8 Natural Ways to Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity (2023)
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
Having prediabetes or type 2 diabetes has been linked to decreased insulin sensitivity through multiple studies.
That means the body cells are less receptive to insulin, leading to metabolism issues and high blood sugar levels.
Although medication is a huge part of treating prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, you can create some lifestyle changes to increase insulin sensitivity and depend less on non-insulin therapy.
In this article, we'll explore insulin resistance and how to improve insulin sensitivity naturally.
Our bodies naturally produce the hormone insulin to regulate the metabolism of their main fuel source, glucose.
Insulin is responsible for "opening up" the body's cells and tissues to glucose, so it gets used by the body to create energy, leading to lower blood glucose levels.
The beta cells of the pancreas are insulin-producing cells that respond to the body's insulin demand by pumping up its production.
When someone has one or more risk factors that cause insulin resistance, their body stops responding to insulin the same way.
This leads to higher insulin production with no lowering blood glucose levels, known as insulin resistance.
Here are 8 natural ways to drop your blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Before modern diabetes treatments were discovered, physicians prescribed salicylates (similar to modern-day aspirin) to type 2 diabetes patients.
That led to some marked improvement in their symptoms, predominantly the glucose found in their urine, even if, back then, the doctors didn't understand why.
The anti-inflammatory effect of salicylates was discovered to be the reason why it helped with type 2 diabetes.
The conclusion here is that inflammation causes low insulin sensitivity, which leads, in some cases, to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Reducing general inflammation is possible if you engage in the following healthy habits.
Exercise positively influences insulin sensitivity since it increases glucose uptake in the muscles. That means your blood sugar has a better chance of moving into your muscle fibres for fuel when you do more physical activity, reducing insulin resistance.
To improve insulin sensitivity, follow this regimen depending on your condition and your ability to engage in physical activity:
If you have prediabetes or don't have diabetes: Exercise for 30 minutes five times a week. Engage in high-intensity cardio exercise three times a week and resistance training two times a week, alternating the two.
If you have type 2 diabetes: Do moderate-intensity cardio exercise for an hour two times a week and strength/resistance training two times a week.
If you have type 2 diabetes plus other conditions that limit mobility: Engage in low-intensity or moderate-intensity exercise whenever you're physically able. Aim for two times weekly if you can, and try to remain consistent.
If you have severe insulin resistance, it may take some time before you notice a change in your bloodwork.
Exercise could help you improve other health conditions, like high blood pressure and weight gain, which contribute to Metabolic Syndrome.
Sleep allows the body to rest and reset. It also contributes to general health and well-being, which includes the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates.
A 2015 study showed that when your body doesn't get enough sleep, it directly leads to reduced insulin sensitivity.
That means your body could start to become insulin resistant if you consistently have fewer than seven hours of sleep every night, which is the recommended number of hours for adults.
To help your body get into a relaxed mood for sleep, you can try the following tips:
Avoid looking at screens for at least an hour before bedtime.
Take a warm bath before bed.
Set the room's thermostat a little lower than usual. We fall asleep better in slightly cool rooms.
Drink sugar-free, warm herbal infusions that don't contain caffeine at night to help you relax.
Avoid eating foods that are too rich right before you try to sleep to prevent acid reflux and indigestion.
Our bodies use hormonal signals to communicate and control our vital processes. The hormones cortisol and adrenalin control the "fight or flight" response when a quick reaction is needed.
Stress is one of the main culprits in elevated adrenalin and cortisol levels since it simulates the need to engage with a real-life threat.
Unfortunately, elevated stress levels have been proven to cause consistent high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. So controlling stress levels and keeping them in check is crucial if you want to increase insulin sensitivity.
Try the following lifestyle changes to reduce stress levels:
Practice mindfulness during your daily tasks.
Take walks to clear your mind.
Avoid external sources of anxiety whenever possible, like avoiding news channels and "doomscrolling" social media.
