If you have been told by your healthcare provider that your levels of this hormone made by the pancreas are high, you have every right to be concerned.
Insulin is a crucial hormone secreted by the pancreas and plays an important role in energy production .
When you eat carbohydrates and your blood sugar levels rise, your pancreas releases insulin to restore your blood sugar levels to normal levels.
Insulin helps glucose get into your cells so your body can use it for fuel. High insulin is a sign of insulin resistance and can lead to problems with glucose control.
Glucose is the body’s main source of energy; every cell needs glucose. Triglycerides are a type of lipid, stored only in fat cells, that is converted into energy when you don’t have enough glucose in your bloodstream.
Insulin is released in response to glucose; the faster and higher the glucose levels, the more insulin will flood your bloodstream to lower blood sugar levels.
When you have insulin resistance, your body is insensitive to the effects of insulin. The pancreas secretes more insulin to make up for this and helps keep glucose levels within a healthy range.
Most people with insulin resistance are not aware of it, according to the National Diabetes Information Center.
The pancreas can compensate by producing higher levels of insulin over many years. Eventually this can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes commonly occurs in individuals who have insulin resistance, according to the National Diabetes Information Center.
In prediabetes, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, can no longer keep up with the added demand to produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance.
Once this happens, glucose levels rise above normal, because a lack of insulin cannot keep glucose within a healthy range.
Over time, higher-than-normal glucose levels pave the way for type 2 diabetes.
Science has not yet determined the exact cause of insulin resistance. Experts believe, however, that excess weight, particularly around the midsection, along with a lack of exercise, are contributing factors.
Consuming excess calories regularly promotes weight gain, and as your waist circumference increases, so does your risk. Belly fat produces hormones and other substances that can cause insulin resistance.
What you can do
The good news is that you can do something about it. Increasing your level of physical activity and losing weight through diet changes can help your body respond better to insulin and reverse insulin resistance.
You can start by walking for 30 minutes five days a week and reducing your calorie and fat intake.
When you engage in regular physical activity, active muscles burn stored glucose and remove glucose from the blood for fuel.
Therefore, exercise plays a role in helping to balance blood sugar levels. Talk to your healthcare provider about a diabetes prevention diet and lifestyle program.
People at risk for diabetes reduce their risk by 58 percent with changes in diet and lifestyle, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program, which was a multicenter study published Feb. 7, 2002 in the journal of New England Medicine.
How to improve insulin levels in your body
Keeping glucose levels stable will also regulate insulin levels.
Avoid added sugars. Sugar, which includes natural sugars like honey and maple syrup, as well as things like high fructose corn syrup, are the easiest substances for your body to convert to glucose.
The more sugar you eat, the faster your blood sugar will rise. Often times, this triggers the release of too much insulin as your body tries to compensate for the flood of glucose in your bloodstream.
Too much insulin can lead to low blood sugar, signaling to your brain that it needs more glucose.
This triggers hunger, often with a craving for more sweets, which starts a vicious cycle of low and high insulin levels that can lead to weight gain and prediabetes.
Eat a high fiber diet. Fiber is a plant-based type of indigestible carbohydrate. Because your body cannot fully process fiber, it slows down digestion and prevents your body from producing glucose too quickly.
The Harvard Joslin Diabetes Center says that people who eat a high-fiber diet have lower glucose levels and better insulin control.
Fiber also promotes satiety, helping you feel full faster and stay full longer. This can lead to an overall reduction in caloric intake and weight loss.
Keep a healthy weight. Excess fat interferes with how well your body uses insulin. The more weight you lose, the more control you have over your insulin levels.
Limiting added sugars, which tend to be high in calories but low in nutrients, and adding fiber will help you lose weight.
The American Diabetes Association also recommends choosing lean proteins such as poultry or skinless fish and choosing fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat whole grains instead of refined grains. Practice portion control. Overeating, even healthy foods, will stop your weight loss efforts.
