Insulin resistance, also referred to as reduced insulin sensitivity, has been identified as the underlying problem associated with metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular conditions. Targeting the underlying mechanisms causing reduced insulin sensitivity may prevent the development and lower the risk of complications associated with diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.
Insulin resistance can lead to the development of diabetes.
Many factors contribute to an increased risk of insulin resistance including obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and genetics.
Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can be key in helping to improve insulin resistance.
This article discusses the role of natural remedies and provides a list of the best options available for improving insulin resistance.
What is insulin resistance?
The pancreas produces insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels that commonly occur after eating foods containing carbohydrates. The insulin released works with various cells in the body to allow the glucose to be taken from the blood into the cell, where the cell can use it for energy. Insulin resistance or impaired insulin sensitivity occurs when the cells in the body do not respond to the insulin as effectively and are therefore unable to take up the sugars in the blood.
This results in the pancreas secreting even higher amounts of insulin into the blood, a condition referred to as hyperinsulinemia, to lower blood sugar levels. Over time this can lead to the development of serious health problems such as diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and high cholesterol levels.
Factors that cause insulin resistance include:
- Medical conditions (e.g. polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Overweight or obesity
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Age greater than 45
- Genetic factors
- Medications (e.g.corticosteroids)
The effects of insulin resistance
The development of insulin resistance gradually results in an increased production of insulin by the pancreas. Excess insulin in the blood leads to:
- The development of elevated triglycerides
- Hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis
- High blood pressure
In addition, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas become worn out and can no longer keep up with the increased insulin need resulting in the development of diabetes.
Can supplements help improve insulin resistance?
Despite some evidence suggesting that certain supplements may improve insulin resistance, many of these supplements can interact with medications and produce unwanted side effects. For example, chromium and magnesium may help with insulin resistance in patients who are deficient in these minerals but can cause adverse effects in patients with kidney disease. Therefore, it is important to evaluate supplements for not only their benefits but their possibility to cause adverse effects.
To ensure there are no contraindications between your medicines and supplements, ensure you have a discussion with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement or vitamin. A physician will be able to detect any vitamin or mineral deficiencies that could be contributing to insulin resistance and may recommend the use of a supplement to replenish decreased levels of these micronutrients.
What are the natural remedies for insulin resistance?
The negative effects of insulin resistance significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular complications such as heart attacks and strokes. Although many people are looking for natural supplements, lifestyle changes can provide effective natural ways to help improve insulin resistance and help lower the risk of complications associated with insulin resistance.
Muscle makes up approximately 40% of body mass and plays an important role in the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream. Exercise can increase the number of glucose receptors on muscle cells which increases the effectiveness of insulin in triggering glucose to enter muscle cells. Therefore, exercise can play a role in improving insulin sensitivity and reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
The Diabetes Prevention Program study, recommends 150 minutes of physical activity every week. When including this with weight loss, the risk of diabetes can be reduced by as much as 58% in high risk individuals.
Chronic stress causes the body to increase the production of stress hormones that can have a negative effect on the metabolism of sugars in the body. Epinephrine is increased during stressful times and triggers the release of stored sugars into the blood. In addition, the elevated cortisol levels triggered by chronic stress can impair the body's response to insulin and lead to insulin resistance.
Although stress negatively impacts blood sugars, there is limited evidence providing the direct impact of stress reduction on insulin resistance. However, seeing as stress reduction techniques can have positive effects on mental health and overall quality of life, it may be worth trying some of those listed below:
- Deep breathing
- Mindfulness practices
- Walking in nature
Obesity, especially fat around the abdomen, can have a significant effect on the body's response to insulin and is the primary cause of insulin resistance. Fat along the midsection has been shown to produce substances that stimulate the inflammatory response. The chronic inflammation associated with obesity can lead to insulin resistance.
When a 7% reduction in body weight is accompanied with 150 minutes per week of physical activity, the risk of developing diabetes can be reduced by 58%. Therefore, weight loss is recommended to improve insulin resistance and prevent the complications associated with it.
Diet can play a vital role in the following:
- Maintaining adequate blood sugar levels
- Preventing spikes in blood sugar levels
- Aiding in weight loss management
Regularly consuming ultra-processed, high-carbohydrate foods triggers spikes in blood sugar levels, requiring the pancreas to produce an increased amount of insulin. In addition, a sedentary life and caloric surplus may contribute to an increase in body weight, which can further impact insulin resistance.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains can help stabilize and prevent dramatic shifts in blood glucose levels. Increasing fiber in your diet can help slow digestion and improve blood sugar levels.
A healthy balanced diet is a cornerstone of any weight management and exercise program, as it can increase the success of these programs and lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Herbs for insulin resistance
Researchers have identified several compounds that are contained in many herbs and spices that may have some effect as anti-inflammatory or reactive oxygen species targeting agents. The anti-inflammatory properties and ability to decrease reactive oxygen species in these compounds may be important in insulin resistance-related conditions and normal blood glucose control. These herbs include:
However, it's important to note that herbs and herbal supplements are limited in their ability to effect insulin resistance – there are only a few prescribed drugs that will have a measurable effect on insulin resistance.
When consuming these naturally occurring herbs through the diet, they are generally considered safe. However, if you plan to add a supplement or high doses of these herbal compounds, have a discussion with your doctor.
Less added sugars
High-fructose corn syrup is a highly processed sugar additive in many foods and drinks that can spike blood sugar levels shortly after consumption. Reading ingredient and nutritional labels can help you identify those foods and drinks to reduce your high-fructose corn syrup consumption. Instead of candy and sugary sodas, try to substitute with healthier choices such as:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Water with natural flavors from lemon slices, cucumber, or watermelon
Low carb diets
The Mediterranean keto and keto diets are low carbohydrate diets that recommend calorie intake to be obtained from healthy fats and proteins while limiting the amount of calories from carbohydrates to 5-10% of daily requirements. Successful implementation of these diets may result in weight loss and several other health benefits linked to improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity. Although they are difficult to maintain long-term, these diets followed under the supervision of a registered dietitian can be helpful in managing symptoms of metabolic diseases.
Are natural remedies for insulin sensitivity effective?
The three most effective natural remedies include diet, exercise, and weight loss. Luckily, these are all intertwined and lead to the development of a healthier lifestyle. Incorporating these into your life can provide several health benefits and can have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity.
What is the best supplement for insulin resistance?
Limited research is available showing supplements to have a positive effect on insulin resistance as there are no lab tests to measure insulin resistance. However, the use of Ceylon cinnamon supplements has been shown to potentially reduce blood sugar levels. Although more research is needed, these findings are promising.
What herbs may help improve insulin resistance?
Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic have shown potential in reducing blood sugar levels and possibly improving insulin sensitivity. However, more research is needed to confirm these claims. Adding these spices to your normal cooking is generally safe but the use of high doses should be discussed with your doctor.
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Insulin resistance & prediabetes.
- Diabetes. Hypomagnesemia in type 2 diabetes: a vicious circle?
- Journal of Applied Physiology. Effects of acute exercise and exercise training on insulin resistance.
- New England Journal of Medicine. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin.