Insulin is an essential hormone that controls blood sugar levels by moving sugar from the blood into the cells. It eventually converts stored glucose into energy that we need to function. When you become insulin resistant, your cells can't use the hormone to create energy, which leaves your blood sugar levels high.
When your pancreas detects high blood sugar, it produces more insulin to reduce blood sugar. However, this process can deplete the pancreas of cells that produce insulin, which is common in people with type 2 diabetes. Prolonged chronic high blood sugar can also damage organs and nerves.
If you have prediabetes or a family history of diabetes type 2 and are overweight or medically classified obese, you're at a high risk of insulin resistance.
Improving your insulin sensitivity—how responsive your cells are to insulin—is critical to your health. It also helps reduce your risk of developing various diseases, including diabetes.
Besides reducing or avoiding added sugars, here are seven ways to naturally improve your insulin sensitivity.
Stress influences your body's capacity to regulate blood sugar. This is because stress prompts the body to go into fight-or-flight mode, which promotes the production of stress hormones like glucagon and cortisol. These hormones are responsible for breaking down stored sugar into glucose, which enters your blood and is used by the body as a quick energy source.
If you experience chronic high stress, your body will keep producing stress hormones that stimulate nutrient breakdown, leading to increased blood sugar and, eventually, insulin resistance. Increased stress hormones prevent nutrients from being stored in the cells, making them more available in the blood for energy use.
This is why you may experience a burst of energy followed by a period of feeling tired and sleepy, especially after eating a sugar-spiking meal.
You can reduce stress and improve your body's insulin sensitivity through breathwork, meditation, yoga, journaling, massages, and sleep.
Get more sleep
Studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep can increase your risk for various chronic illnesses, including type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, researchers have linked poor sleep to decreased insulin sensitivity.
Fortunately, it's possible to catch up on lost sleep and reverse its effects on insulin resistance.
Regular exercise is another excellent way to improve your insulin sensitivity. This is because exercise helps move sugar into the muscles for storage.
Studies have also found that insulin sensitivity is immediately increased after exercise. The effect lasts two to 48 hours, depending on the type of exercise performed.
Aerobic exercises and resistance training were found effective in improving insulin sensitivity. But experts say that combining both in your weekly routine provides excellent results.
Eat more vegetables and fruits
The more colorful the vegetables and fruits, the better they improve insulin sensitivity. Besides providing nutrients, these vegetables and fruits are rich in plant compounds with antioxidant properties. And antioxidants are important because they bind to and neutralize free radicals, which cause harmful inflammation throughout the body.
Researchers have found that eating a plant-rich diet is linked to higher insulin sensitivity.
But a word of caution on consuming fruits: Stick to the recommended portions and limit intake to one piece per sitting, no more than two servings per day. This is crucial because some types are high in sugar.
Eat more soluble fiber
Soluble fiber has many benefits, including lowering cholesterol levels and reducing appetite. Researchers have found a link between increased soluble fiber intake and improved insulin sensitivity.
Soluble fiber is also good for gut health as it helps feed the good bacteria in your gut. Researchers have also found a link between good gut health and increased insulin sensitivity.
You can up your soluble fiber intake by including flaxseeds, legumes, fruits like oranges, and vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Reduce your carb intake
Carbs, especially refined carbs like white bread, white rice, pasta, pastries, breakfast cereals, and sweets, stimulate insulin blood levels to rise. This is because the body transforms carbs into sugar, which is released into the blood. More sugar in the blood triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to move the sugar into the cells.
You can replace refined carbs with complex carbs, such as whole-wheat bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans, and steel-cut oatmeal. Another tip is to eat smaller carb portions throughout the day, providing the body with fewer carbs at each meal, making it easier for insulin to do its job.
Beware of excess belly fat
Excess fat, especially around the belly, reduces insulin sensitivity and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is because belly fat produces hormones that promote insulin resistance.
If you have prediabetes and excess weight, the best way to improve your insulin sensitivity is by losing body fat. Implementing the above tips will improve your insulin sensitivity and jumpstart your weight loss journey. Adhering to these tips is also a great way to keep the weight off once you've arrived at the desired weight.
The bottom line
Insulin is a hormone that has many essential functions in the body. However, many factors, like stress, excess weight, and too many refined carbs, trigger the pancreas to produce more insulin to clear sugar from your blood. This leads to decreased insulin sensitivity, which increases one's risk of developing various chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
But stress management, sleep, exercise, a plant-rich diet, reduced carb intake, and losing excess weight can help improve insulin sensitivity naturally.