Insulin is the most anabolic hormone, but how do you go about improving insulin sensitivity in a world saturated by awful food choices and inactivity?
In this article we will discuss strategies you can employ to improve insulin sensitivity and undo potentially devastating damage to your body.
Why You Should Care About Insulin Sensitivity
Take a look at our article on insulin resistance to gain an idea as to why insulin sensitivity is important:
What Insulin Is and How It Works
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Most people know that insulin is associated with the management of blood sugar levels, but the truth is that insulin is also involved in the management of other nutrients as they circulate through the blood, including fat and protein. Here, though, we’ll focus on its role in managing blood sugar.
When you eat a meal that contains carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels will increase. As a result, cells in your pancreas secrete insulin into the blood. The insulin gives your body’s cells signals to take sugar from the blood, and as a result your blood sugar levels decrease.
Insulin resistance and diabetes
Insulin resistance occurs when your body has problems responding to insulin’s signalling. In this case, sensitivity – i.e. responsiveness – is a good thing. Unlike dental sensitivity, you want to have insulin sensitivity, i.e. to be responsive to insulin’s instructions to make use of blood sugar.
Problems with insulin are incredibly common in modern society. In the US alone, nearly a third of the population show levels of insulin resistance, a figure which may rise as high as 45% in women with obesity and even 80% in some patient groups.
As your insulin sensitivity decreases (we’ll talk about causes shortly), your body’s cells respond less and less to the hormone’s signals. Your body will need more and more insulin to have the same effect. At the same time, your blood sugar levels will rise, risking damage to the blood vessels and organs if they remain chronically elevated.
Eventually, as it tries to keep up with the ever-increasing demands placed on it, your pancreas may become damaged, producing little or even no insulin. You may end up developing full-blown diabetes as a result.https://www.youtube.com/embed/JAjZv41iUJU?feature=oembed
Insulin resistance is the main cause of diabetes (type 2). Diabetes now affects 422 million people worldwide, up from 108 million in 1980, and is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and amputation of lower limbs. In 2019, an estimated 1.5 million deaths worldwide were directly the result of diabetes. (Statistics – WHO)
It’s worthwhile noting that insulin resistance is also strongly correlated with heart disease, the world’s leading cause of death, as well as other conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
What Causes Insulin Resistance
A number of factors contribute to the development of insulin resistance.
One of the principal reasons is thought to be increased levels of fat in the blood. A number of studies have shown that high levels of free fatty acids in the blood can cause cells to develop insulin resistance (studies – 1 2 3 4).
Eating too much and carrying excess body fat are the principal causes of high levels of circulating free fatty acids. Overeating and weight gain, especially obesity, are strongly correlated with insulin resistance (studies – 1 2 3 4). Belly fat appears to release fatty acids into the blood, as well as inflammatory hormones (see below) that can also drive insulin resistance (studies – 1 2).
Don’t think, though, that it’s only fat people who get insulin resistance or diabetes. People with a normal or even low weight can also be at risk.
We’ve already written a number of articles on the importance of the gut microbiome for good health, including on a study that claims fasting reduces blood pressure; a protein produced in the stomach that is important for remaining lean; and why sugar is dreadful for brain development during adolescence.
Genetic and social factors also appear to play a role, as we might expect. Here, for example, is a study on ethnic differences in insulin sensitivity.
1. Lift Weights
One of the best ways to boost insulin sensitivity is to lift heavy weights. Going to the gym 3 times a week to do some halfhearted curls isn’t going to cut it — you’re going to have to put in the effort if you want to improve your insulin sensitivity.
According to the study’s abstract: “Physical activity is generally accepted as a part of the nonpharmacological therapy of the insulin resistance. Endurance training is generally recommended as an appropriate approach. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of three-month dynamic strength training on the insulin sensitivity in middle-aged men with insulin resistance.”
The study concluded: “Dynamic strength training improves insulin sensitivity in men with insulin resistance independently on weight loss or increase in aerobic capacity. Our results suggest that the dynamic strength training is an appropriate physical activity for management of the insulin resistance.”
Many intermittent fasting advocates harp on about how fasting can improve intermittent fasting — and they are right in doing so.
Healthline reported: “Interestingly, intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and to lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels (10).
“In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3–6% over the course of 8–12 weeks in people with prediabetes. Fasting insulin has been reduced by 20–31% (10).“
3. Change in Diet (Adding Apple Cider Vinegar, Cinnamon, and Ginger)
A change in diet can do wonders in improving insulin sensitivity.
Avoiding refined grains, sugar, processed foods, excess snacking, eating late at night, and practicing portion control can go towards improving your insulin sensitivity.
Cinnamon, Apple Cider Vinegar, and other herbs and spices can assist in lowering insulin levels.
We have a homemade fat burner recipe designed to improve insulin sensitivity, containing the above ingredients.
4. Boost Your Testosterone Levels
But insulin sensitivity and higher testosterone may be linked due to the fact that excess body fat can simultaneously lower both testosterone levels and insulin sensitivity.
In a previous article on testosterone replacement and diabetes, we wrote:
A recent study has found that regular injections of testosterone — testosterone therapy — may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The study, which took place over a period of two years, is believed to be the largest ever carried out on the subject, with over 1000 men between the ages of 50 and 74 taking part.
More than 34 million Americans have diabetes, with 90 to 95% of them having type 2. Although type 2 most commonly develops in people aged over 45, increasing number of teens and even children are developing the disease as a result of unhealthy lifestyles.
The disease develops as a result of insulin resistance, when the cells of the body become resistant to the hormone insulin, which is involved in regulating blood sugar levels. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Testosterone Therapy Study
During the long-term study, the 1000 male subjects were divided into two groups: one received injections of testosterone every three months and the other received a placebo. Both groups were given access to a WW (formerly Weight Watchers) lifestyle program. 30% of men across both groups attending the meetings and 70% achieved the recommended amount of exercise.
Both groups lost an average of around 4 kg (8.8 lb). After two years, 21% of men in the placebo group had type 2 diabetes, whereas just 12% of the men who received testosterone injections had developed the disease. The men who received testosterone also showed a greater decrease in fasting blood sugar levels, small improvements to sexual function and increased muscle mass.
“The proportion of men with diabetes at two years in the testosterone treatment group was significantly lower than in the placebo group,” says Professor Gary Wittert, the leader of the study. “Importantly, the men who were most engaged in the WW healthy lifestyle program lost the most body weight.”
It’s well known that men with low testosterone are at risk of a whole host of other chronic conditions beside diabetes, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Although men can expect to lose 1% of their natural testosterone production annually after the age of 30, the last half century has seen an unprecedented collapse in testosterone levels, which may have potentially catastrophic effects for the continuation of the species.
5. Lose Fat
Excess body fat — especially held around the belly — can wreak havoc on your insulin levels.
Losing belly fat, in particular, can go a long way in improving your insulin sensitivity and reducing your insulin levels.
Studies have also shown that insulin levels remain lower after a loss in belly fat — even if the subject gains fat at a later date [R].
Sadly, however, losing fat with higher insulin levels can be fairly challenging.
6. Do HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) such as sprinting has shown to improve insulin sensitivity in test subjects.
Studies demonstrated that interval sprints can reduce insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity [R].
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