Insulin Resistance Medication

Updated: Jul 08, 2020
  • Author: Samuel T Olatunbosun, MD, FACP, FACE; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
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Medication Summary

The goals of pharmacotherapy are to reduce morbidity and to prevent complications. Medications that reduce insulin resistance include biguanides and thiazolidinediones, which have insulin-sensitizing and antihyperglycemic effects. Large quantities of insulin are also used in overcoming insulin resistance. Response to usual dosage of insulin is observed in instances in which the resistance is due to enhanced destruction at the subcutaneous injection site.

The treatment of type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)—conditions that are strongly associated with insulin resistance and significant cardiovascular morbidity and mortality—should aim at restoring the normal relationship between insulin sensitivity and secretion.

For diabetes, this involves pharmacotherapy, which includes stimulation of insulin secretion (sulfonylureas, meglitinides, incretin mimetics) and insulin sensitivity (metformin, thiazolidinediones), as well as treatment intended to support the signals that mediate the islet adaptation (incretin mimetics). [11, 69]

Pramlintide (an amylin analogue) acts as an amylinomimetic agent by modulating gastric emptying, preventing postprandial increases in plasma glucagon, and promoting satiety, leading to decreased caloric intake and potential weight loss. Antiobesity drugs, such as orlistat, may reduce insulin resistance and related cardiovascular risk factors through weight reduction and other mechanisms. [80, 81, 82, 83, 84]

Other currently available drugs include liraglutide, phentermine, phentermine/topiramate extended release (ER), lorcaserin, and naltrexone ER/bupropion ER. Weight-loss medications are prescribed as an adjunct to lifestyle measures and to help achieve a greater degree of weight loss than that produced by dietary changes and physical activity alone. In selecting the optimal weight-loss medication for each patient, the clinician needs to consider differences in efficacy, side effects, precautions, and warnings that characterize the medications approved for chronic management of obesity. [85]

In most patients, the administration of insulin is also crucial in the treatment of diabetes.

Most experts recommend early preventive strategies in children, especially lifestyle changes such as diet and increased level of physical activity, whereas pharmacotherapy is reserved for selected cases. [43]


Antidiabetic Agents, Biguanides

Class Summary

Biguanides are insulin sensitizers useful in type 2 diabetes and related insulin resistance. They reduce hepatic glucose output and peripheral resistance to insulin action and lower plasma insulin levels.

Metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Glumetza, Riomet)

Metformin reduces hepatic glucose output, decreases intestinal absorption of glucose, and increases glucose uptake in the peripheral tissues (muscle and adipocytes). It is a major drug used in obese patients who have type 2 diabetes. It enhances weight reduction and improves lipid profile and vascular integrity. Individualize metformin treatment with monotherapy, or administer it in combination with insulin or sulfonylureas.


Antidiabetic Agents, Thiazolidinediones

Class Summary

Thiazolidinediones are insulin-sensitizing drugs that increase the disposal of glucose in peripheral tissues and act by activating a specific nuclear receptor, the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPAR-gamma). Thiazolidinediones have a major effect in the stimulation of glucose uptake, skeletal muscle, and adipose tissue. They lower plasma insulin levels and are used to treat type 2 diabetes associated with insulin resistance. They appear to benefit patients with PCOS. Thiazolidinediones include rosiglitazone and pioglitazone. [11, 71]

Pioglitazone (Actos)

Pioglitazone may be used in monotherapy and in combination with metformin, insulin, or sulfonylureas. It improves target cell response to insulin without increasing insulin secretion from pancreas. It decreases hepatic glucose output and increases insulin-dependent glucose use in skeletal muscle and, possibly, in liver and adipose tissue.

Rosiglitazone (Avandia)

Rosiglitazone is an insulin sensitizer with a major effect in stimulating glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. It lowers plasma insulin levels. Rosiglitazone is used for treatment of type 2 diabetes associated with insulin resistance and may benefit polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) patients. It may be used as monotherapy or in combination with metformin.

Rosiglitazone is highly selective and a potent agonist for PPAR-gamma. The activation of PPAR-gamma receptors regulates insulin-responsive gene transcription involved in glucose production, transport, and utilization, thereby lowering blood glucose concentrations and reducing hyperinsulinemia. Potent PPAR-gamma agonists have been shown to increase the incidence of edema. A large-scale, phase III trial (RECORD) is currently underway that is specifically designed to study cardiovascular outcomes of rosiglitazone.

