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March 31, 2021 / Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes

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Insulin resistance and prediabetes are closely related, and insulin resistance can actually progress to the development of prediabetes. Prediabetes is a growing concern in the U.S. and affects a large number of people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 88 million American adults have prediabetes. That’s about one in three American adults!

Insulin resistance and prediabetes can increase the risk of various health conditions, such as:

Many people are unaware that they have either insulin resistance or prediabetes. Knowing what symptoms to look out for can help you take the necessary steps to prevent type 2 diabetes and reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes.

In this article, we’ll cover what insulin resistance and prediabetes are, how they’re related, symptoms of insulin resistance and prediabetes, and prevention strategies.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is a hormone released into the blood by your pancreas. It sends signals to cells to help them absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream to be used for energy. Insulin also stores glucose in the liver, fat, and muscles in the form of glycogen to be used later.

Insulin resistance is when cells become resistant to the signals that insulin sends out. When these cells are no longer sensitive to insulin, sugars remain in the bloodstream rather than being used for energy. In an effort to keep your blood sugars stable and counteract this effect, your pancreas responds by making more insulin. Over time, if the pancreas can’t keep up with this level of insulin production, blood sugars may rise.

Prolonged elevated blood sugars can lead to prediabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions if left untreated. However, this doesn’t have to be the case – recognizing the symptoms can help you take the steps needed to reverse insulin resistance.

What Are the Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Symptoms of insulin resistance may initially not be noticeable or recognizable based solely on how you feel. In the early stages of insulin resistance, you may not even experience any symptoms at all. This is because your pancreas produces more insulin as your cells become less sensitive to insulin, which allows blood sugars to remain stable. Over time, your pancreas cannot keep up with the demand for insulin. Symptoms may develop as the blood sugar and insulin levels in your blood rise.

Testing for insulin resistance is difficult and usually reserved for research purposes. You can, however, get a blood test for elevated blood sugars, which can indicate your risk for prediabetes and diabetes.

There are certain symptoms that you can look out for that may indicate that you have insulin resistance.

Raised blood pressure

Metabolic syndrome is closely tied with insulin resistance. It is sometimes called insulin resistance syndrome. There are five metabolic risk factors that are used to diagnose metabolic syndrome. Having three out of five risk factors may indicate that you have metabolic syndrome, according to the National Lung, Heart, and Blood Institute.

One of those risk factors is hypertension, or high blood pressure. Research shows that insulin resistance and hypertension are closely linked. You may have hypertension if you’re on blood pressure medication or have elevated blood pressure levels of 130/85 mmHg or higher.

Larger waist circumference

Another metabolic risk factor is having a higher waist circumference. Waist circumference is even a better indicator than weight or BMI when it comes to insulin resistance, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Endocrine Regulations.

These waist measurements may correspond with insulin resistance and a higher risk of metabolic syndrome:

Elevated fasting glucose

Not surprisingly, elevated fasting glucose (blood sugar) is linked with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. What fasting blood sugar levels should you be looking for?

Low HDL cholesterol

Cholesterol has a bad rap, but not all cholesterol is bad. In fact, HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A 2015 study found that having an elevated triglyceride/HDL cholesterol ratio (high triglyceride and low HDL levels) suggested insulin resistance and predicted higher heart disease risk. This is why a low HDL cholesterol level (less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women) is a metabolic risk factor.

High fasting triglyceride levels

Another metabolic risk factor is having a high triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher. In a 2017 study, researchers found that high fasting triglyceride levels were a positive predictor of insulin resistance and diabetes risk.

Development of skin tags

Besides the blood tests and body measurements mentioned above, examining your skin for skin tags can help you determine if you may be showing symptoms of insulin resistance. Skin tags are small, soft, dark-colored skin growths.

While having a few skin tags can be completely normal, having multiple skin tags may indicate insulin resistance and/or high blood sugars. In a 2010 study, researchers found that having more than five skin tags in the neck or armpit areas was strongly associated with insulin resistance.

Dark, velvety skin patches

Another symptom of insulin resistance to look out for is acanthosis nigricans. Acanthosis nigricans refers to the darkening and thickening patches of skin that may occur in the neck, armpit, knee, and groin areas. This condition is associated with insulin resistance and usually develops because of increased circulating insulin levels in the blood. These dark patches can go away once insulin resistance is reversed.

What Are the Main Causes of Insulin Resistance?

There are several risk factors that can lead to insulin resistance. The most common causes include:

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a health condition in which your blood sugars are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes occurs when your pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or when your cells become resistant to insulin and sugar builds up in your bloodstream, elevating your blood sugar levels.

