Insulin resistance refers to when your body isn't able to process naturally-occurring insulin in your body. This can lead to several health complications that can last throughout your life. If you've never heard of insulin resistance or if you're wondering how you can reverse it in a safe and effective way, this in-depth article is for you. We're going to go over what insulin and insulin resistance are, common tests and signs, and finally 15 science-backed steps you can take on your own to reverse insulin resistance.
Contents:What is Insulin What is Insulin Resistance Signs of Insulin Resistance How to Test for Insulin Resistance 15 Action Steps to Reverse Insulin Resistance
- Remove ALL Refined Carbohydrates
- Cut Down On Your Sugar Consumption (Including Fruit)
- Remove All Dietary Toxins Including Gluten, Dairy, and Alcohol
- Quit Smoking If You Currently Smoke
- Remove Unnecessary Stress and Stressors
- Don't Count Calories and Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods
- Add More Healthy Fats to Your Diet
- Each Plenty of Protein with Each Meal
- Try to Fast Intermittently
- Incorporate More Exercise
- Get More Sleep
- Add a Good Probiotic to Your Diet
- Take Care of Your Digestive Tract
- Practise Mindfulness
- Drink Green Tea
What Is InsulinInsulin is a hormone that you naturally find throughout your body, and it's secreted by your pancreas. Insulin's main function is to help any glucose in your blood transition into your cells, liver, fat, and muscles. Once it makes the transition, glucose is turned into energy that your body uses for everyday functions. You get glucose from any food you eat. If you're fasting, your liver will automatically make glucose, so you're able to keep your energy levels up. Additionally, when blood sugar or blood glucose goes up after you eat, your pancreas automatically releases insulin into your system to help regulate your blood glucose levels, so they're safe.
What Is Insulin ResistanceAs we mentioned above, insulin resistance is a condition where your body can't process its insulin levels properly. Your cells, liver, fat, and muscles don't allow the insulin in your body to transition the glucose in your blood into them. When this happens, your pancreas will start to make more insulin to attempt to push the glucose out of your blood and into your cells, liver, fat, and muscles. As long as your pancreas functions in a healthy manner and it can produce the extra insulin needed to help absorb the glucose into your cells, you won't have a problem. You start to have health issues when your pancreas can no longer keep up with your body's demand for insulin, and you see a spike in your blood sugar levels.
Signs of Insulin ResistanceThis condition can be difficult to diagnose at first because it may not have any significant symptoms or signs. However, as your insulin resistance gets worse, you'll start to notice signs. This is especially true if you're nearing diabetes territory, but this is usually later. Several common signs of insulin resistance include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain (especially in the belly area)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
How to Test for Insulin ResistanceIf you believe that you have insulin resistance, there are three tests you can have to find out. A doctor will have to perform two of them, but one you can do on your own. Ideally, you want a doctor to diagnose this condition.
Test One: Ask for a Fasting Insulin TestMost doctors won't screen you for insulin resistance unless you ask, or you make an appointment and share your concerns. The most common type of test for insulin resistance is a fasting insulin test. To start this test, your doctor will typically send you home with instructions not to eat or to fast for 12 hours and then come back in for your first blood draw. Once they draw your blood, they'll have you eat a meal and come back two hours later for a second blood draw. Your doctor will look at the levels of insulin in your blood and give you your answer based on the following levels:
- Fasting blood glucose levels should be under 90mg/dL.
- Fasting blood glucose levels between 100 to 125mg/dL indicate insulin resistance. This is also the pre-diabetes range.
- Fasting insulin levels should stay around 5mcU/ml (microunits per millilitre).
- Fasting insulin levels over 5 indicate insulin resistance.
Test Two: Get Your Cholesterol Levels CheckedThe second test you can get is a check of your cholesterol levels. Your doctor will perform this check in their office as a blood test. Your doctor can typically test your cholesterol levels at the same time they check your insulin levels. If you have abnormal cholesterol levels coupled with abnormal insulin levels, it typically indicates that you have insulin resistance. A key indicator is if your cholesterol tests show low HDL or "good" cholesterol levels with high triglycerides.
- Fasting triglyceride levels should be lower than 150.
- You also want to see a 1:2 ratio of triglycerides and cholesterol.
Test Three: Perform a Skin CheckThe final test for insulin resistance you can do at home. It's common for people with insulin resistance to develop a skin condition called Acanthosis Nigricans. People with this skin condition develop dark skin patches in the creases of their skin as well as in the neck, elbows, armpits, and knees. There is no specific treatment for this condition except to treat the underlying condition that is causing this skin disorder in the first place. Also, having a lot of skin tags are a sign that you may have insulin resistance.
