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Understanding Inflammation's Role in Insulin Resistance

Medically reviewed by 
Understanding Inflammation's Role in Insulin Resistance

There is a significant connection between chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. Given the rising prevalence of metabolic disorders, understanding this link is essential. Controlling inflammation is crucial, as approximately 3 in 5 people globally die of a chronic inflammatory disease.

This article investigates the complex relationship between inflammation and insulin resistance, their implications for metabolic health, and how to reduce these two chronic disease risk factors.


What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance occurs when cells within the body, including those in the liver, fat tissues, and muscles, fail to respond to insulin appropriately. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is vital for moving sugar from the bloodstream into the body's cells for energy.

When left untreated, people with insulin resistance cannot adequately control blood sugar, increasing the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, insulin resistance is reversible in many cases, mainly when detected and treated early.

The Role of Inflammation in the Body

Inflammation is a natural immune system response within the body. It can be acute (short-lived), due to an injury, infection, or illness, or chronic (long-lasting), and linked to lifestyle habits or autoimmune disease.

Acute inflammation helps your body heal from germs and injuries. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Tenderness

Symptoms of chronic inflammation include:

Inflammation contributes to chronic disease development over the long term, and thus, managing inflammation is vital to maintaining optimal health.

The Link Between Inflammation and Insulin Resistance

Biological Pathways

Studies show that the body's inflammatory response plays a role in developing insulin resistance, heightening the risk of type 2 diabetes

Researchers suggest that inflammatory responses activate cytokines, chemokines, adipocytokines, and other pro-inflammatory mediators, interfering with insulin signaling. They report that overnutrition is the leading cause of low-grade inflammation, elevated blood sugar, and impaired insulin sensitivity and secretion.

Contributing Factors

Factors that may contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance include:

When eaten in excess, foods high in trans fat, high-sodium foods, fried foods, meats cured with nitrates, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and highly processed foods increase the chance of chronic inflammation.

Health Consequences of Inflammation and Insulin Resistance

Examples of metabolic disorders and diseases associated with inflammation and insulin resistance include:

It's common to have more than one of these conditions simultaneously. 

3 Strategies to Manage Insulin Resistance and Inflammation

Various strategies can help individuals manage both insulin resistance and inflammation.

Dietary Modifications

An anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrient-dense foods, loaded with antioxidants, polyphenols, and omega-3s, can reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity. 

Foods, supplements, and micronutrients to consider include:

  • Low glycemic index (GI) whole foods: Beans, other legumes, apples, berries, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, lean meats, fish, and dairy
  • Antioxidant- and  polyphenol-rich fruits and veggies: Apples, cherries, blueberries, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
  • High-fiber foods: Nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains
  • Curcumin (turmeric)
  • Green and black teas
  • Mung bean
  • Omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish (salmon, tuna) or fish oil supplements
  • Sesame oil
  • Micronutrients (particularly antioxidants) linked to reduced inflammation: Vitamin E, vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, and zinc

Limit or avoid the following foods:

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice)
  • Foods high in animal fats (saturated fat) and trans fats
  • Highly processed and packaged foods
  • Baked goods
  • Alcohol

Consume healthy foods in recommended portions to obtain the nutrients your body needs to thrive without consuming excess calories. 

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can also reduce inflammation and improve insulin resistance.

Researchers have found that weight loss is the most effective way to reduce chronic inflammation. 

Monitoring and Medical Management

Early detection and treatment of inflammation and insulin resistance are vital to properly managing these conditions and reducing the risk of chronic disease or associated complications. 

Diagnosing inflammation, insulin resistance, and risk factors involves a comprehensive workup, including:

Diagnostic tests can also screen for conditions related to insulin resistance, such as heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and metabolic syndrome.

In addition to healthy lifestyle habits, medical interventions can help individuals properly manage conditions linked to inflammation and insulin resistance. Over-the-counter and prescription medications that help reduce chronic inflammation include:

  • Metformin, a diabetes medication
  • Blood pressure-lowering medications
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, etc. 
  • Corticosteroids
  • Statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs)
  • Herbal supplements like turmeric, ginger, Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), and hyssop

Individuals should always consult with their doctor before taking any dietary supplements. 


Key Takeaways

  • Inflammation and insulin resistance are intricately related and profoundly impact metabolic health. 
  • Genetics, aging, toxin exposure, unhealthy lifestyle habits, smoking, excess alcohol intake, lack of exercise, and obesity all play critical roles in the development of inflammation and insulin resistance.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment via medical interventions, healthy lifestyle habits, and nutrition can reduce inflammation and other disease risk factors and may even reverse insulin resistance. 
  • Patients and providers should work closely together to develop a customized plan.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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