Insulin and Weight Gain
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Without this natural hormone, glucose cannot get into the body cells to be converted into fuel. As a result, it will stay in the bloodstream. Since the body cannot use the excess glucose in the bloodstream, it will remain in the bloodstream leading to high levels of blood glucose. If not treated, high levels of blood glucose can lead to severe long-term health problems, including blindness, nerve damage, and possibly the loss of limbs.
Diabetic patients experience high levels of blood glucose because their body cannot produce enough amounts of insulin that is required to maintain an optimal blood sugar level. Patients with type 1 diabetes require insulin therapy so that they can survive. This is because they cannot produce insulin naturally as a result of beta cells being mistakenly destroyed by the immune system. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes patients are able to make insulin, but their body becomes resistant to it. Usually, type 2 diabetic people can manage their condition through oral diabetes drugs, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. However, in case this does not work, they may require insulin medication.
Does insulin cause weight gain?
Initially, diabetic patients may experience weight loss before they start insulin therapy. This happens when the body eliminates extra glucose via urine, which makes you feel dehydrated. So, the initial weight loss is as a result of water loss. When you begin to take insulin medication, your body will initially retain more fluids to manage the dehydration. This may result in weight gain as a result of the body retaining excess fluids. Also, diabetic patients with uncontrolled blood glucose levels tend to feel very hungry. Hence, they may overeat even after starting to take insulin injections. The insulin therapy will help manage high levels of blood glucose, so that the excess glucose in the bloodstream is absorbed and used by the muscle and fat cells for energy. Because there is no glucose being excreted via urine, you may gain weight.
Most people associate weight gain with insulin therapy and they tend to reduce their insulin doses so that they can lose weight. But what happens is that insulin helps your body utilize glucose better, ultimately keeping the body hydrated. Before you started the insulin therapy, your body was unable to absorb glucose from your food. Because one of the common side effects is frequent urination, the constant release of fluids would have been a factor in keeping you from putting on too much weight. When you begin insulin therapy and you keep taking the same amount of food, you may experience weight gain since your body is now able to absorb glucose from food better. If you experience weight gain when you are taking insulin, you should not reduce your insulin doses.
It is possible to lose weight when you cut your insulin doses, but then you risk letting your blood glucose rise too high which may lead to severe health complications. Also, when you return to your normal insulin dosage, the lost weight will return again. Changing your insulin dose to lose weight is a risky and can lead to long-term health problems, like heart disease. If your doctor prescribed you to take insulin drugs, they judged that the benefit of using insulin outweighs the effects. So, don’t try and adjust your insulin dosage without your doctor’s knowledge.
How to manage weight while taking insulin
It is possible for you to have a healthy weight while you are under insulin therapy. You can reach out to your diabetes health team on how you can manage your weight while taking insulin. Your diabetes health team may include a doctor, dietitian, therapist, certified diabetes educator or physical trainer. They will assess your current weight, including your BMI, and help you set up realistic weight loss goals. Your weight goals may include achieving an ideal body mass index, attaining daily or weekly exercise goals, adopting healthy lifestyle, and maintaining a certain weight range. You can work with your dietitian to formulate a healthy meal plan that includes right portion sizes, types of food to eat, and when to eat them. Eating foods which are not processed and are rich in natural nutrients can help you lose weight.
Foods that can help you lose weight include:
- Whole grains
Foods to avoid are starchy foods, potatoes, refined sugars or grains, red meat and sugary beverages. For you to burn calories, you need to come up with an exercise program. Exercise can also improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Your physical trainer may advice you to incorporate strength training and aerobic exercise into your program. Strength training exercise is good for building muscles while aerobic exercise can help you burn calories.
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Running on a treadmill
- Jogging or walking
Strength training exercise may include lifting weights or using your body weight during workouts. Body weight exercise like push ups, lunges and squats are good to do at home. You may go to a gym to use weight machines as part of your strength training exercise. However, before you start any exercise at home or in a gym, you should consult with your doctor first. Physical exercise can lower the levels of your blood sugar.
Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.