It’s remarkable how positively the body responds to being treated well. In general, people are often told to eat healthy, exercise plenty, and sleep well. This is in order to maintain a good weight, avoid illnesses, and generally feel better about ourselves.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Every time you are kind to your body, a sort of chain reaction of positive outcomes begins: glowing skin, more brain power, muscle growth… the list goes on.
It should be no surprise, then, that insulin has a part to play in this chain reaction. When looking for the answer to how to increase insulin sensitivity naturally, healthy living is where to look.
When insulin sensitivity increases, it helps your body do well, can help you have more control of your diabetes, and can lower your HbA1c in the long-run. So, let’s take a look at the ins and outs of insulin sensitivity!
What is Insulin Sensitivity?
If insulin sensitivity is helpful, then what is insulin sensitivity exactly? Well, it’s how receptive your body is to the effects of insulin.
You may already know that insulin is a hormone that ensures that glucose can enter the cells from the bloodstream. This essentially means that insulin lowers blood sugar levels.
If a person has higher insulin sensitivity, their body is able to make better use of insulin, and can lower blood sugar levels more effectively.
The extent of the sensitivity varies between people and between scenarios. Some people naturally have differing levels of insulin sensitivity, while lifestyle affects insulin sensitivity too.
For instance – does exercise lower blood sugar? And does it increase insulin sensitivity? Sometimes, yes. Find out more below!
Meanwhile, low insulin sensitivity – called insulin resistance – can be caused by unbalanced lifestyle choices, such as regularly high carb intake and little exercise.
Insulin resistance can make your blood sugar more difficult to manage. Insulin resistance can also lead to type 2 diabetes.
What is Insulin Sensitivity Factor?
For those who inject insulin, the insulin sensitivity factor is essential in establishing how much insulin is needed to lower blood sugar.
So, what is insulin sensitivity factor? It’s an expression of how much an individual’s blood sugar will fall with one unit of insulin.
Since insulin sensitivity varies between people, there are no catch-all numbers for insulin injections. Instead, a doctor will usually help with finding out a personal insulin sensitivity factor.
How to Increase Insulin Sensitivity Naturally
You know why insulin sensitivity is important. Now, for how to increase insulin sensitivity naturally, and why it happens!
1) Get a good night’s sleep
Countless studies conclude that poor sleep affects the body’s response to insulin, such as this one where 20 men had their sleep restricted, resulting in decreased insulin sensitivity.
The National Sleep Foundation points out that sleep disruption results in stress hormones being secreted. This is so that the body has more energy to stay awake. However, the body gets this energy by releasing glucose, thereby raising blood sugar levels.
When it comes to diabetes and sleep, the human growth hormone (HGH) is another important aspect. HGH is released during sleep, and helps to burn fat. Without sleep, and without HGH, that fat remains – further adding to insulin resistance. See why in the next point.
2) Lose the belly fat
Having excess body fat won’t help with insulin sensitivity. Fat generally gets in the way of the body’s functioning. This study, for instance, suggests that excess fat hinders the body’s ability to transport glucose – effectively causing insulin resistance.
Meanwhile, Mayo Clinic identifies research that’s important for avoiding type 2 diabetes. The research shows that excessive abdominal fat in particular (that is, belly fat) can release products that are toxic to the pancreas. This, then, impacts the body’s insulin response.
With insulin resistance, more insulin needs to be released to be effective. Yet, excessive insulin promotes the build-up of fat. Excess fat, as we now know, also leads to insulin resistance. See how it’s all connected?
Getting rid of that extra fat will instead break the circle of insulin resistance!
3) Avoid trans fats
Trans fats have no nutritional value – if you’re looking to lose the excess body fat, cutting out trans fats is a good place to start.
In addition, some research might suggest that trans fats can add to insulin resistance. This study concludes that people who are already insulin resistant or have type 2 diabetes might have their insulin resistance worsened by trans fats.
4) Do eat other fats
Fats are not all bad. You just need the right kind of fats.
Our Nutrition and Health Consultant, Sidse, will tell you in her post about food and diabetes that we need fats. Unsaturated fats are the way forward, since they also give us nutrition. These can be found in avocados and oily fish, for example.
Plus, having a varied diet including healthy fats will help with slower metabolism, meaning blood sugar levels won’t go high too quickly. This is important for insulin sensitivity because frequent high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance.
5) Choose low GI food
On the topic of slower metabolism, a good way to avoid that high blood sugar spike is to focus on the glycemic index, or GI.
When a foodstuff has a low GI rating (below 55), it is metabolised slowly. This doesn’t mean that you should only eat low GI food.
You can also focus on food that is rich in fibre, which similarly slows down the rise in blood sugar. Don’t forget to check out Side’s “Food and Diabetes” post, which will tell you more about this!
Frequent high blood sugar isn’t ideal for insulin sensitivity because the body needs to produce more insulin, and, eventually, the body can become worn out.
6) Get the blood pumping
Exercise is possibly the least surprising tip on this list but it’s also one of the most important.
First, exercise will burn the excess body fat – that’s how to increase insulin sensitivity naturally.
Furthermore, some kinds of exercise promote insulin sensitivity because the muscles end up burning glucose, even without the help of insulin. It’s aerobic exercise (i.e. cardio), specifically, that helps insulin sensitivity.
Those who inject insulin will often need to take slightly less insulin if they’ve exercised recently – such is the extent of the insulin sensitivity.
Instead of figuring out the calculations each time, it’s possible to let Hedia do the work by calculating a recommended insulin dosage. Tell Hedia if you’ve just exercised or are about to exercise, along with other info such as whether it was light, moderate, or hard exercise.
Give Hedia the rest of the relevant info like blood sugar level and potential carb intake. Then, Hedia will suggest how much insulin to take! See how easy Hedia is to use by downloading it from Google Play or the App Store!
For further tips exercising with diabetes – how to deal with the insulin sensitivity and what to do when it’s anaerobic exercise – read the “Does Exercise Lower Blood Sugar?” post.
7) Lower stress
Remember those stress hormones that keep you awake? When you’re stressed, they do the same thing: raise blood sugar levels.
The body uses its store of glucose when we’re stressed so that we have the energy to potentially fight off any threats. But we don’t tend to do much physical fighting, meaning that extra glucose goes unused.
Frequently raised blood sugar as a result of frequent stress obviously isn’t ideal for insulin sensitivity. Find out how to chill out with our blog post “Stress and Diabetes”!
And, of course, less stress means better sleep, which also means better insulin sensitivity.
It’s all Connected
When you’re looking into how to increase insulin sensitivity naturally, there isn’t some hidden solution.
It mainly boils down to the three stalwarts of healthy living: exercise, diet, and sleep (plus some relaxing). Once you’ve started with one part of healthy living, the rest will follow naturally.
Let’s say you decide to start losing excess fat. This will improve insulin sensitivity in itself. But the steps you take to get there will improve sensitivity too. Exercise will improve it; sleep will improve it; diet will improve it.
Once you’ve started, you’re on a roll!