Last week we talked about the main cause of insulin resistance (consuming too much sugar) ,and some of the health risks associated with it. If you missed it, here’s the link.
What I failed to touch on last week is just how insane this problem is. As of 2011, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, that’s 8.3%… and 79 million have prediabetes, which is over 25% of us! These numbers are rising quickly and are guaranteed to be worse today. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of the problem, which means that the vast majority of diabetes is within our control.
Below we will look at several things that have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity (decrease insulin resistance). Going into a lot of detail on each of the following points would have made this article too long to digest in one sitting.
Sugar / Fructose
We covered a lot of this in the first article. One of the best things you can do is limit your sugar intake and manage your glycemic load at each meal. Glycemic what? The glycemic index was developed to help us easily understand how a food will affect our blood sugar levels. Managing the glycemic load is an important piece in this puzzle. I’ll focus on the glycemic index and glycemic load in another article, so I’ll leave it at that today.
We’ve all heard a lot about fructose lately. One group saying that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is terrible and the corn industry spending millions to assure us it’s not. Regardless of what you believe, 50% of regular table sugar is fructose and generally around 55% of HFCS is fructose. Interesting note: a 2011 study by the University of Southern California found that many major brands of soda are using 65% fructose HFCS. So if the average American is eating 77 pounds of sugar each year, then at the very least, they are getting 38.5 pounds of fructose.
We metabolize fructose much differently than we do glucose. Consumption of too much fructose causes fat droplets to accumulate in the muscles and liver, which causes insulin resistance. 15 grams of fructose per day is considered safe, just one 20oz bottle of a 65% fructose soda contains 43 grams.
That’s enough math for the day.
Don’t ignore the drum beat. Exercise is simply a must to increase insulin sensitivity. Think about it this way, our cells started ignoring insulin because we tried to give it more sugar than it needed to produce energy. When we exercise, our muscles are forced to use glucose to make the energy used to move our butts. Soon, muscle cells are begging for more glucose and stop ignoring insulin.
Research backs this up by showing a 25% increase in insulin sensitivity when you go from zero to 60 minutes of exercise a day, and a 50% increase from zero to 120 minutes per day. Dang, I promised no more math.
This is a chicken and egg thing. Obesity is directly tied to insulin sensitivity in many ways, which is actually a very complex topic. The increase in free fatty acid levels, inflammation, and the hormone leptin associated with obesity, these all contribute to insulin resistance.
I’m sorry, but I’m really tired of hearing about it being “ok” to be fat. I don’t want to make anyone, especially kids, feel bad for being overweight, but this is NOT a Barbie thing or a cosmetic thing… this is a very very serious health thing. Without question, obesity is the number one health problem in America today. The good news is that we can do something about it.
One study took a small group of people who controlled their diet and environment. They compared their insulin sensitivity when they got a full night’s sleep compared to 4 nights of just 4.5 hours of sleep. While sleep deprived, their overall insulin sensitivity decreased by 16% and the insulin sensitivity decrease 30% in the fat cells. Forget what I said earlier about math… sorry.
I can’t stress enough (see what I did there), how important this is. Much like obesity, stress plays more than one role in this problem. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate stress completely, but that’s no reason to ignore it. There is no better way to reduce stress than to exercise… except for addressing the source of course.
Stress, like obesity can feel like an overwhelming problem, but unlike obesity, you can make real changes to your stress level in seconds. Try it… shut your eyes and take one long deep breath.
Here are a few other things that are great for stress: time with pets, friends, or family (only the ones you like), meditation (book I like called ‘8 Minute Meditation’), massage, a funny movie, a hot bath, yoga, volunteering (I wrestling to about 70 kids ages 4 to 11, so it’s a wash for me), and tapping (also called Emotional Freedom Technique EFT).
Now onto some specific foods and supplements
Soluble Fiber forms a gel when it gets wet (think of oatmeal). This gel makes us feel full and makes that feeling last. Haven’t you ever gone out for Chinese food (American style), stuffed yourself, and then felt hungry an hour later? No? That’s just me? Well, that doesn’t happen with oatmeal, does it? The soluble fiber makes the stomach empty much slower, so any sugar we eat with it is also digested much more slowly.
Green Tea has been found in several studies to help increase insulin sensitivity. It’s hard to beat 5,000 years of tradition backed up with modern science. Drinking the tea is the best, but you can also take it as a supplement.
Omega-3 can help reduce inflammation and increase insulin sensitivity (study). The ratio of omega-6 to 3 is just as important as the amount. A ratio of 2:1 seems about right, although the typical American diet is closer to 10:1 or even 20:1. Find a high quality fish oil or krill supplement with at least 500mg of EPA + DHA.
Antioxidants are the good guys in the ongoing war against oxidative stress. We produce cell damaging free radicals in the course of normal life. Things like chronic stress and obesity, dramatically increase the amount of free radicals. Oxidative stress is simply the amount of free radicals in our bodies at any given time. Research has shown that oxidative stress decreases insulin sensitivity. Fruits, vegetables, and beans are all great sources of antioxidants. There are several great antioxidant supplements. Two of my favorites are alpha lipoic acid (ALA) and astaxanthin. There is some preliminary research to suggest that astaxanthin might even help directly with insulin sensitivity… too soon to tell for sure yet.
Chromium is an insulin potentiator… when we have enough we need much less insulin to get the job done. Chromium deficiencies are pretty common in people with type 2 diabetes. Foods: tomatoes, brewer’s yeast, onions, oysters, whole grains, potatoes, shellfish, and broccoli.
Biotin is a coenzyme in the vitamin B family. It’s often called vitamin H, but I’m sure why (I should know this). Biotin has shown promise in two areas when it comes to diabetes; increased insulin sensitivity and peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage/pain). Foods: swiss chard, carrots, nuts, chicken, dairy (I like raw… just sayin’), eggs, wheat germ, and whole grain.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) was mentioned above as one my favorite antioxidants. Several studies have shown ALA may help both insulin sensitivity and peripheral neuropathy. One of the big benefits of ALA is the fact that it’s one of the few antioxidants that easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
Cinnamon is another complex one that science is trying to get a handle on. Several studies show promise with things like insulin sensitivity, overall glucose management, and even lipid levels (cholesterol & triglycerides).
Even though I tried to keep this short and too the point, the insulin sensitivity test will have to wait until next week… maybe we can cover the glycemic index and load too.
photo by Rennett Stowe (flickr creative commons)