of sweetened drinks and snack foods. Include beans, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, fish oil, olive oil, and seeds in your daily diet.
- Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation causes the cells to be more insulin resistant and often results in weight gain. Sleep at least 7hours a night as it has a reparative effect on the metabolism.
Keep on taking your prescribed medications along with lifestyle and diet changes as they may promote weight loss and reduce insulin resistance.
- Lose weight
Being active, along with diet modification, is the key to losing weight. Losing fat, especially belly fat, reduces the fatty acids in the body. There are multiple exercises designed for losing weight, and the famous one is resistance training. It includes squats, lunges, pushups, and planks. Have a weight loss-friendly diet, and you can start by checking the food labels before you buy stuff to eat. Do high-intensity interval training, weight workouts, and aerobic exercises such as walking, hiking, swimming, or dancing. Do not lose faith, Lose weight. (4)
- Reduce stress
When a person is stressed, a stress hormone known as cortisol is released from the body, activating the fight or flight mechanism. It then leads to high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream. High cortisol levels lead to sugar imbalances, diabetes, and weight gain. Hence it is very important to reduce stress and calm down.
- Practice meditation
Meditation is the key to reduce stress. Practicing mindful meditation helps you stay aware of what you are eating and how much. Doing yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, and even having a walk in nature can be super effective for stress reduction.
Untreated insulin resistance may lead to many cardiovascular diseases, fatigue, and diabetes. Insulin resistance is a serious issue, but by changing your diet, bringing lifestyle modifications, and having supplements can reduce it to a notable extent. Making all the changes can be extremely daunting, but it is always worth the effort.
- Petersen KF, Shulman GI. Etiology of insulin resistance. The American journal of medicine. 2006 May 1;119(5):S10-6.
- Kahn BB, Flier JS. Obesity and insulin resistance. The Journal of clinical investigation. 2000 Aug 15;106(4):473-81.
- Gauglitz GG, Herndon DN, Jeschke MG. Insulin resistance postburn: underlying mechanisms and current therapeutic strategies. Journal of burn care & research. 2008 Sep 1;29(5):683-94.
- Seaman DR. Weight gain as a consequence of living a modern lifestyle: a discussion of barriers to effective weight control and how to overcome them. Journal of chiropractic humanities. 2013 Dec 1;20(1):27-35.