Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells, particularly those of muscle, fat, and liver tissue, display "resistance" to insulin by failing to take up and utilize glucose for energy and metabolism (insulin normally promotes take up and utilization of blood glucose from the blood stream). In its early stages, the condition is asymptomatic, but may develop into Type II Diabetes. Although there are several established risk factors, the underlying cause is unknown.
It has been estimated that 30 to 33 million Americans are insulin resistant, and the number appears to be increasing.
Insulin resistance is initially asymptomatic, and in its early stages can be detected only by laboratory tests. These tests will show an abnormally high blood sugar (glucose) level, but not high enough to be considered prediabetic or diabetic. While the condition does not always lead to further problems, the majority of people who reach the pre-diabetic level go on to develop Type II Diabetes (formerly called Maturity Onset Diabetes.
Causes & symptoms
The cause of insulin resistance is unknown, although the condition has been seen to run in families, indicating that there is a genetic association. Being overweight, and lack of exercise are also associated with insulin resistance, although the nature of the relationship is not clear. Risk factors for insulin resistance are:
having a family history of diabetes
having a low HDL (good) cholesterol level—and high serum lipids
In its mildest form, insulin resistance causes no symptoms, and is only recognizable on laboratory tests. In more severe cases, there may be dark patches on the back of the neck or even a dark ring around the neck. The dark patches are called Acanthosis nigricans and may also cause darkening of skin color in the elbows, knees, knuckles, and armpits.
There is a constellation of symptoms now called metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance syndrome that is linked to insulin resistance. This syndrome was formerly called syndrome X. Metabolic syndrome is defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program as the presence of any three of the following conditions:
excess weight around the waistline (waist measurement of more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women)