Watch that big tummy! You can do better!

You run the risk of insulin resistance with life-long complications.

A hormone is a chemical that is produced by special cells in the body and released into the blood to send a message to another part of the body. That is why they are called chemical messengers. Insulin is one of the most important chemical messengers that regulate how our body uses the food we eat to produce energy.

When a person eats food containing carbohydrates, the food is digested and broken down into a type of sugar called glucose. This causes the release of the chemical messenger called insulin. Insulin sends a signal to the cells in the body to absorb the sugar. The cells use glucose to produce energy that helps them to function. However, if the amount of energy produced from the food the person ate is more than the energy that the body needs, the excess energy is converted to fat and stored in the liver, muscles, and fat cells for a longer period. When this happens, the amount of fat and blood sugar in the blood also increases.

This accumulation of fat cells makes the body unable to regulate insulin well. This is called insulin resistance and it is a risk factor for developing diseases of the blood vessels and heart.

How do fat cells cause insulin resistance?

The storage of excess energy as fat in the body leads to insulin resistance through several ways.

  1. Fat cells produce special types of protein compounds called cytokines. Examples of these protein compounds (cytokines) that fat cells produce are tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-6, and interleukin (IL)-1. These protein compounds (cytokines) prevent the cells of the body from responding to the signals from insulin.
  2.  Fat cells also produce chemical messengers called aldosterone and angiotensin that also prevent the cells of the body from responding to the signals of insulin.
  3. When fats in the blood and stored fat break down, they produce a substance called free fatty acids (lipolysis). These free fatty acids are released into the blood. These free fatty acids also prevent the cells in the body from responding to the signal of insulin.

When the cells do not respond to the signals from insulin, they are not able to absorb glucose from the blood very well. This is called insulin resistance. This causes glucose to accumulate in the blood and rise to levels that are higher than normal. That is a level that is higher than 5.6 millimole per liter or 100 milligrams per deciliter. This is a serious step towards developing type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance leads to a situation where the body cells are not getting the glucose they need to produce energy and they keep sending a signal to the special beta cells of the pancreas to release more insulin. This may continue until there is too much insulin in the blood and the body cells will stop responding to insulin. Unfortunately, free fatty acids may also cause damage to the special beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. This further increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


Eur J Clin Invest 2002; 32(Suppl. 3): 14–23

Juhan-Vague I, Alessi MC, Mavri A, et al. Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, and vascular risk. J Thromb Haemost 2003; 1(7): 1575–1579.

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