Get regular exercise. Physical activity helps your body use insulin more efficiently and burns calories, which will lead to weight loss.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “regular, sustained, and moderate increases in physical activity, such as daily walking, can substantially decrease insulin resistance.”
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity most days of the week.
Consult a nutritionist to find the best diet for you, including the appropriate amount of calories to reach and maintain your goal weight.
Prediabetes is often associated with other conditions. This group of symptoms, called metabolic syndrome, includes high cholesterol levels, hypertension, excess belly fat, and high triglycerides.
See your doctor if you think you may be at risk for developing metabolic syndrome, which increases your risk for heart disease and developing type 2 diabetes.
Best Supplements for Insulin Resistance
Certain nutritional supplements, such as chromium, alpha-lipoic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and magnesium, may help reduce insulin resistance, leading to more efficient use of insulin.
Chromium is a mineral that the body needs to process fats and carbohydrates. It works through complex mechanisms to increase the effectiveness of insulin in body tissue.
A March 2014 review article from “Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics” brought together the results of 22 studies to determine the effects of chromium supplementation on blood sugar and fat levels in people with diabetes.
People who take a daily chromium picolinate supplement have lower fasting blood sugar levels, compared to those who do not take chromium.
Among people with poor blood sugar control, daily supplementation with at least 200 micrograms of chromium also lowered A1C, a measure of blood sugar for three months.
This effect was seen in people taking chromium picolinate or brewer’s yeast, but not in those taking chromium yeast or chromium dinicocysteinate.
When examining the effects of chromium supplementation on blood fat levels, the researchers found no reduction in total cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol), the “bad” form of cholesterol.
However, people who took chromium picolinate experienced a significant decrease in triglycerides and increased HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, the “good” form of cholesterol.
Alpha lipoic acid
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant produced naturally by the body. Like other antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid neutralizes potentially harmful substances called free radicals.
An overabundance of free radicals, known as oxidative stress, is believed to be a factor in the development and progression of diabetes and its associated complications.
Some research suggests that oxidative stress can also contribute to insulin resistance. This has led to interest in using supplemental alpha-lipoic acid as a possible way to counteract insulin resistance.
Although the effectiveness of oral alpha-lipoic acid has yet to be proven, a small eight-week study published in the June 2011 issue of “Saudi Medical Journal” found that 300 mg of alpha-lipoic acid significantly reduced resistance to insulin and fasting blood sugar.
The authors noted that their findings were consistent with laboratory and animal experiments, and at least two other small human studies. While these results are promising, additional research is needed to confirm whether oral alpha-lipoic acid is beneficial for people with diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in fish oil, some vegetable oils, and nuts, are best known for their role in preventing heart disease.
This is important because diabetes increases the risk of heart disease. Additionally, a December 2011 “Clinical Nutrition” article that reviewed research on omega-3 fatty acids said that they may help reduce insulin resistance, although some studies have found no effect.
For example, a July 2008 “Diabetologia” article found that fish oil supplementation during a two-month weight loss program among overweight adults led to greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, compared to those who they don’t take the supplement.
However, a December 2007 “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” article found that two months of daily fish oil supplementation did not improve insulin sensitivity among women with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (DM2).
Omega-3 fatty acids have many effects on the body, but how they might affect insulin resistance is not fully understood.
Omega-3s lower triglycerides, suppress fat production in the liver, and help the liver and muscle tissue burn fat. These and other effects are believed to improve insulin sensitivity.
People taking blood thinners should check with their healthcare provider before taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, as they can prolong bleeding time.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in insulin secretion and blood glucose metabolism.
Low levels of magnesium are common in people with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, due to decreased intake and increased loss through urine.
Magnesium plays a complex role in allowing the use of insulin, and insufficient magnesium can be a contributing factor to insulin resistance.
The relationship between magnesium and insulin resistance was examined in a study published in the October 2013 issue of the journal “Nutrients.” The study included 234 adults with metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with an increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and heart disease.
The researchers found that those with the highest dietary intake of magnesium were 71 percent less likely to experience insulin resistance, compared to those with the lowest magnesium intake.
