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What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced in the beta cells in the pancreas, known as the islets of Langerhans, in response to increased blood glucose levels. Insulin's primary role is to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the muscle and tissues.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance refers to a condition in which the cells of the body, mainly liver, fat, and muscle cells, no longer respond effectively to the hormone insulin to remove glucose from the blood into the cells for energy use.

Over time insulin resistance may lead to elevated glucose levels. This is because the glucose is not being cleared from the blood. Insulin resistance may also result in a condition called hyperinsulinemia or elevated insulin levels since the pancreas will try to produce more insulin to make up for the high blood glucose levels.

Certain risk factors for insulin resistance are not able to be controlled by an individual (non-modifiable risk factors) such as age, ethnicity, family history, and certain health conditions. However, other risk factors may be influenced by an individual to decrease risk of insulin resistance (modifiable risk factors) including obesity, especially central obesity or waist circumference, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and smoking.

Insulin resistance is usually diagnosed by a physician through blood tests such as fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test and hemoglobin A1c test.

What does insulin do?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which helps control the body’s blood sugar levels. Once a meal is eaten and broken down, glucose molecules will enter the bloodstream. This increase in glucose levels signals to the pancreas that insulin needs to be released so that it can help the body’s cells, especially liver, fat, and muscle cells take up the glucose from the blood to be used for energy.

If a body loses sensitivity to the effects of insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance, blood glucose levels will become elevated since the cells are less able to remove glucose from the bloodstream efficiently.

What is an insulin pump?

An insulin pump is a medical device that is used to regulate blood glucose levels in individuals who have diabetes. Diabetes mellitus is when the body’s blood glucose levels are too high and the body has a hard time with blood glucose regulation. Type 1 diabetes results from the body's inability to produce insulin in the pancreas and Type 2 diabetes is due to the body cells becoming resistant to insulin.

The insulin pump is also known as continuous subcutaneous insulin therapy. It is a small computerized device placed under the skin and releases insulin similar to how the body naturally secretes insulin.

Is insulin a hormone?

Insulin is an anabolic hormone (a hormone that promotes the building of molecules in the body) produced in the beta cells in the pancreas, known as the islets of Langerhans. It is released in response to increased blood glucose levels after a meal. Insulin's primary role is to regulate blood glucose levels as well as help with the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein through the transport of glucose from the bloodstream into the muscle and tissues.

Related Terms

Glycemic Index

Learn more about Insulin:

Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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