Ways to Improve Insulin Sensitivity: Diet | Supplements | Exercise
Medically reviewed by Dr. George Kosco, DO on May 20, 2021
Video | Exercise | Supplements | Weight Loss & Diet
Insulin is a hormone that controls your blood sugar level by moving energy-rich sugar molecules out of your blood and into your cells.
Throughout life, your cells can become insulin resistant, which means they no longer respond to insulin as they once did. As a result, you live with higher blood sugar and insulin levels that can block weight loss. If not corrected, this leads to conditions like prediabetes and diabetes.
It is possible to regain some insulin sensitivity. In this post, I share exercise, supplement, and diet strategies that you can start using today to become more insulin sensitive.
How to Improve Insulin Sensitivity Summary
- Both aerobic and resistance exercise improve insulin sensitivity. Regular exercise is important, but the results start to show from the first day.
- Supplements including berberine, apple cider vinegar, turmeric (curcumin), and magnesium may improve insulin sensitivity.
- Losing weight reduces your risk of insulin resistance. Limiting your carbohydrate intake to no more than 125 grams of unprocessed carbs per day may help you lose weight.
Ways to Improve Insulin Sensitivity: [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- Strategies on how to improve insulin sensitivity.
- The best exercises that yield quick results.
- Which supplements are ideal for improving insulin sensitivity.
- How a low carb diet plays into the equation.
Getting regular exercise is a great way to improve insulin sensitivity. The good news is that you can choose the type of exercise that you enjoy because both aerobic and resistance exercises have been shown to be beneficial.
Insulin sensitivity can improve very quickly. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that a single session of resistance exercise improved insulin sensitivity in healthy men for the next 24 hours (1).
This significant and quick increase in insulin sensitivity was also seen in people who exercised aerobically. This likely has to do with improvements in how well your muscles take in glucose when you exercise (2).
However, it is important to exercise regularly. A study from the American Journal of Applied Physiology followed nine athletic men and women to see how the insulin action in their bodies would change from a trained state to a sedentary state.
They ran tests on the individuals while they were training and then had them stop exercising for ten days. They found that training enhanced insulin activity, but that advantage was lost during the period of inactivity (3).
It’s worth noting that the studies had participants work out at a moderately-intense level (4).
A leisurely 15-minute stroll around the neighborhood has many benefits. If increasing insulin sensitivity is your goal, however, you’ll want to add to the length or intensity of your workouts.
If time is a factor for you, consider alternating between aerobic exercises and weight lifting. This combining of exercise styles was found to be the most beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity (5) (6).
Supplements for Better Insulin Sensitivity
In addition to regular exercise, there are a number of supplements that have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
Berberine is a substance that occurs naturally in plants. It is effective at improving the way your body handles glucose, which not only improves the effectiveness of insulin but may also benefit those with diabetes.
A study published in 2008, had people with type 2 diabetes take 1 gram of berberine for three months. At the end of the testing period, their fasting blood glucose levels dropped from 126mg/dl (7mm/L) to a normal reading of 100mg/dl (5.6mm/L) (7).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a readily available supplement that you can take to improve insulin sensitivity. It has been shown to improve the uptake of glucose by your muscle cells (8).
Many of the studies have participants drink 30ml, which is about two tablespoons of vinegar diluted with water before a meal or before bedtime.
Turmeric is something that you might have in your kitchen. It contains an active component called curcumin, which has a glucose-lowering effect on your body (9) (10).
Turmeric can be added to eggs in the morning or into a side of vegetables in the evening. It can also be used in soups and smoothies. You can also find curcumin supplements to get a more direct effect.
Magnesium is another supplement that can improve insulin sensitivity and many other aspects of your health (11).
In your body, this mineral acts as a cofactor which means that it helps biochemical reactions take place. When you are deficient in magnesium, you can experience muscle cramps, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.
If you follow a low-carb diet, this mineral can be flushed out of your system. I take about 12 drops of Endure Electrolyte supplement with magnesium every morning. I simply dilute it in a cup of water and chug it down, which replenished the electrolytes and water that I naturally lost overnight.
Remember, supplements are intended to supplement a healthy diet. You’ll have little success if you are using supplements with the mindset that diet doesn’t matter.
Follow a Whole-Food, Low-Carb Diet
One of the best ways to become more insulin sensitive is by losing weight, and the best way to do that is with a whole-food, low-carb diet.
Carrying extra weight, especially around your waist, is one of the biggest risk factors for insulin resistance (12).
Insulin is secreted when food is digested and absorbed. Carbohydrates are the type of food that causes the highest spike in insulin secretion. By reducing the number of carb grams that you eat, you reduce insulin’s workload, which helps you lose weight and improves blood sugar disorders (13).
If you are just getting started with a low-carb diet, the uppermost limit of carbs per day should be 125 grams. You’ll be happiest with your results if the carbs you choose come from whole, unprocessed foods. These carbs tend to have a lower glycemic index, which means that they do not cause a rapid spike in blood sugar or insulin.
Most animal-based foods are naturally low in carbs. The majority of carbohydrates come from plant-foods. There are many healthy plant foods to choose from, some good low-carb choices include non-starchy vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and low-sugar fruits, like lemons, berries, and avocados.
Here is a complete list of 100 low-carb foods that you can download. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Koopman, René, et al. “A single session of resistance exercise enhances insulin sensitivity for at least 24 h in healthy men.” European journal of applied physiology 94.1-2 (2005): 180-187.
(2) Borghouts, L. B., and H. A. Keizer. “Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review.” International journal of sports medicine 21.01 (2000): 1-12.
(3) King, DOUGLAS S., et al. “Effects of exercise and lack of exercise on insulin sensitivity and responsiveness.” Journal of Applied Physiology 64.5 (1988): 1942-1946.
(4) Magkos, Faidon, et al. “Improved insulin sensitivity after a single bout of exercise is curvilinearly related to exercise energy expenditure.” Clinical Science 114.1 (2008): 59-64.
(5) AbouAssi, Hiba, et al. “The effects of aerobic, resistance, and combination training on insulin sensitivity and secretion in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT: a randomized trial.” Journal of Applied Physiology 118.12 (2015): 1474-1482.
(6) Suh, Sunghwan, et al. “Effects of resistance training and aerobic exercise on insulin sensitivity in overweight Korean adolescents: a controlled randomized trial.” Diabetes & metabolism journal 35.4 (2011): 418-426.
(7) Zhang, Yifei, et al. “Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 93.7 (2008): 2559-2565.
(8) Mitrou, Panayota, et al. “Vinegar consumption increases insulin-stimulated glucose uptake by the forearm muscle in humans with type 2 diabetes.” Journal of diabetes research 2015 (2015).
(9) Kim, Teayoun, et al. “Curcumin activates AMPK and suppresses gluconeogenic gene expression in hepatoma cells.” Biochemical and biophysical research communications 388.2 (2009): 377-382.
(10) Na, L-X., et al. “Curcumin improves insulin resistance in skeletal muscle of rats.” Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 21.7 (2011): 526-533.
(11) Wang, Jinsong, et al. “Dietary magnesium intake improves insulin resistance among non-diabetic individuals with metabolic syndrome participating in a dietary trial.” Nutrients 5.10 (2013): 3910-3919.
(12) Hardy, Olga T., Michael P. Czech, and Silvia Corvera. “What causes the insulin resistance underlying obesity?.” Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity 19.2 (2012): 81.
(13) Feinman, Richard D., et al. “Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: critical review and evidence base.” Nutrition 31.1 (2015): 1-13.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.