On May 21, 2007, following the online publication of a meta-analysis, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert to patients and health care professionals warning that rosiglitazone can potentially increase the risk for myocardial infarction and heart-related deaths.

As of September 2010, the FDA is requiring a restricted access program to be developed for rosiglitazone under a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS). Patients currently taking rosiglitazone and benefiting from the drug will be able to continue if they choose to do so. Rosiglitazone will only be available to new patients if they are unable to achieve glucose control on other medications and are unable to take pioglitazone, the only other thiazolidinedione.

For more information, see FDA's Safety Alert on Avandia. The meta-analysis, entitled Effect of Rosiglitazone on the Risk of Myocardial Infarction and Death from Cardiovascular Causes, can be viewed online. Additionally, responses to the controversy—including the articles Rosiglitazone increases MI and CV death in meta-analysis and The rosiglitazone aftermath: legitimate concerns or hype? —can be viewed at the Heartwire news site (the, from WebMD.



Class Summary

Corticosteroids are immunosuppressants used for the treatment of immune insulin resistance due to anti-insulin antibodies.

Prednisone (Rayos)

Prednisone is an immunosuppressant used for the treatment of autoimmune disorders. It may decrease inflammation by suppressing key steps of the immune reaction process.


Antidiabetic Agents, Insulin

Class Summary

Insulin is given to overcome insulin resistance, but large quantities are often required.

Insulin (Humulin, Novolin, Humalog)

Insulin stimulates proper utilization of glucose by the cells and reduces blood sugar levels. Various preparations are currently available. There are rapid-acting, intermediate acting, and long-acting formulations. Insulin mixes are also available that provide a rapid onset and an intermediate duration of action.


Lipase Inhibitors

Class Summary

Lipase inhibitors inhibit nutrient absorption. Lipase inhibitors such as orlistat may reduce insulin resistance and related cardiovascular risk factors through weight reduction and other mechanisms.

Orlistat (Xenical, Alli)

Orlistat is a gastrointestinal lipase inhibitor that induces weight loss by inhibiting nutrient absorption. Its effectiveness in producing weight loss does not depend on systemic absorption. May reduce absorption of some fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and beta-carotene. Administer a daily oral multivitamin supplement containing fat-soluble vitamins 2 hours before meals or 1 hour after meals. Rare cases of severe liver injury have been reported with use so caution should be taken when administering orlistat.


Antidiabetics, Glucagon-like Peptide-1 Agonists

Class Summary

These agents are incretin mimetics. They are analogues of human glucagonlike peptide-1 (GLP-1) and they act as GLP-1 receptor agonists to increase insulin secretion in the presence of elevated blood glucose. These agents delay gastric emptying to decrease postprandial glucose and they also decrease glucagon secretion.

Exenatide (Bydureon, Byetta)

Exenatide, a 39-amino acid incretin mimetic peptide derived from Gila monster hormone exendin-4, is structurally similar to GLP-1. Approved by the FDA for treatment of type 2 diabetes, it enhances glucose-mediated insulin secretion in the beta cell, decreases the pathologic hypersecretion of glucagon in the alpha cell, slows gastric emptying, and induces satiety. It improves postprandial and fasting hyperglycemia without a significant risk of hypoglycemia and promotes weight loss, resulting in increased insulin sensitivity.

The suspension form of exenatide allows once-weekly dosing by subcutaneous administration. Clinical trials observed a statistically significant improvement in HBA1c levels and fasting plasma glucose levels with the long-acting exenatide once-weekly subcutaneous injection compared with the twice-daily subcutaneous injection.

Liraglutide (Victoza)

Liraglutide is an incretin mimetic agent that elicits GLP-1 receptor agonist activity. It activates the GLP-1 receptor by stimulating G-protein in pancreatic beta cells. It also increases intracellular cyclic AMP, leading to insulin release in the presence of elevated glucose concentrations. It produces weight loss, hence an increase in insulin sensitivity.

Liraglutide was originally approved as an adjunct to diet and exercise to improve glycemic control in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

In December 2014, the FDA approved the drug liraglutide (Saxenda) for the treatment of obesity. It is approved for use in adults with a BMI of 30 or greater (obesity) or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater (overweight) who have at least one weight-related condition such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, or dyslipidemia.