Updated 15 February 2017

Insulin resistance risk factors

Insulin resistance is a blood sugar disorder associated with heart disease and often caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.


Insulin resistance is a blood sugar disorder associated with heart disease and often caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Check how many of these risk factors you have.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is a disorder of glucose (blood sugar) metabolism. It occurs because body cells no longer respond well to the instruction of the hormone insulin to clear glucose from the blood stream.

When glucose clearance from the blood into the cells is delayed and has become difficult, the cells have become resistant to insulin. To compensate for the reduced responsiveness of body cells to insulin, the pancreas (the organ that produces insulin for us), starts to produce more and more insulin in order to force the glucose into body cells.

It is partly these excessive insulin levels that are responsible for many of the chronic diseases of lifestyle associated with insulin resistance. It appears that the type and amount of fat in our diet, the amount of free sugars and refined starchy foods we eat, can adversely effect the ability of the body cell’s to respond to insulin appropriately and can further promote higher levels of insulin in the blood.

Check these risk factors

To identify if you have insulin resistance syndrome it is necessary to take a few basic measurements. According to guidelines published by the American Heart Association in 2005, you can be identified as having insulin resistance syndrome if you have 3 of the following 5 criteria:

1. A waist circumference measurement of greater than 102cm in Men, and greater than 88cm in women.

2. A blood test revealing that you have a triglyceride (a type of blood fat associated with coronary heart disease) level greater than 1,7mmol/l, or if you are on drug treatment for elevated triglycerides.

3. A blood test revealing that you have low levels of “good cholesterol” – also known as HDL cholesterol. Namely, a level of less than 1,03 mmol/l in men, and less than 1,3 mmol/l in women or if you are on drug treatment for low HDL Cholesterol

4. If you have high or marginally raised blood pressure of 130mmHg systolic blood pressure and/or 85 mmHg diastolic blood pressure, or if you are on medication to manage blood pressure

5.If you have raised blood sugar (glucose levels), with a blood test revealing elevated blood glucose of greater than 5.6 mmol/l after and overnight fast

Even if you don't have these measurements available it's possible for you to know if you are at risk by asking yourself a few basic questions. The American College of Endocrinologist has identified that if you have 2 of the following risk factors you are at risk for developing insulin resistance syndrome, or may have insulin resistance already:

  • You have ever been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or skin tags.
  • You have a family history of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or coronary heart disease
  • For women: you have a history of pregnancy-related diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance in pregnancy
  • You have a sedentary lifestyle and do not engage in regular exercise.
  • You are overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of greater than 25kg / m2. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height all squared. i.e. (Weight (kg)/ (Height x Height (meters)). Or: you have a waist circumference measurement greater than 102cm if you are a man or greater than 88 cm if you are a women.
  • You are older than 40 years of age.

If you have insulin resistance or are at risk what should you do?

Get moving - engage in regular exercise of at least 30 minutes at least five days per week

  • Improve your diet - reduce your intake of refined starchy foods and sugars, fast foods, and very fatty and deep fried foods, and increase fruit and vegetable intake. Use wholegrain starchy foods, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and pilchards, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • If you smoke, stop or at least cut down.
  • Manage and reduce stress.

In certain circumstances, medication may also be necessary to treat abnormalities associated with insulin resistance, such as abnormal cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure levels, if these are not resolved with the prescribed dietary and lifestyle intervention.

It is estimated that 80% of cases of coronary heart disease, 90% of type 2 diabetes cases, 70% of strokes and one third of cancers could be avoided by changing to a healthier diet, increasing physical activity and stopping smoking.

Adapted from a press release issued by Bay Public Relations

- (Health24, updated January 2012)


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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