4 Benefits of Insulin Sensitivity, and How to Improve Yours
Taking steps to improve your insulin sensitivity is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. Most often, much of our conversation is focused around reducing added sugar in the diet, but functional medicine can help you address the insulin sensitivity that’s the real culprit behind chronic illness and weight gain.
Keep reading to learn what insulin sensitivity is, why you should work towards it, and how you can take steps to reverse insulin resistance naturally.
What Is Insulin Sensitivity?
Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how well your cells respond to the message insulin sends. And insulin’s primary function is to allow your body’s cells to use glucose (sugar) for energy.
When you eat any carbohydrate, which includes anything from broccoli to added sugars like candy, the food is digested in your stomach, and moves to your intestine where the sugar portion passes into your bloodstream as glucose.
Your blood glucose rises in response to eating food, and your pancreas secretes insulin to allow cells to uptake the glucose as energy, decreasing blood sugar.
If you’re insulin sensitive, you need less of this hormone to bring down your blood sugar levels after eating. Insulin resistance occurs when your body needs more and more insulin to bring down blood sugar levels–and if left unchecked long enough, this leads to type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and many other chronic illnesses.
CentreSpringMD can help you determine how your body is using insulin, and the steps you should take for better blood sugar balance.
Insulin Sensitivity + Insulin Resistance
Currently, more than 1 in 3 U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, which means their cells are becoming insulin resistant. It’s also estimated that 2 in 5 adults will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, and many other chronic illnesses, share root causes in metabolic dysfunction, which is driven primarily by insulin resistance and glucose tolerance (1).
Continuous overconsumption of carbohydrates creates a constant bombardment of insulin upon your cells. After an extended period of time, your body’s cells begin to become insulin resistant.
Think of this process like continually receiving constant spam phone calls. Eventually, you get frustrated, and stop picking up the phone. This is a little like what happens with your cells–they become less and less likely to respond to the message insulin sends and they become more insulin resistant.
Insulin resistance can occur over many years, but changes in insulin sensitivity can occur in the body in a little as a few days, making your body’s use of insulin important right now, and not just years in the future.
Nutrition counseling at CentreSpringMD can help you improve your insulin sensitivity.
Benefits of Insulin Sensitivity
1. Easier fat loss
When you’re insulin resistant, you’re more likely to have trouble losing weight, or maintaining a healthy body weight. This is because when insulin is high, you’re more likely to store calories as fat, instead of burning them for energy (2). If you think you’re eating healthy, but still not losing weight, you may have become insulin resistant.
Being insulin resistant makes it harder to use body fat for fuel, and your metabolism will prioritize using carbohydrates, driving sugar cravings and further weight gain.
2. Less risk of all disease
This seems like a lofty statement, but evidence supports it’s truth. Healthy, balanced blood sugar and insulin sensitivity are essential for whole-body health. Insulin resistance increases risk of all chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, and much more (3).
3. Better brain health and cognition
Many people have accepted cognitive decline as a normal part of getting older, but insulin resistance plays a significant role in the development of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia (2). Some researchers now refer to Alzheimer’s as ‘type 3 diabetes’ further solidifying the connection between insulin resistance and brain health.
4. Fewer cravings and less hunger
When you’re insulin resistant, you’re likely to experience “hanger” when your body quickly burns through it’s stored carbohydrates. If you’re insulin resistant, you’re less likely to use body fat for fuel, which can drive sugar cravings as the brain looks for it’s next easily accessible source of energy (2).
Insulin resistance can also cause dozens of other problems ranging from acne breakouts to changes in mood, and much more. While the above are a few of the major benefits of being more insulin sensitive, almost every organ and tissue in the body benefits from better insulin sensitivity.
Improving Insulin Sensitivity
Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of health, it is always possible to take steps to reverse your insulin resistance. Whether you’ve progressed to type 2 diabetes, or are looking for ways to improve your overall health, improving insulin sensitivity is the perfect place to start.
To improve insulin sensitivity, get less:
- Industrialized seed oils such as canola, vegetable, and corn oils. These are inflammatory oils and should be avoided if possible. The inflammation triggered as a result of these oils can reduce your cell’s ability to respond to the message insulin sends.
- Refined carbohydrates. Breads, pasta, cereal, cookies, and other processed carbohydrates spike blood sugar the most, and create more work for your pancreas. They generally provide little to no nutrition and can contribute to chronically high insulin levels.
- Sugar. Sugar has many forms. Added sugars like candy and desserts are more obvious, but sugar can lurk in drinks, condiments, and many foods that quickly add up throughout the day. Some of the worst culprits are foods we think of as “healthy” like granola or fruit juice.
To improve insulin sensitivity, get more:
- Quality fats and protein help promote balanced blood sugar levels by slowing the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
- Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve fasting insulin levels in many studies (4). Intermittent fasting can be done in many ways suited to your lifestyle, and doesn’t require strict adherence to see benefits. Begin with an overnight fast (from dinner to breakfast the next day), and then slowly delay breakfast in the morning until hunger naturally ensues.
- Strength training. Lean muscle mass improves your body’s ability to use blood sugar for energy and maintain insulin sensitivity. Maintaining adequate muscle is especially important for older people, as muscle will naturally decline as we age, decreasing our insulin sensitivity along with it. Mediating this decline in muscle mass is key to managing the metabolic side effects of getting older.
Supplements for Insulin Sensitivity
Certain phytonutrients, minerals, and supplements can be useful to support insulin sensitivity
Berberine upregulates an enzyme called AMPK, which stimulates glucose uptake and the use of fats for fuel (5). This supports a healthy blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity. Berberine is also useful for blood sugar balance in people who have PCOS as well.
Chromium is necessary for proper blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity. Studies show that blood chromium levels are lower in people with type 2 diabetes than those without (6).
Magnesium is essential for all human health, and plays a critical role in normal blood sugar balance and the actions of insulin. Magnesium deficiency also triggers systemic inflammation that perpetuates inflammation which worsens insulin resistance (7).
Functional Medicine to Reverse Insulin Resistance
Being more insulin sensitive is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. Fortunately, there are many small steps you can incorporate right now the benefit your insulin sensitivity, no matter where you are on your health journey.
You have the power to have a significant and life-changing impact upon your health, and CentreSpringMD can provide the tools you need to reach your goals.
Contact us today to learn how you can reverse your insulin resistance and improve your health.