Insulin resistance is also known as pre-diabetes, as it can occur for years before potentially developing into diabetes.
With this condition, your cells are not responding normally to insulin. Insulin is your storage hormone that gets secreted by your pancreas when you eat protein or carbohydrates and when blood sugar goes up.
Insulin’s job is to shuttle the glucose from your bloodstream into the cell to be utilized as energy, or stored as fat for later if immediate use is not required.
With insulin resistance, your cells become desensitized to insulin and instead of using blood sugar for energy, it stores it as fat instead. Which, you guessed it, results in increased fat storage, but also an increase of insulin in the bloodstream in response to high blood sugar levels which can result in diabetes down the road.
Insulin resistance increases the risk of diabetes but also cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and even cancer.
The good news is that insulin resistance is very responsive to dietary and lifestyle changes.
Today we take a look at 6 natural foods that can help to improve insulin sensitivity.
6 natural foods to reduce insulin resistance
A study found that curcumin was 400 to 100,000 times more potent in increasing glucose uptake into the cell than the pharmaceutical metformin (4).
Another study found that turmeric was 100% effective at preventing type 2 diabetes in a pre-diabetic population. After 9 months, 16.4% of the subjects in the placebo group received a diabetes diagnosis while none of the curcumin treated subjects were diagnosed (5).
Though adding turmeric to your diet is beneficial, supplementation of curcumin is a more concentrated and therapeutic way to receive all of the health benefits.
Cinnamon is a well known spice that can lower blood sugar levels and improve the insulin response.
Research also found that cinnamon was effective at reducing fasting glucose levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes (7). Adding just 1 tsp of cinnamon to rice pudding was able to delay the rate of stomach emptying, slowing the rise in blood sugar (8).
This spice is naturally sweet and makes a great addition to homemade baking, yogurt, smoothies, hot drinks, and oatmeal.
Ginger is a warming spice native to Southeast Asia that has been used traditionally to reduce digestive upset and symptoms of the cold and flu.
But it also now has research backing it up for its anti-diabetic effects.
Research suggests that ginger powder can be used as an effective natural treatment for diabetes complications by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing lipid and inflammatory markers in diabetes patients (9).
One study indicated that 3 grams of supplemental ginger taken for 8 weeks improved insulin resistance and glucose markers in type 2 diabetics (10).
Though adding ginger to your diet can provide many health benefits it is usually not enough for therapeutic effects where supplementation is often recommended instead.
Spirulina is a type of blue green algae that is nutrition rich and associated with many health benefits, including blood sugar control.
In a randomized controlled trial comparing the effects of spirulina versus soybean, the group that received spirulina supplementation increased their insulin sensitivity by 224.7% while the soybean group increased theirs by 60% (12). What's more, in this study, 100% of spirulina consumers improved their insulin sensitivity while 69% of soy consumers improved theirs.
Scientific findings conclude that spirulina has favorable effects on metabolic markers, insulin function, and glucose control (13).
The pathology of insulin resistance is said to be significantly influenced by chronic low grade inflammation.
Berberine has been shown to exert at the same time anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and anti-inflammatory effects in order to reverse insulin resistance (15).
One of the ways it reduces insulin resistance is by modulating the gut microbiota, which play an important role in insulin function and blood sugar control (16).
Additional mechanisms of action include promoting insulin secretion, inhibiting gluconeogenesis in the liver, reducing intestinal absorption of glucose, and regulating lipid metabolism (17).
Research has determined that berberine may be used as a natural treatment against insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (18).
This household staple has been used as a traditional natural therapy in the treatment of diabetes for many years.
The improvements in insulin function are not only experienced by individuals that already have blood sugar problems, like diabetes, but berberine can also improve insulin sensitivity among healthy individuals (21).
Vinegar may possess similar physiological effects on blood sugar as metformin, and though more research is needed it may prove to be a cost effective and natural solution that is worth including in the diet (22).
Vinegar is said to be most effective at blood sugar control when consumed close to mealtimes (23).
You can add vinegars such as balsamic to your meals for additional health benefits or apple cider vinegar to your water to sip on before your meal for both digestive and blood sugar support. Conveniently, apple cider vinegar is now available in capsule form for those on the go or who don't particularly enjoy the taste.
Black seed oil
This oil is extracted from the seeds of the Nigella sativa plant, and has been used in traditional Indian and Middle Eastern cooking.
Black seed oil has been shown to be beneficial in treating diabetes and complications associated with the condition by enhancing insulin production, glucose tolerance, and beta cell proliferation (24).
Research has determined that it can improve the glycemic state by reducing pancreatic inflammation and glucose uptake from the intestines (25).
This research suggests that black seed oil may also be a complementary intervention for insulin resistance as well as obesity.