Another study published in April 2003 in “Diabetes Care” found that 16 weeks of oral magnesium supplementation improved insulin sensitivity among people with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus who were magnesium deficient.
Zinc is another essential nutrient that influences critical functions involving the production and release of insulin and its effects on body tissue. Zinc deficiency is associated with insulin resistance and increased blood sugar.
Zinc works independently and in combination with insulin to enhance the absorption of glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
Zinc is also necessary for the effective release of insulin from the pancreas, and it helps protect insulin-producing cells from damage caused by oxidative stress.
In a small study among obese women without diabetes, daily supplementation of 30 mg of zinc decreased insulin resistance, as reported in the June 2012 issue of “Nutritional Research and Practice.”
Another study reported in December 2010 in “Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders” also found better insulin sensitivity among obese children after eight weeks of zinc supplementation.
An April 2012 ‘Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome’ article reporting on the effects of zinc supplementation for diabetes evaluated the combined results of 25 studies, including 22 among people with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
The researchers reported that zinc supplements were found to lower blood sugar levels, although insulin resistance was not directly measured.
A healthy eating plan, exercise, and losing excess weight are the cornerstones of treatment for insulin resistance that has not yet progressed to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
Medication called metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet, Glumetza) is also sometimes prescribed. Other medications are often used for people with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
The potential role of nutritional supplements for the treatment of insulin resistance is still being investigated.
As of 2016, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend nutritional supplements for the treatment of prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
Many people, however, choose to use supplements as part of their treatment plan. If you are interested in adding supplements to your regimen, speak with your healthcare provider.
This is important because supplements can interact with medications, including diabetes medications. Some nutritional supplements can also cause potentially dangerous side effects.
Regular blood sugar control is essential if you are taking supplements along with diabetes medications.
It may be necessary to make adjustments in the doses of diabetes medications, but you should never stop taking your medications or change the doses unless instructed to do so by your doctor.
What foods keep insulin levels stable?
Your body needs glucose, which you get from carbohydrates in your diet. However, eating foods high in refined carbohydrates, such as crackers and white bread or rice, can trigger a large release of insulin.
This leads to abrupt increases in blood sugar followed by abrupt drops. A drop in blood sugar can make you feel tired, hungry, and agitated.
To keep your blood sugar level balanced, it is essential to choose the right foods and combinations so that insulin stimulation is gradual.
High fiber foods
When choosing carbohydrates, opt for high-fiber foods like whole grains, vegetables, beans, and other legumes.
Fiber helps decrease glucose absorption by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine.
This effect prevents a dramatic release of insulin because it causes glucose levels to rise gradually. It can lower glucose levels after meals and also benefit insulin sensitivity.
High protein foods
You should include protein in your meals and snacks to help keep blood sugar levels stable, notes the University of Rochester Medical Center website.
Protein takes longer to digest, so it also slows glucose absorption. Foods that are digested slowly have a less dramatic effect on insulin secretion.
If you eat carbohydrates, such as fruit juice itself, it can cause your blood sugar to rise too fast and drop too quickly.
Choose lean protein sources such as fish, skinless chicken and turkey, low-fat cheese, beans, soy products, and lean cuts of beef.
Along with protein, fat also takes longer to digest and therefore slows the absorption of glucose.
The goal is to limit unhealthy saturated fats, which are found in refined meats, high-fat dairy, lard, and other processed foods.
Balance your meals with healthy unsaturated fats, found in avocados, olives, fish, seeds, and nuts. Use cooking methods, like grilling, that don’t require extra oil.
Drizzle nourishing oils, like flaxseed oil, over your salad instead of traditional salad dressings.
Eating for all day energy
Balancing your meals with healthy fats, lean protein, and high-fiber carbohydrates is a good way to avoid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels.
Avoid drops in blood sugar between meals by choosing snacks with a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, such as low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit or reduced-fat cheese with whole grain crackers.
Avoid skipping meals because your blood sugar drops when you go too long without eating.