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Understanding Insulin Resistance

Excerpt from: The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution
Author: Richard S. Surwit, Ph.D.

Understanding Insulin Resistance

Insulin acts like a key to unlock the doors of muscle and other body cells and allow glucose in. If you eat more food than your body requires at the time, insulin allows this excess energy to be stored by the liver, muscles, and fat cells. In people with diabetes, however, something goes wrong. In people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s own immune system and can no longer produce any insulin.

In type 2 diabetes, the problem is somewhat more complex. The pancreas produces insulin-sometimes more than normal. But the insulin doesn’t work properly. It’s as if the cells in your body have all changed their locks, and insulin can’t get them to open their doors and let in the sugar. This is called insulin resistance, and it’s often how diabetes starts. The result is the same: the sugar remains in the blood in high concentrations, setting you up for a number of health problems.

When you have insulin resistance, your pancreas senses that your blood sugar is high and responds by producing even more insulin. Scientists believe that either this constant strain on the pancreas or the chronically elevated blood sugar itself can wear out your pancreas, which becomes unable to release enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. Ultimately, many patients with type 2 diabetes develop an inability to produce normal amounts of insulin.

Whatever has gone wrong inside your body, the blood sugar doesn’t get to where it needs to go. It remains high in the blood for longer than normal. Though your kidneys eventually flush the sugar out into your urine, high blood sugar brings on a host of problems.


High blood sugar triggers health problems in the kidneys, eyes, heart, and nerves. Several studies have shown that blood sugar may be even more important than cholesterol levels or blood pressure in predicting heart disease and premature death. In fact, blood sugar is a major contributor to other ailments, such as high blood cholesterol and stroke.