How To Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity
I’m sure by now you’ve probably heard the term ‘insulin resistance’, or maybe even ‘insulin sensitivity’. If not, no problems, let me run over it for the folks who don’t know. Insulin resistance is associated with elevated levels of insulin circulating throughout your body, followed by an intolerance for glucose, if left ignored this can eventually lead to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. So essentially it’s your body losing the ability to effectively control, use, and store glucose.
Here are some of the symptoms of insulin resistance:
- Inability to lose weight;
- High blood pressure;
- Fluid retention (looking ‘puffy’ due to insulin signalling to your kidneys to hang on to sodium and water. This can be seen with swollen ankles, fingers, or abdomen, and even a ‘puffy’ area under your jawline);
- Elevated blood sugar levels;
- Fat storage in the abdominal area;
- (In women) male-pattern baldness; and/or
- Cravings for sugar/high-carb foods, and a constant feeling of hunger.
Remember this is not a diagnosis, and you should never self-diagnose. If these symptoms seem familiar, please request to have tests done by your healthcare professional.
Insulin is not the bad guy though! Insulin is what tells your body to absorb sugars and use them for energy, and balances your blood glucose levels. High levels of glucose in your blood will be sent to your liver for storage. So when the body has insulin resistance, your cells are responding in an abnormal way. Glucose is inhibited from entering the cells with ease, and it begins to build up in the blood.
From having insulin resistance myself I’ve done a lot of research on methods you can use to improve your body’s insulin sensitivity. I’ll list them below, and I’ve also included all my references at the bottom of this article if you’d like to read the full journal studies.
Inositol is a supplement which is frequently used for treating metabolic syndromes, gestational diabetes, and PCOS. D-chiro-inositol (ie. Inositol) and myo-inositol are able to mimic the effects of insulin, and help your body better absorb the glucose for use, rather than sending it straight to storage. Studies have shown that after three months of myo-inositol treatment HbA1c (Glycated hemoglobin, which is a form of hemoglobin that is measured primarily to identify the three-month average plasma glucose concentration) levels and fasting blood glucose levels had significantly decreased compared to their initial readings (Pintaudi, 2016). Both myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol showed the ability to mimic insulin in animals and humans.
My naturopath has instructed me to take 1 teaspoon of cinnamon per day, as 1 teaspoon of cinnamon has a very similar effect to one dosage of Metformin. Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug used for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon has been show to reduce insulin resistance, lower blood glucose levels, lower lipid levels, decrease inflammation, increase antioxidant activity, decrease body weight, and increase the utilisation of proteins throughout the body in both human and animal studies (Qin, 2010). Cinnamon extracts increased insulin activity more than 20-fold, making the body’s insulin efficient again.
Randomised, double-blinded and placebo-controlled studies on obese and insulin-resistant subjects have shown that incorporating 22.5g of blueberry bioactives into the daily diet insulin sensitivity was increased, with no inflammation, and no changes to the overall daily energy consumption by the participants (Stull, 2010). Blueberries have demonstrated the ability to increase the uptake of glucose into the bloodstream. This is largely believed to be due to their antioxidant properties.
As early as the 1850s studies have shown that chromium is essential to the human body for the effective metabolism of glucose. Many diets do not contain the adequate amount of chromium, and when your body has lowered levels of Chromium, it requires even higher levels of insulin to effectively use glucose (Anderson, 2003). There are many factors involved in insulin sensitivity, and chromium is just one of those, unfortunately there is still no test available to truly determine if you have chromium deficiency. Chromium should not be self-medicated. If your healthcare professional is treating you for insulin resistance try to make sure at least one of your supplements has chromium in it.
An inappropriate amount of sleep is associated with the incorrect use and storage of glucose in the body (Buxton, 2010). Sleep restriction to a maximum of 5 hours per night for only 1 week was shown to significantly reduce the ability of insulin to function correctly.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
HIIT exercise has shown the ability to lower blood glucose levels, increase fitness levels, increase the body’s basal metabolic rate (rate at which is burns energy), and increase insulin sensitivity (Marcinko, 2015). In clinical trials HIIT has improved insulin sensitivity, regardless of the body weight of participant.
MAINTAINED WEIGHT LOSS
If you’ve lost weight, this is even more incentive to keep it off, rather than returning back to your old habits. Overweight or obese women who maintained at least a 15% reduction in their body weight over 12-18 months have shown to have improved insulin sensitivity, rather than those who gained their lost weight back (Clamp, 2017). The opposite also reflected, with those who gained the weight back showing signs of decreased insulin sensitivity.
REDUCING EXCESS FRUCTOSE CONSUMPTION (Ditch the added sugars)
Standard diets now have shown a 26% increase in consumption of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup compared to the standard diet in 1970 (Elliott, 2002). This is a result of the increase in added sugars to many foods, and there is major concern regarding the impact of health of diets that contain a large amount of free sugars (fructose particularly). Recent human studies (within the past 5 years) show a clear and direct link between changes in metabolic activity and high fructose intake. Fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion, and also does not increase the production of leptin, which play a major role in the regulation of energy expenditure and metabolism of sugars, as mentioned previously (Grant, 1980). The lack of insulin and leptin stimulation can then lead to weight gain, causing more issues for the subject.
Anderson RA 2003, ‘Chromium and insulin resistance’, Nutrition Research Reviews, vol. 16, pp. 267-275.
Buxton OM et al 2010, ‘Sleep restriction for 1 week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men’, Diabetes, vol. 59, no. 9, pp. 2126-2133.
Clamp LD et al 2017, ‘Maintained weight loss for 1 year increases insulin sensitivity in women’, Nutr Diabetes.
Elliott SS et al 2002, ‘Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 76, no. 5, pp. 911-922.
Grant AM, Christie MR & Ashcroft SJ 1980, ‘Insulin release from human pancreatic islets in vitro’, Diabetologia, vol. 19, pp. 114-117.
Kleefstra N, Bilo HJ, Bakker SJ & Houweling ST 2004, ‘Chromium and insulin resistance’, Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde, vol. 148, no. 5, pp. 217-220.
Marcinko K et al 2015, ‘High intensity interval training improves liver and adipose tissue insulin sensitivity’, Molecular Metabolism, vol. 4, no. 12, pp. 903-915.
Pintaudi B, Di Vieste G & Bonomo M 2016, ‘The effectiveness of myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol treatment in type 2 diabetes’.
Qin B, Panickar KS & Anderson R 2010, ‘Cinnamon: Potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes’, J Diabetes Sci Technology, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 685-693.
Stull AJ et al 2010, ‘Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant mem and women’, The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 140, no. 10, pp. 1764-1768.
Wilcox G 2005, ‘Insulin and insulin resistance’, Clinical Biochem Rev., vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 19-39.
Woods SC, Chavez M & Park CR, et al 1996, ‘The evaluation of insulin as a metabolic signal influencing behavior via the brain’, Neurosci Biobehav, vol. 20, pp. 139-144.