Insulin is an essential hormone that controls your blood sugar level.
Made in your pancreas, it helps move sugar from your blood into your cells for energy and storage.
When cells are insulin resistant, they cannot use insulin effectively, leaving your blood sugar high.
When your pancreas senses high blood sugar, it makes more insulin to overcome the resistance to reduce your blood sugar.
Over time, this can deplete the pancreas of insulin-producing cells, which is common in type 2 diabetes.
Prolonged high blood sugar can damage nerves and organs.
You’re most at risk of insulin resistance if you have prediabetes or a family history of type 2 diabetes, as well as if you are overweight or or have obesity.
Let’s take a closer look at the dangers of insulin resistance and how to improve your insulin sensitivity.
Here’s the problem with insulin resistance.
Dr Jockers, DNM, DC, MS, is a doctor of natural medicine, functional nutritionist and corrective care chiropractor. Here’s his easy to understand explanation of insulin resistance and why it’s so dangerous for your health and well-being:
You have insulin resistance if your body is unable to respond to and use the insulin that your body produced. Your muscles, fat, and liver can’t respond appropriately to the insulin and are unable to easily absorb glucose from your blood. As a result, your pancreas ends up producing an increased amount of insulin to assist glucose to enter your cells. By trying to make enough insulin to overcome your body’s weak response to insulin, your body is aiming to keep your blood glucose levels at a healthy range.
However, the beta cells in your pancreas may not be able to keep up with the excessively high insulin demand. As a result, excess glucose builds up in your bloodstream. This may lead to more serious health issues including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance can exist without symptoms for years, and some symptoms may be confused with other health issues. Some people may go for years without knowing they have insulin resistance.
Maintaining balanced insulin levels at a normal range is important for your overall health and well-being. Problems are presented when insulin levels are too high or too low. If you have too much insulin, the excess gets deposited in your blood. If you have too low insulin levels, your liver continues to make glucose, thereby overtaxing your liver and other organs.
The Problem with Too Much Insulin
Low insulin levels are common for people with type I diabetes, whereas high insulin levels are a sign of insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance increases your risk of prediabetes which is a precursor of type 2 diabetes.
Too much insulin in your body promotes inflammation and weight gain. Chronic inflammation is the root cause of most disease and chronic pain symptoms that people in our modern society are suffering from. Insulin resistance has been linked to obesity, high levels of fat in the blood, and hypertension.
It can increase the risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. If you have insulin resistance, your pancreas tries to produce more insulin to create balance. But eventually, it becomes too much for your pancreas and it wears out. When your pancreas cannot make enough insulin anymore to achieve healthy blood glucose levels, your body develops high blood glucose levels, prediabetes, and without appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes, eventually, type 2 diabetes .
Insulin sensitivity refers to how responsive your cells are to insulin.
Improving it can help you reduce insulin resistance and the risk of many diseases, including diabetes.
Here’s a summary of some natural, science-backed ways to boost your insulin sensitivity according to Healthline.
Get a good night’s sleep.
Several studies have also linked poor sleep to reduced insulin sensitivity.
One study involving nine healthy volunteers found that getting just 4 hours of sleep in one night reduced insulin sensitivity and the ability to regulate blood sugar, compared with getting 8 1/2 hours of sleep.
Catching up on lost sleep can reverse the effects of poor sleep on insulin resistance.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to increase insulin sensitivity.
It helps move sugar into the muscles for storage and promotes an immediate increase in insulin sensitivity, which lasts 2–48 hours, depending on the exercise.
For example, one study found that 60 minutes of cycling on a machine at a moderate pace increased insulin sensitivity for 48 hours among healthy volunteers .
Resistance training also helps increase insulin sensitivity. Many studies have found it increased insulin sensitivity among men and women with or without diabetes.
While both aerobic and resistance training increase insulin sensitivity, combining both in your routine appears to be most effective.
Stress affects your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.
It encourages the body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode, which stimulates the production of stress hormones like cortisol and glucagon.
These hormones break down glycogen, a form of stored sugar, into glucose, which enters your bloodstream for your body to use as a quick source of energy.
Unfortunately, ongoing stress keeps your stress hormone levels high, stimulating nutrient breakdown and increasing blood sugar.
Stress hormones also make the body more insulin resistant.
In fact, many studies have found that high levels of stress hormones reduce insulin sensitivity.
This process may have been useful for our ancestors, who needed extra energy to perform life-sustaining activities. However, for people today who are under chronic stress, reduced insulin sensitivity can be harmful.
Activities like meditation, exercise, and sleep are great ways to reduce stress which helps increase insulin sensitivity.
Lose that excess weight.
Excess weight, especially in the belly area, reduces insulin sensitivity and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Belly fat can do this in many ways, such as making hormones that promote insulin resistance in the muscles and liver.
Many studies support the link between higher amounts of belly fat and lower insulin sensitivity .
