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Nutrition

Insulin Sensitivity | What Is It & How To Improve

Insulin Sensitivity | What Is It & How To Improve

Insulin can be a complicated subject for many who are not properly informed. Fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and people looking to improve their general health can benefit from improving their body’s insulin response.


What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas to help our bodies appropriately react to the consumption of carbohydrates in our diet. Through carbohydrates, we get glucose. One factor to notice is that our cells cannot directly absorb an appropriate amount of glucose that we get from carbohydrates. To counteract this, the pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream to help shuttle glucose into our cells where it will be used for energy.

Without an insulin response, our bodies would not be able to properly use glucose as fuel and therefore we would have unwanted glucose floating around in our bloodstream. When our body does not give the desired insulin response, it is called insulin resistance. On the other hand, when our body can release insulin in the right amount consistently, it is called being insulin sensitive.

Health risks such as Type I and Type II Diabetes, insulin resistance syndrome, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, and fatigue are all dramatically increased when someone’s body cannot react accordingly with an insulin response when consuming carbohydrates.


What Is Insulin Sensitivity?

Insulin sensitivity is your body’s ability to reduce elevated blood glucose levels with insulin response. If your body is able to effectively reduce blood glucose levels with insulin, then you would be considered more “sensitive”. If your body is ineffective at reducing blood glucose levels with insulin, then you would be considered more “resistant”. It is imperative that you never reach a stage of insulin resistance.

insulin sensitivity

There are three types of insulin sensitivity; peripheral insulin sensitivity, hepatic insulin sensitivity, and pancreatic insulin sensitivity.

Peripheral insulin sensitivity refers to periphery tissue (muscle tissue and fatty tissue) being able to absorb glucose.

Hepatic insulin sensitivity refers to the process of gluconeogenesis, which is the biosynthesis of new glucose.

Pancreatic insulin sensitivity is the proper functioning of the pancreas and the cells that secrete insulin. This is the most common place where insulin RESISTANCE can occur.


Ways To Improve Your Insulin Response

There are several ways to help improve your insulin sensitivity, whether it be through supplementation, physical activity, or through your diet.

Supplementation

Supplementing to try and correct insulin resistance or improve insulin sensitivity isn’t going to make an astronomical difference, but in some cases it may be beneficial to use some of the following supplements.

Chromium is an essential mineral found in trace amounts in plants and grains. It regulates glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Chromium’s main results from supplementation show that it can help lower blood glucose (1,2), but data is also starting to show that supplementing with chromium may have a direct correlation with better insulin sensitivity (3,4).

Ingredients like green tea catechins and polyphenols found in green tea extract supplements are an additional supplement that might be worth adding into your daily routine if your goal is to improve your insulin response (5). Green tea catechins and polyphenols affect some aspects of glucose metabolism in the body and could be beneficial in improving insulin sensitivity.

insulin sensitivity

Nutrition

Nutritionally, we can add ingredients or ingest more of a specific food to help improve our insulin response.

Apple cider vinegar has been shown in a few studies to help improve insulin resistance in individuals (6). It has been shown to have a positive influence on the insulin response to a high carbohydrate meal and to even help people with type II diabetes have better response to the glucose intake. In a study done at Arizona State, they took people who were insulin sensitive, insulin resistant, or had type II diabetes. The study concluded that apple cider vinegar significantly improved whole body insulin sensitivity and reduced fluxes in glucose.

Cinnamon has been an ingredient observed in countless studies to determine its effect on insulin. Like green tea, cinnamon contains polyphenols that have been discovered to work as insulin sensitizers and antioxidants (7).

Dark chocolate can be a tasty treat to many. It is hard to believe that something like chocolate could have positive effects on insulinogenic actions in the body. The flavanols found in dark chocolate have antioxidant properties that allow for greater glucose uptake by cells and allowing for better utilization of glucose from carbohydrates (8). Flavanols from dark chocolate can also be received in supplement form in cocoa extract if that is a preferred route to take.

Physical Activity

Aerobic exercise seems to be able to acutely improve glucose metabolism by increasing the absorption or uptake of glucose in the cells (9). HIIT cardio has been shown to be the best type of cardio for not only body composition, but for improving your insulin response and other metabolic risk factors (10). Performing sprints and intervals of all out intensity will suffice.

Anaerobic exercise also seems to be a form of physical activity that can improve your insulin sensitivity, specifically resistance training with weights (11). Data on weightlifting and insulin sensitivity shows that more sets of an exercise with high intensity will aid in producing better insulin responses than if an individual were to do single sets with moderate intensity (12).


Take-Home Message

Insulin is a hormone that cannot be ignored. Adhering to a good diet, a good supplement protocol, and exercise routine can improve insulin sensitivity, help prevent you from entering into an insulin resistant state, or may even reverse some effects of insulin resistance and enable you to have an improved metabolic state.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


  • Brownley KA, Von Holle A, Hamer RM, La Via M, Bulik CM. A double-blind, randomized pilot trial of chromium picolinate for binge eating disorder: results of the Binge Eating and Chromium (BEACh) study. J Psychosom Res. 2013 Jul;75(1):36-42.
  • Frauchiger MT, Wenk C, Colombani PC. Effects of acute chromium supplementation on postprandial metabolism in healthy young men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Aug;23(4):351-7
  • Pei D, Hsieh CH, Hung YJ, Li JC, Lee CH, Kuo SW. The influence of chromium chloride-containing milk to glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. 2006 Jul;55(7):923-7.
  • Lydic ML, McNurlan M, Bembo S, Mitchell L, Komaroff E, Gelato M. Chromium picolinate improves insulin sensitivity in obese subjects with polycystic ovary syndrome. Fertil Steril. 2006 Jul;86(1):243-6.
  • Liu K, Zhou R, Wang B, Chen K, Shi LY, Zhu JD, Mi MT. Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;98(2):340-8.
  • Carol S. Johnston, PHD, Cindy M. Kim, MS and Amanda J. Buller, MS. Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2004 Jan; 27(1): 281-282.
  • Bolin Qin, M.D., Ph.D., Kiran S. Panickar, and Richard A. Anderson, Ph.D., C.N.S. Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2010 May; 4(3): 685–693.
  • Grassi D, Lippi C, Necozione S, Desideri G, Ferri C. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):611-4.
  • Fisher G, Hunter GR, Gower BA. Aerobic exercise training conserves insulin sensitivity for 1 yr following weight loss in overweight women. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Feb;112(4):688-93.
  • John A Babraj, Niels BJ Vollaard, Cameron Keast, Fergus M Guppy, Greg Cottrell, and James A Timmons. Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males. BMC Endocr Disord. 2009; 9: 3.
  • Van Der Heijden GJ, Wang ZJ, Chu Z, Toffolo G, Manesso E, Sauer PJ, Sunehag AL. Strength exercise improves muscle mass and hepatic insulin sensitivity in obese youth. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Nov;42(11):1973-80.
  • Black LE, Swan PD, Alvar BA. Effects of intensity and volume on insulin sensitivity during acute bouts of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1109-16.

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