If you want to be your healthiest self, reaping the benefits of insulin sensitivity should be a priority. When you’re insulin sensitive your don’t have sugar crashes, you can eat more deeply satisfying food without gaining weight, and your whole body functions better.
I often see patients who believe they’re doing their best to be healthy, but after a quick conversation about their diet I realize they are prey to old school nutritional information. It’s not their fault, so much misguided ‘health’ information is persistent and it takes time to shift what was once ‘conventional wisdom’.
All too often they are having orange juice, oatmeal, or a fruit smoothie for breakfast thinking they are being healthy, when in fact they are starting off their day with a big dose of insulin which hurts their overall insulin sensitivity baseline. Insulin sensitivity and resistance exist on opposite sides of a spectrum – the closer you are to being insulin sensitive the healthier you are and vice versa.
For example, type 2 diabetes occurs when a person becomes more and more insulin resistant. It’s important to point out that the issues caused by insulin resistance are a slippery slope, which is why you don’t simply get type 2 diabetes overnight.
**Please note, throughout this article as I refer to diabetes, I am specifically referring to type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and requires a different approach.
Insulin Sensitivity vs. Insulin Resistance
First to understand these characteristics, we need to briefly understand insulin itself. Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas that regulates your blood glucose levels.
There are a number of things you do throughout your day that can cause more insulin to be released – a major one is eating sugar or carbs. When you eat something sugary, your body releases insulin to help bring down glucose levels in your blood.
Insulin sensitivity has a more straightforward name – essentially it refers to how sensitive you are to the hormone insulin as it’s released in your body. Meaning, if you’re insulin sensitive, you’ll need less of this hormone to bring down your blood sugar levels when necessary. On the other hand, 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 diabetes.
Fortunately there are steps you can take to reduce insulin resistance and improve your insulin sensitivity.
Top 5 Benefits of Insulin Sensitivity
Due to the rise in diabetes, many realize why insulin resistance is bad – but what about the other end of the spectrum? Here are the top five benefits of insulin sensitivity:
- Enhancing fat loss
- No more sugar crashes or getting ‘hangry’
- Reducing risk of disease
- Fighting cognitive decline
- Clearer skin
1. Enhancing fat loss
This is a huge benefit. If you’re struggling to lose weight even though you think you’re eating right, it could be because you’ve become insulin resistant. When your body is insulin sensitive, you lose weight more efficiently.
In fact, this is partly why many women have a hard time losing and keeping weight off on ultra low fat diets. First, you need healthy fats for functional hormone production and secondly, you are using mostly carbs as an energy source which contributes to insulin resistance. These create the perfect storm for stubborn fat.
2. No more sugar crashes or getting ‘hangry’
When you are insulin sensitive you won’t get those horrible sugar crashes jokingly referred to as ‘hangry.’ These crashes are given this name because it refers to the sheer panic that’s created by your body when it’s reliant on glucose and your levels drop so low it make you angry. Insulin sensitivity also means your body is able to use alternative fuel sources such as ketones, when/if your body goes into ketosis. This also reduces your cravings for sugar and carbs, which breaks the vicious insulin resistance cycle.
3. Reducing risk of disease
By boosting your insulin sensitivity you are at the opposite end of the spectrum as many diseases. When you are insulin resistant, you have a much higher risk of developing several diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, thyroid conditions blood clot disorders, and more.
4. Fighting cognitive decline
Cognitive decline has been associated with increased insulin resistance. In fact, some researchers are are calling Alzheimer's disease type 3 diabetes. This is because insulin resistance leads to cognitive decline, oxidative stress, and other factors that over time can cause Alzheimer's to develop. A ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting are extremely effective methods for improving your insulin sensitivity and there’s promising research that indicates these help keep cognitive decline at bay.
5. Clearer skin
Insulin resistance causes various skin manifestations, such as acne, acanthosis nigricans, and androgenetic alopecia. This is because insulin resistance cause a cascade of negative health impacts throughout your body. When you work to reverse this and become more insulin sensitive, you may find that your skin conditions clear up significantly.
11 Ways to Reverse Insulin Resistance
No matter where you are in your health today, you can always work to improve your insulin sensitivity. If you’ve gotten to the point where you became so insulin resistant you’ve developed type 2 diabetes, it is possible to reverse this.
Some of the best things you can do to increase your insulin sensitivity and reverse insulin resistance include:
- Adopt the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting
- Eliminating sugar and refined carbs
- Increase healthy fat intake
- Exercise more, especially strength training
- Eating low glycemic foods
- Get better sleep
- Reduce stress
- Lose weight and/or body fat percentage
- Eat insulin sensitivity boosting foods – These work primarily through healing the gut, improving absorption, and reducing free sugar in the blood.
- Soluble fiber
- Fenugreek seeds
- Green tea
- Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium – Your body needs enough magnesium for insulin signaling. This is the number one supplement I recommend to people showing signs of insulin resistance.
- Add other supplements that improve insulin sensitivity – Other beneficial supplements include:
I believe taking the necessary steps to become more insulin sensitive is one of the best things you can do for your health today. The benefits of insulin sensitivity are widespread and your whole body will look and feel better.
To jump right in – I recommend looking into the ketogenic diet, which is one of the faster ways to achieve better insulin sensitivity. Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf are excellent resources for all things Paleo and keto. If you are looking for a doctor who is knowledgeable in these diets, check out the Paleo Physicians Network or Re-Find Health.