The deal with Insulin Resistance
With Paleo, Ketogenic and LCHF (that’s low carb – high fat ICYMI) diets gaining widespread popularity right now, theres one term that is seeping into our daily chat a lot; Insulin Resistance.
Insulin Resistance n.
A state of diminished effectiveness of insulin in lowering the levels of bloodsugar, usually resulting from insulin binding by antibodies, and associated with such conditions as obesity, ketoacidosis, and infection.
Insulin Resistance is a condition in which cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin. If this is not acknowledged, or left untreated, insulin resistance can lead to a whole host of serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, inflammatory diseases and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
There is a world of research, reading, and DNA/epigenetic understanding behind the nutritional methods of keto/paleo/LCHF protocols, but in short, many of these diets are seeming to provide the grounds for which insulin sensitivity can be increased and insulin resistance, may be reversed.
*Always consult with a registered professional before commencing any new nutritional protocols as it is not a one size fits all scenario and every body has differing needs to fulfil optimal health and function.
So let us break down the deal with Insulin and some simple ways you can increase your insulin sensitivity.
The hormone – Insulin
Insulin is an essential hormone that controls your blood sugar levels. Made in the pancreas, this hormone helps to move the sugar (glucose) from your blood and transfers it to the cells where it can either be stored as energy in the muscles (glycogen) or as fat. In a healthy, optimally functioning body, the preferred storage method is to replenish glycogen stores first, so we have more fuel and energy expenditure in the tank, only storing excess glucose as fat if these stores are at full capacity.
When insulin resistance develops, the cells aren’t binding readily or effectively to the insulin. The pancreas senses that you still have high blood sugar levels and produces more insulin in an attempt to get the glucose into the cells. Over time, this can deplete the pancreas of insulin-producing cells (a common feature of type 2 Diabetes), whilst long-term and prolonged high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves and organs.
Additionally, high insulin levels can increase fat storage (one reason why high insulin levels are associated with diabetes) as it can inhibit the breakdown of fat into free fatty acids for energy production (lipolysis), making it harder for the body to use fat as a fuel, particularly if the cells are already full of glycogen.
Insulin Sensitivity, refers to how responsive your cells are to insulin and how effectively and readily they will bind to the hormone.
Why should we be concerned about insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance can often be a precursor to type 2 diabetes and additionally may raise triglycerides, which increase the risk of heart diseases. When the body enters an insulin resistant state it is also more likely to store fat and there can be excess levels of inflammation in the body (which can have subsequent outcomes such as PCOS.) Insulin resistance also may reduces athletic performance, inhibit sleep, slow recovery from training/injury and/or increase muscle soreness.
Here are some simple tips that may help reduce to insulin resistance and increase insulin sensitivity.
Control carbohydrate intake and choose low-GI sources
Carbohydrates are one of three essential macronutrients needed by the body for balanced energy input. However they are also the main stimulus that causes insulin blood levels to rise. When the body digests carbohydrates they are broken down into their base form – sugar. As explained, when there is a higher level of glucose in the blood more insulin needs to be released to transport the sugar into the cells. By selecting whole foods, that have a low-GI index and moving away from a high carbohydrate based diet (or potentially reducing your overall carbohydrate intake) you may increase your insulin sensitivity as the sugar is released over a longer duration and the body is able to regulate insulin more effectively than just one spike.
Great options for low-GI carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal.
Cut out refined sugar and sweeteners
It could be time to break up with refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Notice this isn’t saying ALL sugars as the vitamins, fibres and nutrients we get from fruits and vegetables which contain some natural sugars, are highly beneficial and an important aspect of a well balanced diet. However, refined sugars have a high glycemic index which immediately spikes the blood glucose levels and sending the body into direct response to pump out high levels on insulin immediately to control the blood glucose levels.
Cinnamon on everything
Not only is it totally tasty, but this spice is known for its ability to reduce blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity. Studies suggest that cinnamon increases insulin sensitivity by helping the receptor cells become more available and efficient at shuttling in glucose, and consuming just ½-3 teaspons of cinnamon daily can significantly reduce both short and long term blood sugar levels.
Ramp up the spices
Packing a punch with flavour these three spices can be beneficial additions to your diet to help increase your insulin sensitivity.
Fenugreek seeds: Eating these whole, as an extract, or in a tea may increase blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity. They are high in soluble fiber, which is not only beneficial for your digestion, but helps to make insulin more effective.
Turmeric: Your favourite golden latte really is a great idea, as turmeric contains the active ingredient “curcumin” which has high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This helps to increase insulin sensitivity by reducing free fatty acids and sugar in the blood.
Ginger: The active component in this popular spice, “gingerol” makes the sugar receptors on muscle cells more available, helping to increase sugar uptake from the blood stream.
Utilise exercise – including resistance training
Regular daily exercise is one of the best, and most effective, ways to increase insulin sensitivity. Movement helps to transport sugar into the muscles and promotes and immediate increase in insulin sensitivity, which can last from 2-48 hours, depending on the type of exercise undertaken.
During (and after) a workout, your muscles and cells need fuel and will consume the majority of the glucose available in the blood. Resistance training in particular is an important addition to increasing insulin sensitivity as the more muscle you develop, the more ability to utilise glycogen stores. Additionally, further studies indicate resistance training offers another interesting side effect, whereby non-insulin dependent glucose occurs immediately after the workout, which allows your muscles to replenish glycogen, without insulin!
Magnesium is an incredible supplements for an array of ailments – sore muscles, sleep quality, digestive troubles – but it can also be benefical to reduce insulin resistance as the mineral works with insulin receptors to store blood sugar. Some studies indicate that low blood magnesium levels link to insulin resistance, so adding in a high quality supplement may well increase your insulin sensitivity!
It always comes back to stress doesn’t it? Well indeed for insulin resistance, high stress levels can affect your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. When the body experiences stress and enters its primal “fight or flight” mode, the stress hormones like cortisol and glucagon which break down glycogen (the stored sugar) into glucose to enter your bloodstream for a quick and immediate energy source. This is detrimental when you enter a period of chronic and ongoing stress, as these stress hormones stay high they keep the blood sugar levels high also as they prevent the nutrients from being stored- making the body insulin resistant.
Finding methods by which to introduce balance to your work/life routine, incorporating exercise and movement that makes you feel great, mindful practices such as meditation, Yoga or Pilates, taking some time out top relax, are all great ways to help reduce stress and lower the level of these hormones in your body. It does however, require time, and a daily practice to actively reduce generalised and chronic stress.