There are several risk factors that can cause prediabetes, such as:

If left uncontrolled, prediabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes, but it doesn’t have to. By making healthy changes to your diet, incorporating exercise into your routine, managing stress, and adopting other healthy lifestyle habits, you can reverse prediabetes and prevent type 2 diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Prediabetes?

Many people with prediabetes usually do not have any noticeable signs or symptoms, making it difficult to know when there’s a problem. Some people may experience the following symptoms of prediabetes.

Increased appetite

If you notice that your appetite is voracious and you’re hungrier than usual despite no changes to your exercise or eating patterns, you may be experiencing a symptom of prediabetes. If blood sugars are high due to insulin resistance, cells are resistant to insulin and do not convert glucose into energy like they’re supposed to. This is what causes you to feel hungry even after you’ve eaten a normal amount.

Vision is blurry

Blurry vision or double vision may indicate that you have prediabetes or diabetes. Also known as diabetic retinopathy, this symptom is caused by uncontrolled blood sugars and can lead to vision loss if left untreated.

Feeling fatigued

Fatigue is another common symptom of prediabetes. Since insulin-resistant cells are not able to convert glucose into energy, you can be left feeling tired and fatigued.

Weakness

A feeling of weakness can also be a prediabetes symptom, for the same reason why you might be fatigued. You could also experience mild weakness and numbness due to nerve damage stemming from prediabetes.

Weight loss or weight gain without explanation

An unexplained weight change – whether it’s weight loss or weight gain – can be a symptom of prediabetes or new-onset diabetes. It can also be due to a number of other reasons or health conditions, which is why it’s important to contact your health care provider if you are experiencing unexplained weight changes.

Sweating

Excessive sweating can be a sign that you have prediabetes. Prediabetes and diabetes can affect hormones in your body that regulate your body temperature, which can cause you to sweat more than you typically do.

Skin infections or gum bleeding that recurs

Gum bleeding could be a sign of prediabetes. Gum bleeding is a result of sugars circulating in the saliva, leading to plaque building and gum disease, which causes gums to bleed.

Cuts or bruises slow to heal

Slow-healing wounds could be due to prediabetes and elevated blood sugars. If there is a build-up of sugars in the blood, blood circulation slows and is not able to move nutrients to wounds to help them heal properly.

Insulin resistance is a progressive condition that can worsen over time if it is not prevented or reversed. Initially, when cells become resistant to insulin, your pancreas produces more insulin to counteract the effects so that blood sugars can remain stable.

Over time, however, the beta cells in your pancreas that produce insulin cannot keep up with the amount of insulin they need to produce. This leads to a buildup of sugars in the blood, causing blood sugar levels to rise and eventually cause prediabetes or type 2 diabetes if left untreated.

Prediabetes and Insulin Resistance Prevention

Increasing your physical activity level and eating a healthful diet play an important role in the prevention of insulin resistance and prediabetes. Studies show that early detection and lifestyle interventions can help prevent and reverse both conditions. While it may seem overwhelming to make huge changes to your lifestyle, you might be relieved to hear that even small daily changes can have a large impact on insulin resistance and prediabetes prevention.

Making attainable goals like exercising for 30 minutes, aiming for eight hours of sleep, or eating an additional serving of fiber-rich vegetables each day are some of the ways to lower blood sugar levels naturally. You can also learn about how to detox from sugar if you’re currently eating a lot of added sugars. These are just some of the steps you can take to prevent insulin resistance and prediabetes.

The Takeaway

Insulin resistance can progress to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes if left untreated. Luckily, a balanced diet and healthy, sustainable lifestyle can help prevent both insulin resistance and prediabetes. Knowing the symptoms of insulin resistance and prediabetes can help with early detection so that you can start incorporating lifestyle interventions to prevent and reverse these conditions. PlateJoy’s meal planning services can help you plan healthy meals, whether you’re looking for keto meal plans or a prediabetes diet plan to help you achieve healthy blood sugar levels.

Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN
Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant @ Alena Menko Nutrition
https://www.alenamenko.com/

Alena Kharlamenko is the founder of Alena Menko Nutrition, a food and nutrition blog where she publishes healthful, plant-forward recipes and makes nutrition approachable with easily digestible information. She’s also passionate about gut health and is a Monash FODMAP-Trained Dietitian. When she's not cooking up a storm in the kitchen or behind her computer, she can be found exploring the vast culinary scene of NYC, traveling around the world, or hiking and spending time in nature. You can find Alena on Instagram @thebalancedbite or on Facebook @AlenaMenkoNutrition.

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