Almost half of Americans 18–44 have insulin resistance. Are you one of them?

Almost half of Americans 18–44 have insulin resistance. Are you one of them?

Almost half of Americans 18–44 have insulin resistance. Are you one of them?

Almost half of Americans 18–44 have insulin resistance, but most don’t know it. Here are some signs to look out for.

Kaitlyn Dykman
Last updated:
March 28, 2023
5 min read
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Insulin resistance is a condition so common that almost half of American adults aged 18–44 have it. It can lead to weight gain, obesity, and type 2 diabetes if left untreated. But get this: most people who have it don’t even know it. That’s because insulin resistance is sneaky, causing damage beneath the surface without any symptoms. The good news is that it’s preventable.

What is insulin resistance? 

Insulin is a super important hormone that you don’t want to live without. Its job is to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels, which is a pretty complex process. Insulin resistance can start to develop when there’s way too much sugar in your body. In turn, your pancreas—a large gland in your upper abdomen behind your stomach that releases insulin when you eat—pumps out more insulin to try and get that blood sugar into your cells, where it belongs.

When there’s too much sugar in your blood too often, your cells can stop responding to the extra insulin that’s secreted, which means they’ve built up a tolerance to it. Eventually, even though your pancreas is making more insulin, it can’t keep up, and your blood sugar levels keep increasing. And if the blood sugar doesn’t reach your cells, the extra gets stored as body fat. 

What can cause a chronic state of high blood sugar, you ask? Eating a diet high in simple, ultra-processed carbs—food low in nutrients and fiber that break down easily into sugar in your bloodstream—is one potential cause. Excess stress is another. That’s why eating fewer refined carbohydrates and managing stress can help lower insulin over time. 

What causes insulin resistance?

Scientists still don’t know the exact causes of insulin resistance, but there are some theories. For starters, obesity and excess weight, especially visceral fat, is thought to be a leading cause of insulin resistance. In fact, a waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women—even if your BMI is in a range considered healthy—is linked to insulin resistance. Physical activity is also a factor—not getting enough movement has been linked to insulin resistance and prediabetes. 

Other risk factors for insulin resistance include:

  • A family history of diabetes 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Ethnic backgrounds including African American, Native American, Alaska Native, Asian American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander American
  • An age of 45 years or older
  • Medications like glucocorticoids and some antipsychotics
  • Hormonal disorders like Cushing’s syndrome
  • Sleep apnea 

How to tell you might have insulin resistance 

There isn’t a single test for insulin resistance. But if you have a combo of high blood sugar levels, high triglyceride levels (a type of fat found in your blood), high LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and not enough of the good kind (HDL)—your doctor may give you a diagnosis of insulin resistance. Symptoms of insulin resistance are typically nonexistent. 

However, remember how a chronic overload of blood sugar can increase insulin levels and make your cells insulin resistant? There are signs of blood sugar imbalance, which include: feeling very thirsty, fatigue, blurry vision, needing to pee all the time, dizziness, headaches, irritability, hunger or cravings soon after eating, and poor sleep. It’s important to note even if you experience none of these signs, you may still have insulin resistance and not know it. 

What you can do to help prevent insulin resistance

1. Move your body regularly

Research shows that regular physical activity can dramatically reduce the risk of insulin resistance—as well as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Bonus! Here’s how it works: Exercise makes the body more sensitive to insulin, and building muscle can help you store more blood sugar and open the gates for glucose to enter your cells without having to depend on insulin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly. 

2. Balance your blood sugar with food

We talked about what foods can spike blood sugar, but there are eating habits that can help balance your blood sugar levels, too. For example, aim for a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates (like whole grains, sweet potatoes, etc.), protein, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. Adding protein or healthy fat to a meal (like nut butter) can significantly reduce a blood sugar spike. You can check out our Found plate guide for more info on balanced plates. 

3. Join a weight loss program

For people who are at high risk of developing diabetes, losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight helped reduce their chance of developing insulin resistance, according to a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health. The same study—the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP)—also found that metformin, a medication used to treat diabetes, could help prevent it. 

Found is a weight care solution that offers personalized prescriptions, a team of medical experts, access to health coaches, and a supportive community hosted in a lifestyle change support app to help you achieve sustainable weight loss. On average, Found members lose 10 percent of their body weight during their first 12 months on the program.


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Published date:
March 28, 2023
Meet the author
Kaitlyn Dykman
Health writer

Sources

  • Parcha, V., Heindl, B., Kalra, R., Li, P., Gower, B. A., Arora, G., & Arora, P. (2022). Insulin Resistance and Cardiometabolic Risk Profile Among Nondiabetic American Young Adults: Insights From NHANES. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 107(1), e25–e37. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgab645
  • The Insulin Resistance–Diabetes Connection. (2022, June 20). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/insulin-resistance.html#:~:text=How%20do%20you%20find%20out,determine%20you%20have%20insulin%20resistance
  • Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes. (2022, November 18). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance#:~:text=Experts%20believe%20obesity%2C%20especially%20too,is%20linked%20to%20insulin%20resistance
  • Hyperglycemia. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9815-hyperglycemia-high-blood-sugar
  • Bird, S., & Hawley, J. A. (2017). Update on the effects of physical activity on insulin sensitivity in humans. BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, 2(1), e000143. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2016-000143
  • Get Active. (2022b, November 3). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/active.html#:~:text=The%20goal%20is%20to%20get,%2C%20shoulders%2C%20and%20arms
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