Blood sugar (aka glucose) has an important chaperone in the body known as insulin. This powerful hormone helps usher glucose into the cells where it can be used for energy. Without insulin, cells would not have access to this vital fuel source.

After a meal, the digestive system turns food into glucose. Glucose is sent into the bloodstream causing blood sugar levels to rise. To control and balance these blood sugar levels, the pancreas produces insulin. Insulin then guides some of the glucose into cells that need it and stores the rest for later. It’s a pretty good system when it’s working properly.

What is insulin resistance?

When there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, the chaperone, insulin, ends up knocking on the cell’s door too frequently. Finally, the cell gets frustrated and locks the door completely, resisting insulin’s request for entry. That cell becomes insulin resistant, which is problematic because then it doesn’t get the energy it needs while glucose continues to circulate in the bloodstream unabated. A good insulin resistance definition is that the cells lose their sensitivity to insulin causing an inability to uptake and utilize glucose for various tissues in the body. (1)

man measuring his insulin levels

Insulin resistance increases the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

When insulin resistance occurs, it can increase the risk of many illnesses including heart disease and diabetes. The ill-effects of insulin resistance take place over a long period. According to scientific literature, insulin resistance can precede Type 2 diabetes development by as long as 10 to 15 years. (2) To avoid the long-term negative health implications of insulin resistance, it’s important to identify and address the causes as early as possible.

What causes insulin resistance?

Obesity is a key cause of insulin resistance. What’s worse, carrying extra weight, especially abdominal obesity, creates a vicious cycle because it continues to worsen insulin resistance. (3)

In addition to being overweight, other causes of insulin resistance include: (4)

How to treat insulin resistance

Preventing, treating, and reversing insulin resistance requires a three-pronged approach that addresses diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplements. Of these, a healthy diet plays the most crucial role.

Insulin resistance diet

The best diet for insulin resistance is one that promotes weight loss and helps maintain normal body weight. Dietary factors that are effective with this goal in mind include: (5)

variety of beans, lentils, whole grains, and vegetables in bowls on a table

Beans, lentils, and whole grains are a great choice for insulin resistance due to their fiber content.

Therefore, these are great foods for insulin resistance:

  • Beans, lentils, whole grains and vegetables for their fiber content
  • Lean meats, fish, and nuts for their protein content
  • Citrus fruits and berries for their antioxidant content
  • Dark green leafy vegetables for their nutrient content
  • Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados

Foods to avoid include:

  • White bread and rice
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and beets
  • Saturated fats found in fatty meats and dairy
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages and breakfast cereals
  • Fruit juice and dried fruit
  • Fried and processed foods

Insulin resistance lifestyle

Two key lifestyle factors to consider in addition to eating a healthy diet are exercise and sleep. Many studies have confirmed that there is a direct link between being a sedentary and an increased risk of insulin resistance. (6) The flip side is also true with research showing that consistent exercise will proactively reduce the risk of insulin resistance. (7)

Getting enough sleep is also critical to preventing and treating insulin resistance. Research shows that just one night of sleep deprivation will put the body into a state of insulin resistance so imagine the damage that can take place when there are multiple restless nights every week. (8)

Cinnamon sticks on a wooden board

Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.

Insulin resistance supplements

Scientific literature shows several targeted nutrients and herbs can help lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity including:

Sometimes dietary supplements need a little help from their pharmaceutical friend, metformin. Metformin is often prescribed to people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes to help lower blood sugar levels and enhance insulin sensitivity. (13)

The bottom line

It’s possible to successfully prevent, treat, and even reverse insulin resistance. It just takes some effort with a focus on diet, lifestyle, dietary supplements, and the possible use of the prescription drug metformin. Ask your healthcare practitioner about your options and the ideal treatment plan.

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  1. Lebovitz HE. Insulin resistance: definition and consequences. Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes. 2001;109(Suppl2):S135-48.
  2. Freeman AM, Soman-Faulkner K, Pennings N. Insulin resistance. StatPearls. 2019;May 10.
  3. Hardy OT, Czech MP, Corvera S. What causes the insulin resistance underlying obesity? Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity. 2012;19(2):81-87.
  4. Kolb H, Martin S. Environmental/lifestyle factors in the pathogenesis and prevention of type 2 diabetes. BMC Medicine. 2017;15:131.
  5. Weickert MO. Nutritional modulation of insulin resistance. Scientifica. 2012;2010.
  6. Kim K, Kim S, Kim S, et al. Association of self-reported sedentary time with insulin resistance among Korean adults without diabetes mellitus: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2018;18:1335.
  7. Bird SR, Hawley J. Update on the effects of physical activity on insulin sensitivity in humans. BMJ Open Sport—Exercise Medicine. 2016;2(1).
  8. Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, et al. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2010;95(6):2963-8.
  9. Lan J, Zhao Y, Dong F, Yan Z, et al. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2015;161:69-81.
  10. Suksomboon N, Poolsup N, Yuwanakorn A. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of chromium supplements in diabetes. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 2014;39(3):292-306.
  11. Ziegenfuss TN, Hofheins JE, Mendel RW, et al. Effects of a water-soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome in pre-diabetic men and women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2006;3:45-53.
  12. Khan F, Sarker M, Ming L, et al. Comprehensive review on phytochemicals, pharmacological and clinical potentials of Gymnema sylvestre. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2019;10:1223.
  13. Giannarelli R, Aragona M, Coppelli A, Del Prato S. Reducing insulin resistance with metformin: the evidence today. Diabetes Metabolism. 2003;29(4).