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Insulin resistance

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is when your body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin that your body makes or the insulin you inject as a medication. Because your body cannot use the insulin as it should your blood sugar levels can increase.

Although insulin resistance is most commonly linked to type 2 or gestational diabetes you can have insulin resistance if you have type 1 diabetes or another type of diabetes.

You can also have insulin resistance if you’re at risk of type 2 diabetes and at any age. 

If you have insulin resistance, you might already have been diagnosed with diabetes or it could be a precursor to type 2 or gestational diabetes.

What is insulin sensitivity?

You may hear your healthcare professional talk about having a low sensitivity to insulin. It’s the same thing as having insulin resistance. It means your body needs more insulin because your body is less responsive to it. 

If you are insulin resistant and are taking insulin you need higher doses of insulin for the same amount of carbohydrate. 

For example:

Carbohydrate ratio

1 unit to 10g carbs = higher sensitivity
1 unit to 5g carbs   = (insulin resistant) lower sensitivity 

Causes of insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is more likely if you have too much fat stored in and around your liver and pancreas. It is linked to living with overweight or obesity, but insulin resistance can affect some people of a healthy weight or BMI.

The exact cause of insulin resistance isn’t fully understood and may be different from person to person. 

How your body makes or uses or responds to insulin can change over time. It can be affected by everything from hormones during pregnancy or puberty to the type and amount of exercise you do.

Some people with insulin resistance live with overweight or obesity, but not everyone.

Insulin resistance symptoms

If you have diabetes and notice that your blood sugar levels or HbA1c are increasing this may indicate insulin is not working effectively.

If you are at risk of type 2 or gestational diabetes, it is important to look out for the signs and symptoms of diabetes as this may indicate that insulin isn’t working effectively and early diagnosis of diabetes is very important to reduce the risk of complications. 

There are other things which are common if you have insulin resistance such as having too much fat in and around the liver and pancreas, having high triglycerides or cholesterol and living with overweight or obesity. But this may not be the case for everyone. 

Treating insulin resistance

For people living with overweight or obesity, weight loss can be one way to help improve how your body uses insulin whatever type of diabetes you have. Increasing activity levels can also help. 

Some people with type 2 diabetes who improve how their body makes and uses insulin through weight loss may be able to put their diabetes into remission

New research we’re funding in a trial called ReTUNE shows that some people of lower body weights with type 2 diabetes may also be able to put their diabetes into remission through weight loss.

If you manage diabetes with insulin

If you inject insulin as a treatment for your diabetes and have insulin resistance, it does not mean you are resistant to that specific brand or type of insulin. But you may need to increase the doses or use higher doses to cover the same amount of carbohydrate.

To help make the insulin more effective again, your healthcare team might also suggest that you need to start other medications such as Metformin alongside your insulin. Metformin can be prescribed to help reduce insulin resistance whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

Next Review Date
Content last reviewed
29 September 2022
Next review due
29 September 2025
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