5 Ways to Naturally Improve Insulin Sensitivity in Your Body
We can improve insulin sensitivity, otherwise known as insulin resistance, in a healthy, natural way. Insulin sensitivity is important for your overall health and there are a few simple steps you can take to improve it.
In this article, we’ll discover five ways to naturally improve insulin sensitivity in your body.
Insulin sensitivity definition
But first, what is insulin sensitivity? Insulin sensitivity refers to how sensitive your body is to the effects of insulin. When you have high insulin sensitivity your body uses blood glucose very effectively. When you have low insulin sensitivity, your body has elevated glucose and insulin levels. We want high insulin sensitivity for optimal health.
Insulin is a hormone. Its job is to regulate the level of glucose, or blood sugar, in your bloodstream. Your pancreas sends insulin into your blood when you eat. The insulin picks up the glucose and takes it to the cells for energy. If you don’t need energy right away, your liver, muscle cells, or fat cells can store the glucose for later.
Insulin sensitivity vs insulin resistance
What’s the difference between insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is when you have low insulin sensitivity. When insulin is resistant, it blocks the cells in your body from absorbing as much glucose as you do. The extra glucose stranded in your bloodstream contributes to high blood sugar.
Insulin resistance also means you have an increased amount of insulin in your blood. Over time, chronically high levels of blood sugar and insulin can damage your health. If left unchecked, this can lead to type 2 diabetes.
The goal is to have high insulin sensitivity so your body will release the right amount of insulin it needs to take care of the glucose in your blood.
Low insulin sensitivity symptoms
How do you know if you have low insulin sensitivity — or insulin resistance?
When your body isn’t well, it alerts you that something is wrong by sending signals. We call these signals symptoms.
It’s hard to tell if you have low insulin sensitivity just by how you feel. Low insulin sensitivity doesn’t give you any concrete symptoms. But there are some warning signs to look out for:
- Waist measurement over 35 inches for women, 40 inches for men
- High blood pressure readings
- Low “good” cholesterol
- A high fasting glucose level
- High triglycerides
Insulin sensitivity test
If you feel you may be at risk of low insulin sensitivity, you can go to your doctor and ask for a test. The best way to see if you’re insulin resistant is to get a blood test. A test will tell you what your blood glucose and insulin levels are. There are two main types of blood glucose tests: fasting plasma glucose test and A1C test.
Fasting Plasma Glucose Test
The fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) measures your fasting blood glucose levels. You need to be in a fasted state (no food or drinks, only water) for at least eight hours before the test. This test is usually done in the morning before you eat breakfast. The FPG test shows your blood glucose level at the time of the test.
A normal result is less than 100 mg/dl. Pre-diabetes is anywhere between 100 mg/dl and 125 mg/dl. Diabetes is diagnosed if your result is 126 mg/dl or higher.
The A1C Test
The A1C test reflects your average blood glucose over the past 3 months. It’s a common test used to check if you are at risk for pre-diabetes or diabetes. An A1C test can help you and your health care provider determine if you are at risk.
A normal A1C level is below 5.7%. If your level is between 5.7% and 6.4%, you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
You should get a baseline A1C test if you’re over age 45. But if you’re overweight and have any risk factors for diabetes, you should also get a test.
5 Ways to improve insulin sensitivity
The goal is to improve insulin sensitivity. You don’t want to have consistently high levels of insulin in your bloodstream. There are several things you can do to improve insulin sensitivity.
Exercise is one of the easiest ways to naturally improve insulin sensitivity. Several studies show that increased activity levels improve insulin sensitivity.
When you exercise, you use some of the glucose in your bloodstream for energy. This effectively lowers your blood sugar level and in turn, lowers insulin. High levels of insulin can affect weight loss. Over time, your body will become more insulin sensitive and less insulin resistant.
Practice getting into the habit of exercising at least 30 minutes per day for five days each week. Incorporate a mix of low intensity and high-intensity cardio, as well as resistance training.
Sleep is important for overall health. Most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep per night. Adequate sleep provides for optimal recovery and rejuvenation. Women typically sleep more than men. Their sleep is often lighter and easily disrupted.
In one sleep deprivation study, the subjects experienced a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Catching up on lost sleep can reverse the negative effects.
The bottom line is this, make an effort to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep per night.
Getting exercise and better sleep are not the only things that affect insulin sensitivity. Keep reading to find out how nutrition plays a role in insulin sensitivity.
When you eat, your blood glucose level goes up. Your pancreas releases insulin to gather up the glucose and shuttle it to your cells for energy. But not all foods are equal.
What are the best foods for controlling insulin levels and increasing insulin sensitivity?
Highly processed foods or simple carbs break down quickly and glucose floods your bloodstream. You want to avoid quick spikes in blood sugar levels from these types of foods. They should be consumed in moderation.
When you eat complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, your glucose and insulin levels rise more slowly. This allows for a more moderate increase in blood sugar levels.
Let’s talk about fiber. There are two kinds — soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber breaks down in water. When soluble fiber dissolves, it creates a gel that helps with digestion and improves blood glucose control.
Insoluble fiber does not break down in water. In fact, it helps promote bowel health and regularity by drawing water into your intestines. Insoluble fiber supports insulin sensitivity.
Try incorporating these fibrous foods into your diet:
- Green and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus
- Nuts and seeds like pecans, almonds, chia seeds, and flax seeds
- Berries, such as blackberries and raspberries
A diet high in fruits and vegetables provides higher insulin sensitivity. You’ll want to choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. The more colorful the better.
Evidence shows that some supplements may have a positive effect on improving insulin sensitivity. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements to your regimen. Some nutritional supplements may interact with your medication.
Berberine is a bioactive compound found in many different plants and shrubs. It has a yellow color and can be used as a dye. Berberine was used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat various ailments.
In a 2017 study, berberine reduced insulin resistance and improved insulin sensitivity. Berberine makes insulin more effective at lowering blood sugar. It also slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut and increases the number of beneficial bacteria.
Magnesium is an important mineral for the human body. It helps regulate blood pressure, helps with nerve function, and supports the immune system. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. But most people are low in magnesium and don’t even know it.
Your cells have receptors for insulin which allows the glucose to enter the cell. Insulin has the key that unlocks that receptor. Magnesium is needed in order for that receptor to function properly. When your magnesium levels are low, your cells can’t use those receptors effectively. This leaves blood glucose levels high and creates insulin resistance.
Taking a magnesium supplement can improve insulin sensitivity.
Controlling insulin and blood glucose isn’t just about what you eat and the supplements you take. It’s also about when you eat. Next, we’ll show you how meal timing affects insulin sensitivity.
We have known for a long time that intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity. When we eat, our body uses that energy for fuel. Food breaks down into glucose which flows through our bloodstream. In response, the pancreas releases insulin to remove the glucose from our blood and take it to our cells.
When we don’t eat, blood glucose and insulin levels fall because there isn’t any incoming food. By fasting, we allow our body to use the energy we receive from food first. Then we tap into our fat stores when we need more energy. A high level of insulin prevents us from using stored fat for energy. By lowering our insulin levels, we improve our insulin sensitivity.
A 2018 study discovered that early time-restricted eating increased insulin sensitivity. It also improved blood pressure and oxidative stress and lowered the desire to eat in the evening.
Final Thoughts on Insulin Sensitivity
Chronically high blood sugar levels can damage tissues and organs and lead to various health problems, such as type 2 diabetes. It also leads to low insulin sensitivity. By changing a few simple daily habits, you can naturally improve insulin sensitivity in your body.
But changing habits can be hard. You know you want to make a change, but don’t know where to start. It all seems overwhelming.
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