High levels of insulin in the bloodstream causes damage to the blood vessels. It also contributes to arterial plaque formation and therefore increases the risk of heart disease. In addition, hyperinsulinemia increases the release of a substance called cytokines which increases systemic inflammation, further increasing your risk of chronic illness. High blood pressure, osteoporosis, certain cancers and abdominal obesity have also all been linked to hyperinsulinemia.
In contrast, people who are sensitive to insulin tend to be at a much lower risk of any of these conditions and also tend to be lean. They have low levels of insulin in their blood and are likely to have a greater longevity.
The good news is that there things that you can do to help your body to become more insulin sensitive and less insulin resistance. Doing so will allow you to lose weight, significantly decrease your risk of blood vessel damage and chronic illness and hopefully add length to your life!
Regular aerobic and resistance exercise:
Any type of exercise will help to increase your insulin sensitivity but why a combination of aerobic (or cardio) and resistance (weight training) exercise is encouraged is because they improve insulin sensitivity in different ways. Aerobic exercise will improve sensitivity in as little as 1 – 2 days of starting an exercise programme but regular aerobic exercise is needed to maintain this. Aerobic exercise helps the muscles to use up more glucose from your blood stream, therefore reducing the amount of insulin needed. Resistance exercise builds muscle which helps to increase the storage capacity of glucose, again reducing the amount of insulin needed.
The huge benefit to increasing your insulin sensitivity with exercise is that the benefits are reaped very soon: a study which used a group of overweight, sedentary adults found an improvement in their insulin levels within just one week of starting an exercise programme, before any changes in muscle or aerobic capacity.
Less fluctuating blood sugar levels:
Good blood sugar level control doesn’t only apply to diabetics, it is something everyone should be striving to do. Non-diabetics don’t feel the physical effects of a too-high or too-low blood sugar level as a diabetic would and so this is not something you may have really paid attention to before. But the more fluctuating your blood sugar levels are, the more likely you are to be resistant to the effects of insulin, needing higher and higher amounts. Cut down as much as possible on sugar and refined carbohydrates, and eat plenty of good quality protein, fats, veggies and fibre.
Reduce the amount of triglycerides and free fatty acids in your blood:
The higher your levels of these types of fats floating around your blood stream, the more insulin resistant you are likely to be. Ways to lower these is to reduce your alcohol, sugar and overall carbohydrate intake, and to exercise. Excess caffeine can increase the amount of free fatty acids in the blood stream, so keep to a reasonable amount of coffee per day and make sure you balance it out with an adequate amount of water.
Reduce your mental and physical stressors:
Mental stress (stress from work, family, relationships etc.) and physical stress (illness) both increase cortisol levels which has an adverse effect on insulin sensitivity. Find ways to cope with mental stress better and keep your immune system strong in order to ward off illness.
Certain micronutrients, such Vitamin K and magnesium have been found to have important roles in keeping the tissues sensitive to insulin. A varied diet with plenty of veggies, especially dark green one ensures an adequate micronutrient intake.
Adequate sleep and the treatment of sleep apnea:
Adults should be getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep apnea, the cessation of breathing due to a collapse in the airway, significantly increases insulin resistance as well as the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. If you have any issues that prevent you from getting good quality sleep every night, then address them as soon as possible.