Most people think of insulin only in relation to diabetes.
But insulin sensitivity is a spectrum. Insulin-related issues can affect your well-being even if you are not in the diabetes danger zone.
It’s a major factor affecting your weight gain and weight loss, and your metabolic health in general.
Here’s what you need to know about insulin sensitivity.
What is insulin?
Let’s start with a basic idea of what insulin is and what it does in your body.
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas. Its job is to regulate the glucose in your bloodstream.
When we talk about insulin sensitivity what we’re talking about is how sensitive your body is to the insulin released by your pancreas.
How well is your body doing its job?
How does insulin work?
Insulin release is triggered when you eat.
The insulin tells the cells to open up to receive glucose to use as energy.
When everything is working right, it’s an efficient process.
But when your insulin sensitivity is off, that’s when things start to go awry.
Why is insulin sensitivity important?
When you become less sensitive to insulin, this is called insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance puts you at risk of developing metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
And insulin resistance is usually the culprit when it comes to obesity. Which is why many metabolic diseases tend to go hand in hand with obesity.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is a metabolic disease that can occur when the body becomes resistant to insulin.
As a result the glucose is not going where it’s supposed to. And there’s too much of it left circulating in the blood. This is a dangerous condition.
If left untreated, Type 2 Diabetes can lead to serious complications such as organ damage, nerve damage, and kidney disease.
Even if you have not been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, insulin resistance and high levels of blood sugar can still be doing damage to your body.
Are there any tests to measure insulin sensitivity?
Yes, there are several tests that can be used to measure insulin sensitivity. Some of the commonly used tests include:
The A1c test, also known as the glycated hemoglobin test, is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months. This test involves fasting for 8-12 hours and then consuming a sugary drink. Blood samples are taken before and after the drink to measure blood glucose and insulin levels. Insulin sensitivity can be calculated based on how quickly the body clears glucose from the blood. An A1c level of 5.7% or lower is considered normal, while levels between 5.7% and 6.4% indicate prediabetes, and levels of 6.5% or higher indicate diabetes.
Insulin tolerance test (ITT) involves injecting insulin into the bloodstream and measuring how quickly blood glucose levels drop in response. This can provide an indication of how sensitive the body is to insulin.
Hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp is considered the gold standard test for measuring insulin sensitivity. It involves infusing insulin into the bloodstream to maintain a constant elevated level of insulin, while glucose is infused at a variable rate to maintain a stable blood glucose level. The rate of glucose infusion needed to maintain stable blood glucose levels is used to calculate insulin sensitivity.
How do I know if my insulin sensitivity is low?
Blood tests can be expensive and time-consuming, so there are some common symptoms of insulin resistance to watch out for:
- Obesity – Being overweight is one of the easiest signs to spot. If you have excess body fat, chances are you have become less sensitive to insulin
- High blood pressure
- Constant tiredness and fatigue
- Strong hunger and food cravings that strike even shortly after meals
Can I improve my insulin sensitivity?
The good news is that you can definitely improve your insulin sensitivity and even reverse insulin resistance.
Intermittent or Extended Fasting can both reverse insulin resistance.
It works because when you’re not eating, insulin is not spiked. This can help your body to become more sensitive to insulin when you do eat.
Fasting also promotes weight loss, which will help your body use insulin more efficiently.
Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity.
When you exercise, you use up more of that glucose circulating in the bloodstream for energy.
Low Carb / Keto Diet
Carbohydrates are converted to sugar in the body.
Eliminating carbohydrates from your diet, or at least cutting back on them, reduces how much and how often insulin has to work to deal with all that sugar.
You can try supplements to help with insulin resistance.
Berberine, chromium, green tea extract and magnesium have all been linked to better insulin sensitivity.
But please note supplements only work in addition to lifestyle changes. They won’t work for someone who is eating refined carbs round the clock!
Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can make it harder for insulin to do what it’s supposed to do.
Your doctor might choose to put you on medication for your insulin resistance.
Always check in with your doctor if you have symptoms of insulin resistance or metabolic disease.
Insulin is your friend – when it’s working as it should
Proper insulin regulation is crucial for your metabolic health.
If you think your insulin sensitivity is not quite right, make some simple lifestyle changes to bring it back to normal.
Fasting, Keto or Low ways of eating, as well as daily exercise, will help to ensure that insulin does its job properly.