Are you wondering what insulin resistance does to the body? If you recently got a diagnosis of insulin resistance or you think you might have insulin resistance, this is a good question to ask. In this article we will look at two of the key ways that insulin resistance affects the body and some of the negative impacts of insulin resistance.
If you're curious how insulin resistance affects the body and what it does to negatively affect your health keep reading we're going to get into the details
The two Main Things Insulin Resistance Does To The Body
When I think about what insulin resistance does to the body I put it into two buckets. There is the effect of glucose on the body and the effect of insulin on the body. In simple terms we can say glucose mainly negatively affects the micro-vessels of the body. The vessel that deliver blood to the nerves and the eyes and other parts of the body. These are the areas where you start to see complications from high blood sugar and diabetes. For instance, a common complication of diabetes is peripheral neuropathy and diabetic retinopathy.
With the insulin there's also the effect on the macro vessels like the larger arteries of the heart and all the large peripheral arteries that go into the legs etc so those are kind of two broad ways to look at it but it's much more nuanced than that there's more broader effects of glucose and broader effects of insulin outside of these two simple areas. so let's look at the effect of glucose and a little more depth so we can kind of understand how it's affecting the body as a whole.
What Insulin Resistance Does to the Micro-vessels of the Body
So when glucose interacts with the proteins of the body a reaction occurs causing the glucose to bind to those proteins. This reaction, referred to as glycation occurs without a catalyst or enzyme. The simple interaction of those two molecules, the amino acid and a sugar (glucose molecule) causes glycation. With higher glucose levels in your blood the more glycation that will occur to the proteins of your body. Glycation actually damages those proteins making them more stiff less responsive. You can think of this like the hardening of the arteries that occurs with cardiovascular disease. Glycation is partially responsible for cardiovascular disease. The glycation reaction is also known as the maillard reaction.
Chefs know this maillard reaction because they use it in some of their cooking processes. For instance, when they expose meats and proteins to sugar, this reaction cooks the meat. Of course, there has to be enough heat and time for this to actually cook the proteins. When you cook the outside of a steak, the browning will occur much easier when you use a sugar or carbohydrate on the steak. That same is true with cooking bread. Before you start cooking the bread, you can put a little bit of egg on outside. the egg will make it more brown as you cook it in the oven. Even without the egg it will still brown though. Think about how pliable and responsive that bread starts out, white, fluffy and soft. After cooking, it is brown and stiff and even crispy. That same kind of thing is happening in the body with the maillard and glycation reaction.
So when you have insulin resistance your tissues are not accepting the glucose quickly enough. The insulin has to go up and during that time the glucose is higher and interacting with the proteins of your body. In particular the glycation seems to be more pronounced in the micro vessels of the body. These are the vessels that deliver blood to the nerves and eyes. Over time damage to the proteins of these vessels reduces blood flow to the nerves and eyes. Sometimes this is the first sign that tells people that have a blood sugar issue. It is not uncommon for patients to come into our office initially with symptoms of visual disturbance and nerve pain. When we check their blood sugar and see it is high it becomes apparent why they have these symptoms.
To these patients it often seems like this happens all the sudden when in fact the glycation has been occurring for many years. The point being that the micro vessels are oftentimes the first part of the diabetes process that shows up as a symptom. Diabetics retinopathy occurs from glycation in the eyes and peripheral neuropathy is from glycation in the peripheral nerves.
If you keep your glucose under control those things won't happen but it's something that's pretty common. One test we use to look for blood sugar problems is called hemoglobin a1c. This is a measurement tool to identify when you have high blood sugar. This test is measuring the amount of glycation to the hemoglobin molecule. The hemoglobin molecules get cooked by the extra glucose. The test approximates what the blood sugar level is down to a fairly precise number. This test is an estimate but it's pretty accurate in identifying what your blood sugar has been for the previous three months. The test measures a percentage of hemoglobin molecules that have been glycated and from this we can predict how high your blood sugar has been.
What Insulin Resistance Does to the Macro-vessels of the Body
Now let's look at insulin in a little more depth and see how it affecting the tissues of the body. Insulin is a growth and storage signal to the tissues of the body. Insulin must increase when there is higher glucose in the body or in the blood. The higher glucose occurs when the body's storage tissues become maxed out and unable to accept more glucose. With increased insulin the cells and tissues are forced into accepting it. This causes them expand and grow. This is particularly important or pronounced in the visceral area of the body. This is the area around your organs in the abdominal cavity. This is where insulin is most sensitive and it causes these visceral tissue and visceral fat in particular to grow and expand.
In a similar way, the higher insulin causes the larger arteries of the body to grow and expand. As the insulin is going up it affects the abdominal tissue but that insulin is penetrating everywhere in the body. The large vessels like the arteries carry the insulin and it causes the walls expand narrowing the lumen. In addition the higher glucose causes some glycation to occur making the vessels less pliable and harder. So with higher insulin you get thickening of arteries and hardening of the arteries.
Over time that creates a very problematic situation especially when it comes to your heart. These are the vessels that supply the blood to the heart. If the lumen of the artery gets too thin because insulin growth signal, the blood flow is diminished. The deliver the nutrients and oxygen to the heart goes down and weakens it. This process leads to heart attacks and similar problems in other areas of the body. In answering the question what does insulin resistance do to the body, we put it into these two categories micro-vessels and macro-vessels because these are very well documented. However the effects of glycation and insulin occur all over the body and other areas as well. Anywhere there is higher insulin there is a growth signal and anywhere you have this higher glucose there is higher chance of protein cooking (glycation).
So this is what insulin resistance does to the body. If you have further questions about the affect of insulin resistance on the body, leave it in the comment section below. If you need help managing your insulin resistance, click on the link to get started.