Drink herbal teas like chamomile and ginger tea, but be wary of St. John's wort as it causes impaired insulin sensitivity.
It would be unwise to think that dietary factors don't directly control blood sugar and insulin levels.
Here are the most effective ways to improve insulin sensitivity by eating a healthy diet:
The first and most effective method to see an increased insulin sensitivity is to cut down your consumption of simple carbohydrates in the form of added sugar.
It's no secret that most processed foods contain added sugar, making reducing your intake much more challenging.
However, this tremendously affects your body's natural response to blood sugar.
Try to eat more whole foods instead of premade meals. Avoid sources of added sugar like sodas, bottled sauces, and prepackaged baked goods.
Dietary fibre is an excellent addition to your meals. Soluble fibre makes you feel full for longer, delays gastric emptying and regulates the absorption of carbohydrates in your intestines.
Eating foods rich in insoluble fibre also improves gut health by allowing beneficial bacteria to multiply, which keeps your bowel movement regular.
Saturated fats in food have a detrimental effect on insulin sensitivity. These fatty acids cause problems with the insulin receptor sites on the cell membrane, making insulin molecules less likely to bind.
This impairs insulin-dependent glucose disposal, resulting in higher blood glucose levels.
Trans fats have been proven to reduce muscle insulin sensitivity due to their irregular molecular shapes, making the muscle less capable of burning fuel for energy.
Read nutrition labels to understand the breakdown of fat content in your food, and avoid anything that contains a high concentration of saturated and trans fats.
Getting enough protein in your diet has been proven to stabilize blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. A low-carb, high-protein diet helps ward off insulin resistance syndrome and allows your body to digest a meal before you're hungry again.
As for healthy fats, the type you're looking for is polyunsaturated fat, found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and some vegetable oils.
Consuming these fat sources reduces insulin resistance and adipose tissue inflammation compared to other types.
In an ideal world, we'd be able to get all the essential nutrients from the food we eat.
On the other hand, if you have to take the micronutrients you need in the form of supplements, which could sometimes be better and more controlled, then please do so.
The following micronutrients have been proven to improve insulin sensitivity:
Taking probiotics can improve gut health and increase insulin sensitivity. It's also been proven that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the supplement regimen and probiotics increases insulin sensitivity in overweight adults.
Magnesium is a micronutrient found naturally in some nuts and seeds.
Taken as a supplement, it was shown to improve glucose control and increase insulin sensitivity in adults with healthy glucose metabolism and people with type 2 diabetes.
Weight loss has been linked to improved insulin sensitivity. That's mainly due to the effect of belly fat tissue (also known as visceral adipose tissue) on hormone production that can impair normal glucose disposal and increase insulin resistance.
Weight gain and high body mass index in childhood and adolescence were also linked to developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
That said, it's crucial to have your weight loss journey supervised by a nutritionist and a physician to avoid complications.
Being a healthy weight looks different on different bodies, so it's not about aesthetics as much as it is about how your body functions.
Aside from having a beneficial role in weight loss, intermittent fasting has also been proven to improve metabolic health and reverse insulin resistance for people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The idea behind intermittent fasting for at least 16 hours a day is to allow the blood sugar levels to drop significantly during fasting periods.
This allows the pancreas beta cells to only release insulin for the 8 hours you're consuming food, reducing blood levels.
A study published in 2022 found that people with impaired fasting glucose and lipid metabolism significantly improved insulin sensitivity on just 5 weeks of intermittent fasting.
An average loss of about one inch of the waist circumference, which signals a reduction of belly fat, was also noted.
Insulin resistance is becoming a widespread issue among adults in the U.S. due to unhealthy lifestyle choices, among other reasons.
That said, you can adopt a few healthy habits that improve insulin sensitivity and reduce high blood sugar levels, which reflects positively on your overall metabolic health.
Reducing inflammation, lowering stress levels, and eating a healthy diet are all-natural ways to prevent insulin resistance.
You can consult your doctor before adding supplements or exercise regimens to your daily routine.