With so many disease models linked to insulin resistance, ensuring your body has an appropriate insulin response is crucial. Achieving insulin sensitivity is achievable without medical and pharmaceutical intervention. With insulin resistance and metabolic disorders on the rise, today, we explore some key natural ways to manage blood sugar levels and promote insulin sensitivity.
What is Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is the body’s inadequate response to glucose consumption caused by chronically elevated glucose levels in the blood. In other words, your body cannot appropriately respond to using sugar with insulin. In other words, insulin is a crucial hormone to help your body turn food into energy.
Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by your pancreas and is considered the primary anabolic hormone of the body. Insulin regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein by promoting glucose absorption from the blood into the liver, fat, and skeletal muscle cells.1
In almost all modern disease models, insulin resistance is present.
Preventing or reversing it should be a priority for anyone pursuing health. Luckily there is an array of lifestyle changes and habits that promote insulin sensitivity naturally.
Natural Solutions to Insulin Resistance
Sleep quality profoundly impacts the body’s ability to shuttle glucose properly. One night of poor sleep can decrease insulin sensitivity the following day.2 Getting enough hours is a part of this equation, but quality sleep means more than just clocking your 7-9 hours.
Quality sleep starts the morning of, with exposure to daylight.
This morning daylight helps set your circadian rhythm and promotes a night of deep sleep. Light plays a huge role in circadian (and sleep) health. Getting enough sunlight is one factor, but avoiding artificial light after sundown is equally essential.
Winding down after sundown promotes deep sleep, which means avoiding vigorous exercise, a big meal, or exposure to blue light. If you need to get stuff done after sunset, consider investing in red light bulbs, salt lamps, and candles, or wear high-quality blue light-blocking glasses.
Exercise shuttles glucose into your muscles, promoting instant insulin sensitivity that can last anywhere from 2 to 48 hours, depending on the type and duration of the movement.3 Studies highlight the power of various exercises in improving insulin sensitivity, including cardiovascular conditioning and weight resistance training.4-5
Another way to improve insulin sensitivity using movement is to go for a short walk after every meal. Studies suggest that an easy ten-minute walk post-meal can have a dramatic impact on increasing insulin sensitivity. Walking in a fasted state first thing in the morning can also improve insulin sensitivity for the whole day.6
Fasting has been shown to have a profound impact on improving insulin sensitivity. Studies in humans demonstrate the ability of intermittent Fasting to reduce fasting blood sugar by 3-6% and reduce fasting insulin by 20-31%.7 Fasting can be implemented as a great preventative tool for type 2 diabetes.
Women in their reproductive years should be mindful that intermittent Fasting can have the opposite effect, depending on their body’s needs. One study highlights the increased insulin resistance in women after implementing intermittent Fasting for three weeks.8 A blood glucose monitor can be a great way to tailor your efforts to your biological needs.
4. Insulin Resistance and Diet Quality
Fasting is beneficial regardless of the quality of your diet, but to get the most out of it, you should also be mindful of the quality of your food. Food quality matters because highly processed foods are more inflammatory (some, incredibly) and will promote insulin resistance.
Foods to avoid are highly processed sugars and flours with very high glycemic indexes. Processed vegetable oils (like canola, cottonseed, soybean, and safflower) are also highly inflammatory. Instead, opt for whole organic foods like unprocessed vegetables, fruits, pasture-raised meats, and wild fish. Cook using animal fats (like tallow, lard, ghee, or butter), and opt for adding vegetable fats (like cold-pressed organic olive oil) as a drizzle after cooking.
