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What is the link between insulin & weight gain?

Insulin is one of the most important hormones in the body, as it regulates the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates and fats while increasing the ability of cells to store sugars. The pancreas produces the insulin hormone and uses glucose as a source of energy. It has a great effect to avoid constant hunger and thus prevent obesity. In type 2 diabetes, your body’s cells aren’t able to respond to insulin as well as they should. In later stages of the disease, your body may also not produce enough insulin. 

As a meal containing carbohydrates is eaten and digested, BG levels rise, and the pancreas turns on insulin production and turns off glucagon production. Glucose from the bloodstream enters liver cells, stimulating the action of several enzymes that convert the glucose to chains of glycogen—so long as both insulin and glucose remain plentiful. In this postprandial or “fed” state, the liver takes in more glucose from the blood than it releases. After a meal has been digested and BG levels begin to fall, insulin secretion drops and glycogen synthesis stops. When it is needed for energy, the liver breaks down glycogen and converts it to glucose for easy transport through the bloodstream to the cells of the body.

When does insulin lead to weight gain?

Insulin causes weight gain when the cells absorb too much glucose and the body converts this into fat. During digestion, insulin stimulates muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb glucose. The cells either use this glucose for energy or convert it into fat for long-term storage. When a person takes insulin as a therapy for diabetes, their body may absorb too much glucose from food, resulting in weight gain.

Untreated diabetes can cause weight loss because the body is not converting food into energy correctly. Taking insulin solves this problem. This is why people may notice weight gain when they start to take insulin.

Diabetics, insulin and weight gain

Weight gain is a common symptom of diabetes and other insulin-related medical conditions. Compared with people who do not have diabetes, young adults with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk of developing excess body weight or obesity. Premeasuring portions and keeping a food log can prevent a person from eating more calories than their body needs. Eating more calories than the body needs will lead to excess glucose levels. If the cells do not remove glucose from the blood, the body will store it in the tissues as fat.

Insulin Resistance

Obesity causes an overproduction of insulin, which leads to a decrease in the satiety hormone, and a person loses the feeling of fullness. The solution is to urge the body to reduce insulin secretion so that the satiety hormone returns to its activity and thus it becomes possible to control the amount of food and lose weight over time.

On the other hand, the higher percentage of body fat, the less efficient is the work of the insulin hormone. Obesity causes the deposition of fats on the cell wall, which reduces the response of insulin receptors on the cell wall and the development of insulin resistance. Over time, the efficiency of insulin in introducing sugar into the cells decreases, sugar accumulates in the blood and the cells won’t be able to benefit from it. So cells will suffer from lack of energy and a person feels hungry despite eating a large amount of food. All of this increases the risk of obesity, in addition to many diseases, namely diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

How does insulin work?

Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from your blood into the cells for energy and storage. People with diabetes have higher-than-normal levels of glucose in their blood. Either they don’t have enough insulin to move it through or their cells don’t respond to insulin as well as they should. Your body is designed to keep the level of glucose in your blood constant. Beta cells in your pancreas monitor your blood sugar level every few seconds. When your blood glucose rises after you eat, the beta cells release insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin acts like a key, unlocking muscle, fat, and liver cells so glucose can get inside them.

After your body has used the energy it needs, the leftover glucose is stored in little bundles called glycogen in the liver and muscles. Your body can store enough to fuel you for about a day. After you haven’t eaten for a few hours, your blood glucose level drops. Your pancreas stops churning out insulin. Alpha cells in the pancreas begin to produce a different hormone called glucagon. It signals the liver to break down stored glycogen and turn it back into glucose.

Insulin resistance occurs when excess glucose in the blood reduces the ability of the cells to absorb and use blood sugar for energy. If the pancreas can make enough insulin to overcome the low rate of absorption, diabetes is less likely to develop, and blood glucose will stay within a healthy range. A lot of blood sugar enters the bloodstream; the pancreas pumps out more insulin to get blood sugar into cells. Over time, cells stop responding to all that insulin—they’ve become insulin resistant. The pancreas keeps making more insulin to try to make cells respond, eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up, and blood sugar keeps rising. Lots of blood sugar in the bloodstream is very damaging to the body and needs to be moved into cells as soon as possible. There’s lots of insulin, too, telling the liver and muscles to store blood sugar. When they’re full, the liver sends the excess blood sugar to fat cells to be stored as body fat.

Initially, insulin resistance presents no symptoms. The symptoms only start to appear once it leads to secondary effects such as higher blood sugar levels. When this happens, the symptoms may include: 

  • Lethargy (tiredness) 
  • Hunger 
  • Difficulty concentrating (brain fog) 
  • Weight gain around the middle (belly fat) 
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol levels 

How do we avoid insulin-related weight gain?

When we lead a healthy lifestyle, we are able to control the insulin hormone and prevent weight gain, as eating healthy foods and exercising regularly help prevent unwanted weight gain. Some of the tips that help achieve this:

  • Follow a moderate diet, count calories, and focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains because they make you feel full and contain fewer calories.
  • Make a good meal planning by reducing the meal portion, increasing the number of small meals, avoiding additional dishes, and not missing any main meal, especially breakfast in the morning.
  • Reducing calorie intake is very
    necessary, but meals must never be skipped and the person should follow
    a healthy diet.
  • Exercising is one of the most important steps that help burn fat and calories, as exercise helps the body use insulin to become more effective.

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