Insulin Resistance - Keypoints

Medical Author: Ruchi Mathur, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

"My mother has diabetes. How do I know if I will develop diabetes?" This was the question posed to me by a 48 year old patient last week. This patient is an obese woman who is being treated for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Her profile fits the high risk group for diabetes, which brings up the subject of insulin resistance.

During the middle of the last century, physicians noticed that patients treated with diabetes could be divided into two major groups: those with type 1 diabetes (requiring insulin to sustain life) and those with type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent). Over the next few years, this second group was noted to have high circulating levels of insulin. The term insulin resistance (IR) was coined to describe this subgroup of patients. What exactly does this mean and why is this distinction important?

Insulin is a growth factor that is responsible for many actions within the body. Most of these actions deal with the metabolism and usage of carbohydrates (sugars and starches), lipids (fats), and protein. Insulin is involved with cell growth and regulation. IR is the condition whereby the normal response of the body to a given amount of insulin in transporting glucose (sugar) into cells is diminished.