What is insulin resistance – and how do you treat it?

Have you heard of insulin resistance? Simply put, it is a resistance to the uptake of glucose into the body’s cells. Elevated blood insulin levels are often associated with central obesity, cholesterol abnormalities, and/or high blood pressure (hypertension). Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Read on to find out more…

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. Once broken down into simple sugars, they are absorbed into the bloodstream and are taken up by the cells to provide cellular energy for everyday metabolic processes.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It binds to the cell walls of certain types of cells, allowing them to take up sugars and glucose from the bloodstream. These cells are called “insulin-sensitive” cells, and we use them to process the energy from our food. This insulin sensitivity can decrease in some individuals, leading to insulin resistance.

Insulin-resistant cells continuously resist insulin which assists the glucose uptake into the cells. And very little sugar or glucose is taken into the cells to be used as energy. You can think of it as insulin knocking on the cell doors, asking them to let glucose in, but the ‘doors’ remain closed. Insulin resistance leads to an increase in both blood insulin levels and blood sugar levels.

The resistance of the cells to insulin continues to increase over time. If the pancreas can produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance, blood glucose levels remain normal. When the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin, blood glucose levels begin to rise. Initially, this happens after meals – when glucose levels are at their highest and more insulin is needed – but eventually while fasting too (for example, upon waking in the morning). When blood sugar rises abnormally above certain levels, type 2 diabetes is present.

What causes insulin resistance?

  • High consumption of carbohydrates and sugars over an extended period
  • Hormonal changes (especially in women)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress

Signs and symptoms of insulin resistance:

There are no definitive symptoms of insulin resistance, but elevated levels of insulin are often associated with central obesity (the excess blood sugar is stored as fat), cholesterol abnormalities, and/or high blood pressure (hypertension). When these disease processes occur together, they are known as metabolic syndrome.

Supporting a healthy blood sugar metabolism – the natural way

Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, but small changes to your diet and lifestyle can help prevent its development:

Diet: If you are overweight, a ketogenic diet may help you to lose weight. In a ketogenic diet, you cut out carbohydrates such as grains and sugar. Once you are at the right weight, you can maintain your health with a balanced wellness diet. This diet means increasing your intake of vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables) while reducing the number of carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates and simple sugars). You will also increase your healthy fats and oils intake, including salmon, omega-3 fish, and olive oil.

Exercise: Regular exercise (both aerobic and resistance) can help reduce insulin resistance. Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio) burns calories and fat. Resistance exercise – like weight training – increases the insulin sensitivity of your cells and builds muscle, which then further burns fat.

Restore normal sleep:  Try to be in bed and asleep by 10:30 pm. If not, you miss out on the melatonin surge that occurs afterwards. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles and is an important antioxidant.

Treat stress naturally: Stress causes inflammation and imbalances in the body. You will find more information on treating stress here.

Nutritional supplements: People with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes often lack adequate levels of many vitamins (B vitamins, Vit. D) and minerals (chromium, magnesium), usually due to poor eating habits. Supplements and a healthy diet may help correct these deficiencies and restore normal glucose and insulin metabolic activity. Some supplements are specifically designed to support healthy glucose and insulin metabolism.  These include Clinicians ‘Blood Sugar Balance’ and Metagenics ‘Resist-X’.

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Be well.

Best wishes.


The advice written in this blog post is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalized advice from a health professional.


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