What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps unlock the body's cells so that sugar (glucose) from the food we eat can be used by the cells for energy. In people with type 2 diabetes, a combination of problems occurs, and scientists aren't really sure which is the chicken and which is the egg.
The person's body may not be producing enough insulin to meet their needs, so some glucose can't get into the cells. Glucose remains in the bloodstream, causing high blood glucose levels. In many cases, the person may actually be producing more insulin than one might reasonably expect that person to need to convert the amount of food they've eaten at a meal into energy. Their pancreas is actually working overtime to produce more insulin because the body's cells are resistant to the effects of insulin. Basically the cells, despite the presence of insulin in the bloodstream, don't become unlocked and don't let enough of the glucose in the blood into the cells.
Scientists don't know exactly what causes this insulin resistance, and many expect that there are several different defects in the process of unlocking cells that cause insulin resistance. Medications for type 2 diabetes focus on different parts of this insulin-cell interaction to help improve blood glucose control. Some medications stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin. Others improve how the body uses insulin by working on this insulin resistance. Physical activity also seems to improve the body's ability to use insulin by decreasing insulin resistance, which is why activity is so important in diabetes management.
Page last updated: March 11, 2014