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5 Lifestyle Changes to Help Your Body Respond Better to Insulin

As a functional medicine practitioner, one of the most common health issues I see in my patients is insulin resistance. In fact, the illness affects 4 out of 10 American adults who are 18 or older. Fortunately, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make to help your body respond better to insulin. Early intervention can help detect blood sugar imbalances, so you can take practical strategies to improve your insulin sensitivity and feel your best. 

A Word About Insulin 

Insulin plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy blood sugar balance in your body. It’s a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. 

When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose. Insulin acts like a key, unlocking the cells and allowing glucose to enter, which can be converted into energy. 

But insulin isn’t just a one-trick pony – it also helps regulate fat metabolism and protein synthesis in your body. It is so powerful that it can even stop your body from breaking down stored fat and proteins, helping you maintain a healthy balance of nutrients.

Overall, insulin is a critical hormone in maintaining your general well-being. Thanks to insulin, it keeps your body running like a well-oiled machine!

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance occurs when your cells become less sensitive to insulin. Your cells don’t respond to insulin as effectively, resulting in excessive sugar in your blood. As a result, your body needs to produce more and more insulin to keep your blood sugar levels under control. 

However, your pancreas can wear out and no longer produce large amounts of insulin. Glucose stays in your bloodstream, leading to a spike in your sugar levels, known as hyperinsulinemia. Over time, high blood sugar levels can harm various organs and tissues in your body. This increases your risk of developing a range of health problems, including: 

  • Prediabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Kidney ailments
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Blindness
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • PCOS

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Causes of Insulin Resistance

While “too much sugar” is a major contributor, insulin resistance is a complex condition that is frequently oversimplified. Some factors that contribute to insulin resistance in both individual cells and the entire body include:

    • Diet: High-processed, high-carbohydrate foods are digested quickly by your body, which raises your blood sugar levels. This can cause your body to release large amounts of insulin over time to keep up. 
    • Stress: When you experience stress, your body releases cortisol (stress hormone) which can increase your blood sugar levels. Chronic stress can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overeating or being sedentary, further exacerbating insulin resistance. 
    • Physical inactivity: Inactivity can lead to an accumulation of fat in adipose tissue and other organs, such as the liver and pancreas. This can contribute to insulin resistance by interfering with insulin signaling and glucose uptake.
    • Obesity. Excess body fat can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, interfering with the signaling pathways that insulin uses to regulate blood sugar levels. In addition, obesity can lead to insulin resistance in the liver and skeletal muscles, which are major sites of glucose metabolism. 
    • Sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of hormones such as cortisol, growth hormone, and insulin, leading to insulin resistance. Sleep deprivation can also increase appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods, resulting in weight gain and further aggravating insulin resistance.
    • Certain medications: Some medications can also affect your body’s ability to use or produce insulin. For example, some corticosteroids can trigger insulin resistance by promoting muscle tissue breakdown, which can decrease your body’s ability to use glucose. 

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance may not be noticeable in the early stages. However, some of the common signs and symptoms of blood sugar imbalance include:

  • Frequent cravings for sugar or carbs
  • Feeling tired after meals
  • Weight gain
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased thirst and hunger
  • Mood swings
  • Skin tags
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Patches of dark, velvety skin (acanthosis nigricans)

insulin resistance testing functional medicine

How to Diagnose Insulin Resistance

You cannot detect insulin resistance by how you feel. There are several tests available, including:

  • Fasting Insulin   measures insulin levels in your bloodstream after an overnight fast.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test – a two-hour glucose test assesses your body’s ability to handle a large dose of glucose.
  • Insulin resistance test – gauges the level of insulin in your bloodstream after a glucose challenge.
  • Hgba1c test – provides a rough approximation of the glucose levels during the red blood cell’s life (around three months). 
  • HOMA-IR Score – The score is based on inputs of fasting plasma glucose and fasting plasma insulin.

5 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Insulin Sensitivity

The following are several lifestyle modifications you can make to help your body respond better to insulin:

1. Stick to a healthy diet. 

Focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats. If you’re dealing with insulin resistance, avoid these three types of foods: 

  • Refined carbs (bread, pasta, white rice)
  • Foods with added sugars (sweetened drinks, breakfast cereals)
  • Foods high in fat  (whole milk, trans fats, fatty cuts of meat)

2. Move around, move about!

When you move your body, your muscles use glucose for energy, which helps reduce the glucose levels in your blood. This, in turn, triggers insulin to help transport glucose into your cells, which ultimately increases insulin sensitivity. Additionally, regular exercise can also help reduce body fat, which, as mentioned above, is a major contributing factor to insulin resistance.

3. Manage stress. 

Find ways to manage stress in your life. This could include practices like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. By practicing stress-reducing techniques, you can help lower your stress hormone levels and promote healthier glucose metabolism. 

4. Get enough sleep.

Getting enough sleep can help regulate the hormones that control glucose metabolism in your body. When you sleep, your body has a chance to repair and regenerate cells, including those that play a role in insulin sensitivity. 

5. Lose weight if necessary.

If you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can help improve your body’s responses to insulin. Consult a qualified practitioner, such as a nutritionist, if you’re unsure of your ideal weight or how to lose weight. 

The Bottom Line

Insulin resistance is a common condition that can have serious health consequences if left untreated. It can be upsetting to battle an invisible foe, but there are some things you can watch for. You can improve your body’s response to insulin and keep a healthy blood sugar balance by changing your lifestyle to include basic activities like eating a healthy diet and managing stress. Book a discovery call, and we’ll help you take control of your health so you can begin making positive changes right away!