5. Insulin Resistance and Stress Management
When the body is in fight or flight mode, a process called gluconeogenesis can cause the release of glucose into the blood, as a way of helping you escape the ‘imminent danger’ you are facing. The problem is modern-day stress is not a result of imminent danger. Our low levels of underlying chronic stress can cause chronic insulin dumping all day and night, leading to reduced insulin sensitivity.9
Removing stressful influences on our life (physical, chemical, and emotional stressors) is ultimately the solution. Including mindfulness practices (like meditation, yoga, breathwork, tai chi, or qi gong) is another way to reduce stress dramatically.10
6. Herbs and Spices
Cinnamon is one of the most well-known and readily available spices to help promote balanced blood sugar. Using organic Ceylon cinnamon can be as simple as sprinkling it on your food, although you can also consume it in higher doses more palatably via a capsule.11
Bitter melon has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to balance blood sugar. It can be purchased in capsule form and consumed 10 minutes before a meal to help offset the insulin response.12
Berberine improves insulin sensitivity via a cascade reaction of insulin-like growth factor-1. The therapeutic dosage for berberine as a blood sugar stabilizer is 500 mg thrice daily. It can be consumed in capsule form.13
Studies suggest that fenugreek seeds can also help control blood sugar. Minor evidence highlights the use of fenugreek powder in baked goods for a lessened glycemic response. Still, the evidence is more substantial for using ten fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water and consumed before a meal.14
Studies highlight the ability of fresh or powdered ginger to render sugar receptors on muscle cells more available, increasing sugar uptake. Gingerol is the bioactive compound that promotes this action, which has potent inflammatory and antioxidant properties.15
Although insulin resistance is on the rise, there are many lifestyle factors and habits that you can implement to increase insulin sensitivity. Managing your body’s relationship to glucose is paramount for whole-body health. Some natural solutions include quality sleep, adequate movement, Fasting, diet variation, stress management, and incorporating specific herbs, spices, and supplements (like cinnamon, bitter melon, fenugreek, berberine, and ginger).
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- Voet D, Voet JG (2011). Biochemistry (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.
- González-Ortiz, M et al. “Effect of sleep deprivation on insulin sensitivity and cortisol concentration in healthy subjects.” Diabetes, nutrition & metabolism vol. 13,2 (2000): 80-3.
- Borghouts, L B, and H A Keizer. “Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review.” International journal of sports medicine vol. 21,1 (2000): 1-12. doi:10.1055/s-2000-8847
- Magkos, Faidon et al. “Improved insulin sensitivity after a single bout of exercise is curvilinearly related to exercise energy expenditure.” Clinical science (London, England : 1979) vol. 114,1 (2008): 59-64. doi:10.1042/CS20070134
- Way, Kimberley L et al. “The Effect of Regular Exercise on Insulin Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Diabetes & metabolism journal vol. 40,4 (2016): 253-71. doi:10.4093/dmj.2016.40.4.253
- Yamanouchi, Kunio, et al. “The Effect of Walking before and after Breakfast on Blood Glucose Levels in Patients with Type 1 Diabetes Treated with Intensive Insulin Therapy.” Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, vol. 58, no. 1, 2002, pp. 11–18., doi:10.1016/s0168-8227(02)00099-2.
- Barnosky, Adrienne R., et al. “Intermittent Fasting vs Daily Calorie Restriction for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention: a Review of Human Findings.” Translational Research, vol. 164, no. 4, 2014, pp. 302–311., doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013.
- Heilbronn, Leonie K et al. “Glucose tolerance and skeletal muscle gene expression in response to alternate day fasting.” Obesity research vol. 13,3 (2005): 574-81. doi:10.1038/oby.2005.61
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research; Marriott BM, editor. Food Components to Enhance Performance: An Evaluation of Potential Performance-Enhancing Food Components for Operational Rations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1994. 11, The Metabolic Responses to Stress and Physical Activity. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209038/
- Shomaker, Lauren B., et al. “One-Year Follow-Up of a Randomized Controlled Trial Piloting a Mindfulness-Based Group Intervention for Adolescent Insulin Resistance.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, 2019, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01040.
- Medagama, Arjuna B. “The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials.” Nutrition journal vol. 14 108. 16 Oct. 2015, doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0098-9
- Ghorbani, Ahmad. “Best Herbs for Managing Diabetes: a Review of Clinical Studies.” Brazilian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, vol. 49, no. 3, 2013, pp. 413–422., doi:10.1590/s1984-82502013000300003.
- Yin, Jun et al. “Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental vol. 57,5 (2008): 712-7. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013
- Kassaian, Nazila et al. “Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and lipid profiles in type 2 diabetic patients.” International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition vol. 79,1 (2009): 34-9. doi:10.1024/0300-9818.104.22.168
- Daily, James W., et al. “Efficacy of Ginger for Treating Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, vol. 2, no. 1, 2015, pp. 36–43., doi:10.1016/j.jef.2015.02.007.