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What is Insulin Resistance?

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If you have been told that your child has insulin resistance, you have probably wanted to know what that means, how it happened, and what can be done about it. Insulin resistance is becoming a more common medical condition these days, likely due to the rising epidemic of obesity in our society. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which is a small gland that sits behind the stomach. The pancreas is important because it helps us digest and get energy from our food, but sometimes this process doesn’t work correctly.

Insulin resistance develops when the body produces excess insulin, but the body’s cells don’t respond to it. Scientists don’t know why this happens, but it is often related to family history, a sedentary lifestyle, or being overweight. Certain groups of people; especially Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians, are at higher risk for becoming insulin resistant. Sometimes people with insulin resistance develop darkened pigmentation on the neck, elbows, knees, or in the armpits. Being insulin resistant is really not something you can “feel”, but anyone who is overweight could be at risk for insulin resistance, so if you suspect this, a doctor visit is warranted.

Excess circulating insulin, like that seen with insulin resistance, can have several unhealthy effects on our bodies. Reducing the pancreas’ ability to produce its own insulin, increasing inflammatory hormones and increasing risk for heart disease and stroke are some of the dangerous side-effects of long-term insulin resistance.

Achieving a healthy body weight is usually the first step to reducing insulin resistance. It’s important to ask your physician the right questions about your child’s weight.  Then ask for a referral to see Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  They can evaluate your family’s eating habits to see where changes may be needed. Increasing physical activity along with healthy eating can produce great improvements in overall health for the whole family!


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About the Author

Kathy is a Clinical Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator living in Yakima WA, where she is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Nutrition at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences. In addition to teaching, she works to reduce health disparities among people with obesity and diabetes-related health concerns.She enjoys spending free time with her husband and their son, Sam.

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