Fortunately, losing weight is an effective way to lose belly fat and increase insulin sensitivity. It may also help reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes if you have prediabetes.
For example, a study at Johns Hopkins University found that people with prediabetes who lost 5–7% of their total weight over 6 months reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by 54% for the next 3 year.
Eat more soluble fiber.
Fiber can be divided into two broad categories — soluble and insoluble.
Insoluble fiber mostly acts as a bulking agent to help stool move through the bowels.
Meanwhile, soluble fiber is responsible for many of fiber’s associated benefits, like lowering cholesterol and reducing appetite.
Several studies have found a link between high soluble-fiber intake and increased insulin sensitivity.
For example, a study involving 264 women found that those who ate more soluble fiber had significantly lower levels of insulin resistance.
Soluble fiber also helps feed the friendly bacteria in your gut, which have been linked to increased insulin sensitivity.
Foods that are rich in soluble fiber include legumes, oatmeal, flaxseeds, vegetables like Brussels sprouts and fruits like oranges.
Add more colorful fruit and vegetables to your diet.
In particular, colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in plant compounds that have antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants bind to and neutralize molecules called free radicals, which can cause harmful inflammation throughout the body.
Many studies have found that eating a diet rich in plant compounds is linked to higher insulin sensitivity.
When you’re including fruit in your diet, stick to normal portion sizes and limit your intake to one piece per sitting and no more than 2 servings per day.
Cut down on carbs.
Carbs are the main stimulus that causes insulin blood levels to rise.
When the body converts carbs into sugar and releases it into the blood, the pancreas releases insulin to transport the sugar from the blood into the cells.
Reducing your carb intake could help increase insulin sensitivity. That’s because high carb diets tend to lead to spikes in blood sugar, which put more pressure on the pancreas to remove sugar from the blood.
The type of carbs you choose is also important.
Low-glycemic index (GI) carbs are best, since they slow the release of sugar into the blood, giving insulin more time to work efficiently.
Carb sources that are low-GI include sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, and some varieties of oatmeal.
Add herbs and spices to your cooking.
Herbs and spices were used for their medicinal properties long before they were introduced into cooking.
However, it was not until the past few decades that scientists began examining their health-promoting properties.
These findings for herbs and spices are promising. However, most research in this area is recent and was conducted in animals. Human studies are needed to investigate whether herbs and spices do indeed increase insulin sensitivity.
Add a pinch of cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a tasty spice that’s packed with plant compounds.
It’s also known for its ability to reduce blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity.
For example, one meta-analysis found consuming 1/2–3 teaspoons (1–6 grams) of cinnamon daily significantly reduced both short- and long-term blood sugar levels.
Studies suggest that cinnamon increases insulin sensitivity by helping receptors for glucose on muscle cells become more available and efficient at transporting sugar into the cell.
Interestingly, some studies have found that cinnamon contains compounds that can mimic insulin and act directly on cells.
Drink more green tea.
Green tea is an excellent beverage for your health.
It’s also a great choice for people with type 2 diabetes or those who are at risk for it. Several studies have found that drinking green tea can increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar.
For example, an analysis of 17 studies investigated the effects of green tea on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
It found that drinking green tea significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and increased insulin sensitivity.
These beneficial effects of green tea could be due to its powerful antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which many studies have found to increase insulin sensitivity.
Try apple cider vinegar.
Vinegar is a versatile liquid. You can clean with it or use it as an ingredient in foods, in addition to many other uses.
It’s also a key ingredient in apple cider vinegar, an extremely popular beverage in the natural health community.
Vinegar could help increase insulin sensitivity by reducing blood sugar and improving the effectiveness of insulin.
It also appears to delay the stomach from releasing food into the intestines, giving the body more time to absorb sugar into the bloodstream.
One study found that consuming apple cider vinegar increased insulin sensitivity by 34% during a high carb meal in people who were insulin resistant and by 19% in people with type 2 diabetes.
Avoid trans fats.
If there’s anything worth removing from your diet completely, it’s artificial trans fats.
Unlike other fats, they provide no health benefits and increase the risk of many diseases.
Evidence on the effects of high trans-fat intake on insulin resistance appears to be mixed. Some human studies have found it harmful, while others have not.
However, animal studies have provided strong evidence linking high trans-fat intake to poor blood sugar management and insulin resistance.
Because the findings are mixed for human studies, scientists cannot clearly say that eating artificial trans fats increases insulin resistance. However, they are a risk factor for many other diseases, including diabetes, so they are worth avoiding.
Foods that typically contain artificial trans fats include pies, doughnuts, and fried fast foods. Artificial trans fats are typically found in more processed foods.
Fortunately, in 2015 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared trans fats unsafe to eat. It gave food manufacturers three years to either gradually remove trans fats from their food products or apply for special approval (84).
Let’s take a closer look at the dangers of insulin resistance and how you can improve your insulin sensitivity.
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