If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, you’ve probably heard your doctor mention the term insulin resistance. Also called metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance describes a wide variety of health complications that can put people at an increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, insulin resistance occurs when the body has a decreased ability to respond to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body’s cells use the sugar (or glucose) we get from food. In a healthy person, cells will absorb the sugar and use it as energy. People with diabetes often have bodies that don’t produce enough insulin. This means that glucose can’t get into the cells to be used for energy, so all that extra sugar builds up in the bloodstream. The opposite occurs when someone is diagnosed with insulin resistance. Instead of making too little insulin, this person’s body works overtime to produce more of the hormone because the cells are resistant to it. With this condition, sugar also builds up in the bloodstream because the cells can’t absorb glucose, even with the help of insulin.

Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes insulin resistance, but they do know that around 34 percent of adult Americans have the condition. People with certain health concerns, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, all have a greater chance of developing insulin resistance. New research has shown that insulin resistance also increases with age. People over age 60 have a 30 percent greater chance of developing the condition than young adults. Doctors also believe insulin resistance, like diabetes, may run in families.

Insulin resistance can be treated with medications. Research from the Diabetes Prevention Program says that the diabetes drug metformin can help improve the effects of insulin resistance. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with insulin resistance, or if your doctor has said you are at risk for developing the condition, know that making a few lifestyle changes is a much better treatment. According to WebMD, getting to and then maintaining a healthy weight can help your body better respond to insulin. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days per week, can help you burn fat and strengthen your cardiovascular system. A healthy diet will also help reverse the effects of prediabetes. Make sure you are eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, combined with whole grains and lean proteins. Make sure to reduce the amount of fats, sugars, and oils you’re eating. Finally, a few healthy habits including sleeping for 8-9 hours each night, combined with solid stress management techniques, will also go a long way in improving your wellbeing.

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