15 Action Steps to Reverse Insulin ResistanceNow that you know what insulin and insulin resistance are, as well as common symptoms and how to test for this condition, we'll go over 15 science-backed action steps you can take to reverse your insulin resistance. They will require hard work and dedication on your part, and they're not an instant fix. However, you should see results as long as you follow these steps.
1. Remove ALL Refined Carbohydrates (& Think About Removing Carbs All-together)A refined carbohydrate is a grain product that the manufacturer has processed in order to break down the whole grains so they're no longer intact. Unfortunately, this process also removes any minerals, vitamins, and dietary fibre the carbohydrate may have had. Eating refined carbohydrates has several studies linking it to increased blood sugar levels and increased insulin resistance. Also, removing the dietary fibre means that you're now eating a low-carb diet, and this can increase your risk for insulin resistance. You'll want to cut as many of these foods out of your diet as possible, if not all of them. Refined carbohydrates and sugars include:
- Soft sandwich bread
- Pizza dough
- Rice snacks
- Table sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Agave syrup
- Refined wheat flour
- Breakfast cereals
2. Cut Down On Your Sugar Consumption (Including Fruit)The average person in the United States eats between 66 and 68 pounds of sugar, each and every year. The American Heart Organisation recommends that men have no more than 9 teaspoons per day and women have no more than 6 teaspoons per day of sugar from any source. Since insulin resistance is a condition where your body has trouble processing the sugar in your blood, it makes sense that cutting down on how much you consume each day is a huge weight off your pancreas. Studies link excess sugar in your diet to an increased risk of insulin resistance because the sugar builds up in your liver. It turn, your body works harder to create and secrete more insulin to control the higher levels of sugar in your blood, and this leads to insulin resistance.
3. Remove All Dietary Toxins Including Gluten, Dairy, and AlcoholGluten, dairy, and alcohol are all considered dietary toxins to people with insulin resistance. Gluten and dairy are natural sources of lectins, and lectins can bind your body's insulin receptors. When this happens, studies show that you can end up with insulin resistance, and if you already have it, it can make it worse. Drinking alcohol can have a body-wide effect on your ability to process insulin. Additionally, people who binge drink are at a higher risk for developing insulin resistance because the alcohol content impairs your body's natural hypothalamic insulin action. This is widely believed to be where insulin resistance starts, so removing alcohol and other dietary toxins can decrease your body's insulin resistance levels.
4. Quit Smoking If You Currently SmokePeople who smoke have a 37% higher chance of developing insulin resistance than people who have never smoked, and this drops to 14% once they quit smoking. The reason for this high percentage is the nicotine content found in cigarettes. Nicotine does one of two things to your body. First, nicotine can make your blood sugar levels rise and fall depending on the amount of nicotine present in your system. Second, nicotine changes your cells' chemical processes. Studies show that nicotine makes it more difficult for your cells to respond to insulin in your blood due to the altered chemical processes. This is why quitting smoking decreases your chances of developing insulin resistance significantly. The nicotine will work its way out of your body, and your cell's chemical processes will eventually go back to normal and accept insulin.
5. Remove Unnecessary Stress and StressorsWhen you're under a lot of stress, or if you have a lot of stressors in your life, it causes your body to be in a constant state of flight or fight. This heightened mode causes your blood sugar levels to go up because your body is trying to keep up with the increased energy demands. This puts added pressure on your body to produce more insulin to handle the influx of blood glucose, and it can fall short. Your cells may not need all of the extra blood glucose, and constant exposure creates resistance. This can also lead to other problems like constantly elevated blood sugar levels—a precursor for Type 2 diabetes. Removing the unnecessary stress allows your body to relax. Once you relax, your blood sugar levels will decrease, and your body will slow down on its insulin production.
6. Don't Count Calories and Focus on Nutrient-Dense FoodsCounting calories can seem like an excellent way to lose weight, but for people with insulin resistance, it can be an exercise in futility. Insulin is what helps get the sugars and fat from your food to your cells, but it stores the extra glucose as fat for people with insulin resistance. It doesn't make much sense to focus on counting calories if it's going to go into fat storage. However, eating nutrient-dense foods can help because they're typically low in sugar, fat, and carbohydrates so there is less to store as fat. They're also very filling, and a few examples of nutrient-dense foods you should eat include:
7. Add More Healthy Fats to Your DietHealthy fats are typically divided into two categories: Omega-3 fats and monosaturated fats. When you eat them in moderation, they can help improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your insulin resistance. Over 102 randomised trials showed that adding healthy fats to your diet in place of carbohydrates can have a positive impact on your fasting glucose and insulin levels. Adding these fats to your diet can also improve and help to regulate your body's insulin secretion levels. As these fats balance out your body's insulin levels, it can start decreasing your cell's insulin resistance because they won't be constantly exposed to a surplus of it. It also won't be able to build up in your liver and get stored as fat around your body. Examples of healthy fats include:
- Peanut butter