Insulin sensitivity refers to how sensitive the body’s cells are in response to insulin. High insulin sensitivity allows the cells of the body to use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar. Some lifestyle and dietary changes may help improve this sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body control the level of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. Insulin sensitivity varies between people and can change according to various lifestyle and dietary factors.
A person with low insulin sensitivity also has insulin resistance, which affects about 38%Trusted Source of adults in the United States. People with insulin resistance have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Improving insulin sensitivity and reducing insulin resistance may benefit those who have or are at risk of type 2 diabetes.
While the prevalence of prediabetes is similarTrusted Source across racial and ethnic groups, the prevalence of diabetes is higherTrusted Source among American Indians, Alaska Natives, Hispanic Americans, and non-Hispanic Black Americans than among white Americans. This means that people from historically marginalized groups may develop the condition sooner or at a faster rate.
This article looks at lifestyle and dietary factors that may help a person improve their insulin sensitivity using natural therapies and products.
People who wish to increase their insulin sensitivity can try the following lifestyle changes:
1. Getting more exercise Exercise may be one way to improve insulin sensitivity. A 2018 reviewTrusted Source of 11 studies found an association between increased physical activity levels and improved insulin sensitivity. The review recommends a structured exercise program as part of managing type 2 diabetes. Exercise also uses some glucose in the blood, bringing blood glucose levels further into typical ranges. Combining different exercises The findings of a 2013 reviewTrusted Source suggest that certain types of exercise may increase insulin sensitivity more than others. The authors found that a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training was particularly effective for people both with and without diabetes. According to their findings, the authors made the following recommendations for these groups:
People without diabetes: Do at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. This exercise should include high intensity aerobic exercise three times a week and strength training in all major muscle groups twice a week.
People with type 2 diabetes: Do at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. They should perform long duration, moderate intensity aerobic exercise three times a week and high-repetition resistance training in all major muscle groups twice a week.
People with type 2 diabetes and limited mobility: Do as much exercise as they can manage. They should aim to include low intensity aerobic exercise with low intensity resistance training in all major muscle groups three times a week.
2. Getting more sleep Getting more sleep may also improve insulin sensitivity. In a 2015 study, 16 healthy people who were not getting sufficient sleep extended their sleep by 1 hour per day for 6 weeks. This extra sleep increased insulin sensitivity. 3. Eating a nutritious diet Some research suggests that making certain dietary changes could increase insulin sensitivity. Fewer carbohydrates, more unsaturated fats Recent research suggests that replacing carbohydrates with unsaturated fats may improve insulin sensitivity in some people. A 2015 study investigated the effects of a low carbohydrate diet on insulin sensitivity in adults at risk for type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded that eating a diet low in carbohydrates can help improve insulin sensitivity in people with a BMI of over 30 or those with other risk factors for diabetes, such as polycystic ovary syndrome. However, a more recent review from 2018Trusted Source suggested that a low carbohydrate diet might actually increase insulin resistance, especially if a person is not losing body weight while following the diet. A 2016 systematic review of 102 studies concluded that replacing carbohydrate and saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may improve the body’s blood sugar regulation. More soluble fiber Soluble fiber is a type of dietary fiber that comes from plants. Although this fiber is a type of carbohydrate, the body cannot break it down fully. As a result, it does not contribute to spikes in blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber also delays gastric emptying, which is the time it takes for a meal to leave the stomach and enter the small intestine. A small 2014 study suggests that this delay may help decrease blood glucose levels after meals in people with type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting Intermittent fasting is a type of diet that focuses on the timing of meals rather than the specific foods in the diet. It may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes for certain people. A 2014 review investigated the effects of two methods of intermittent fasting in overweight and obese adults. The first involved restricting calorie intake for 1–3 days per week and eating freely on the remaining days. The other involved alternating between fast days and feed days, with people reducing their regular calorie intake by 75% on fast days and eating freely on feed days. As with a daily calorie-restricted diet, the researchers found that both types of intermittent fasting reduced insulin resistance. However, this type of eating had no meaningful effect on blood glucose levels, so the authors concluded that more research is necessary. 4. Taking dietary supplements In addition to changing the foods in their diet, people looking to increase their insulin sensitivity may benefit from taking dietary supplements. According to research, the following supplements could reduce insulin resistance. Probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids Taking probiotics or omega-3 fatty acid supplements may improve insulin sensitivity in people who are overweight. A 2014 clinical trial investigated the effects of both omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics on insulin sensitivity in 60 adults who were overweight but otherwise healthy. The researchers reported that taking either a probiotic or omega-3 supplement for 6 weeks led to significant improvements in insulin sensitivity in comparison with a placebo. The increase in insulin sensitivity was even greater in those who took both supplements together. Learn everything you need to know about probiotics. Magnesium Magnesium supplements may also be beneficial for people wanting to improve their insulin sensitivity. A 2016 systematic review found that taking magnesium supplements for more than 4 months significantly improved insulin resistance in people with and without diabetes. Read more about magnesium glycinate, a popular supplement. Resveratrol Resveratrol is a natural compound that occurs in the skin of red grapes. It is also available as a dietary supplement. A 2014 meta-analysisTrusted Source of 11 studies found that taking resveratrol supplements significantly improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. However, the researchers did not observe the same effects in people without diabetes. They concluded that there is a need for more research on the effects of resveratrol supplementation in humans. Takeaway Low insulin sensitivity is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Exercising well, getting enough sleep, and eating a nutritious diet high in unsaturated fats and soluble fiber may help improve insulin sensitivity in people with and without diabetes. Certain dietary supplements may also be beneficial. Many of these supplements are available to purchase online:
However, a person should be aware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements. Therefore, they should speak with their doctor before taking any supplement.