Insulin is a metabolic hormone that plays a valuable role in helping the body utilize sugar as fuel, and is, therefore, a key hormone in the regulation of our body weight. The body breaks down and absorbs glucose (aka sugar) through our intestinal walls and into our bloodstream, commonly referred to as our ‘blood sugar’. From there, the glucose moves into our extracellular fluid to be burned as energy within our cell or stored for future needs in the form of adipose tissue, or ‘fat’. When our blood sugar rises after consuming glucose, our bodies also signal the release of insulin, which is the key hormone to ‘unlock’ the cell and allow the glucose to enter and be utilized as fuel. However, for some individuals, the cells begin to resist the reception of insulin, commonly referred to as insulin resistance. In this circumstance, the pancreas produces the insulin, but the cells do not respond, often triggering more insulin release, but also funnels the glucose towards storage instead of burning ... which = fatigue + weight gain.
Progression of Insulin resistance, when unmanaged, ultimately leads to type 2 diabetes, where the pancreas can no longer
keep up with the increased insulin demand, and blood sugar levels climb. We also see certain conditions, such as PCOS, hyperandrogenism, and genetics increase the likelihood of this phenomenon.
However, there are several tips and techniques you can follow to minimize spikes in your blood sugar, and ultimately lower your risk for or reverse insulin resistance altogether. Easy tips for improving insulin sensitivity in the body Get enough rest - Lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes by driving up your blood sugar. Less sleep means more time awake, and the more you’re awake, the more you’re exposed to a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol works to increase your blood sugar levels through a process known as gluconeogenesis, where it pulls stored sugar from your liver to increase levels in your bloodstream. Keep stress levels low - Stress can hamper the way our hormones are produced, by following the same principles just mentioned. Stress is like hitting the gas pedal on cortisol production, driving up your blood sugar. Finding outlets to help manage or often stress will help keep blood sugar levels more stable, but also offset the resultant sugar cravings that often coincide with stressful states. Keep moving - Exercise helps lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity by putting you in a ‘catabolic’ state, which exhausts the available sugar within the cells and forces the cells to look for more sugar resources from the bloodstream (or stored fat). Think of this process as using what’s stocked on the shelves vs going out and shopping for more. Because the body needs the energy to perform the activities, the body will be more inclined to respond to insulin signals vs resist them. Choose soluble fibre - There are two types of fibre, one soluble and the other insoluble. In brief,
soluble fibre can dissolve in water, while insoluble fibre cannot dissolve in water and is harder to break down in the body. Soluble fibre helps the cells improve their response to insulin by stabilizing the rate at which blood sugar levels climb. It prevents spikes in blood sugar which lessens the reactionary spikes in your insulin levels. It also complements the good gut bacteria (which further support healthy blood sugar levels), so it’s a two-for-one benefit. Eat vegetables - Fresh vegetables (especially dark leafy greens) provide the body with essential nutrients, fibre, energy, and nourishment, and help supply essential minerals that are catalysts to a healthy metabolism. They also act as a buffer to a higher carbohydrate diet that perpetuates insulin resistance. On that note, Eat fewer simple carbohydrates - Simple carbohydrates are not ideal for pre-diabetic or insulin-resistant patients. While it supplies energy, it also rapidly breaks down into sugar, raising the blood sugar too quickly. A rapid rise in blood sugar can make it difficult for the body to produce enough insulin to absorb it, worsening cellular resistance. Instead, reach for complex carbs that contain high sources of soluble fibre (+ pair them with good foods and protein), which all slow the rate of carb breakdown and ultimately keep the blood sugar levels more stable. Skip extra sugars - Like simple carbohydrates, sugar spikes the blood sugar levels rapidly, which is dangerous for insulin-resistant or diabetic folks. Reducing sugar intake and staying away from additive sugars is a good start when increasing insulin sensitivity. Unfortunately, this includes ‘natural’ sugars like honey and maple syrup. Adapting to a lower-sugar diet will take time, but your palette will adjust with you. Consider Fasting - Simply put (and much like exercise), fasting forces your cells to exhaust their resources and search for more, favouring a ‘burning’ vs ‘storing’ state. Leaving gaps between meals to allow blood sugar levels to stabilize, and spending longer windows of time without food intake can further benefit cellular responses to insulin. Research suggests ~ 16 hr fast is where our system begins to move into ketone production to fuel the brain, and therefore is generally where it recommends breaking the fast. However, long-window fasting needs more long-term research and may not be right for everyone, so always ensure to talk to your Naturopath before trying this option. Ultimately, the key to healthy blood sugar and healthy metabolism, in general, is to eat well, get enough rest and stay active (rocket science, I know!). For more strategies on how to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, or to explore testing for insulin resistance, please contact Toronto Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282 to schedule your appointment today.