The conversation surrounding insulin recently isn’t just about people with diabetes or when talking about sugar. Insulin sensitivity has become a new phrase in many health conscious individual’s lexica for good reason – it’s the fat making hormone. So what does it mean to increase insulin sensitivity? Well, we’ll need to find out how insulin works and what it does to the body first!
What Is Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin sensitivity is a reflection of how insulin levels react to keep blood glucose levels in a normal range. A person, who is insulin sensitive, only needs a small amount of blood glucose to keep their body within the normal range. A person who is insulin resistant, however, needs a much larger amount of insulin to keep his or her blood glucose level within the normal range. The higher your blood glucose level, the more your body is encouraged to store body fat. Carbohydrates have the biggest dietary impact on blood sugar levels and insulin, but there are good carbs and bad carbs (read more here). One of the best ways to discover which carbohydrates contribute to increased insulin levels is by referring to the glycemic index (GI). The carbohydrates you want to eat are the ones that have a low score (out of 100) because they don’t cause a rapid rise in glucose.
How Does Insulin Work
Insulin is created by the pancreas. It’s an anabolic hormone within the body and happens to be the hormone that is secreted when blood glucose levels rise from eating carbohydrate-rich foods. Insulin is a sugar-controller. In other words, it regulates blood glucose levels, making sure that they aren’t too high or too low. Sounds like a pretty refined and regular bodily process, doesn’t it?
The process of insulin, a hormone being released within the body to monitor blood glucose levels when we eat, sounds pretty normal. Where we run into trouble is when the pancreas gets overloaded with carbohydrates and sugars from the diet. When the pancreas is overloaded, glucose isn’t regulated, and it gets stored in places like the muscles or your liver as glycogen. Our body is pretty smart when it comes to storing things for later use, such as glycogen, but too much can be a bad thing.
How To Increase Insulin Sensitivity
Does insulin make you gain weight? It certainly can. But its not just insulin alone, making you gain weight, it starts with what you put in your mouth. Since insulin is a fat controller, it also can stop lipolysis, the breakdown of stored body fat and triglycerides for energy.
Insulin sensitivity factor depends on how high, or low, your insulin levels are. High levels of insulin contribute to increased fat storage and low levels of fat depletion. In other words, you’re gaining weight and definitely aren’t losing it. Foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates are the culprits, such as cereal, granola bars, and convenient foods. The more we eat them the more insulin has to be released to regulate blood glucose levels and the harder the pancreas has to work to release insulin.
Your pancreas is a pretty impressive organ, but it can only handle so much pressure until some of its function has to give way. If you continue to produce an unrealistic amount of insulin as a result of poor dietary choices, your cells are going to give up and rebel against your actions at some point. Much like screaming at your significant other (hopefully you don’t), if you just keep yelling and screaming, eventually they’re going to stop listening altogether. When you run into insulin resistance, you also run into disease and disorders, such as Type 2 Diabetes.
Increasing Insulin Sensitivity To Lose Weight
What we’ve learned so far is that insulin sensitivity is directly related to what we eat. So if we’re looking to increase insulin sensitivity we have to improve the nutritional quality of our food. It’s not going to happen overnight, but the gradual change in your daily habits can re-train your body to naturally raise insulin sensitivity. We recommend regular exercise and eating foods with a lower profile of simple carbohydrates, sugars, and added sugars. Drinking Apple Cider Vinegar daily has also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity (read more about that here). Another good way to increase insulin sensitivity in an effort to lose weight and improve overall health and wellbeing is by intermittent fasting. However, the solution is relatively simple, if you can stop overloading your pancreas with glucose from carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates that are high on the glycemic index, you can regulate and increase insulin sensitivity. (READ MORE on how to create a nutrition plan)
The Thrifty Gene Hypothesis
A man by the name James V. Neel, in the year 1962, came up with a hypothesis in an effort to explain his observations of the increasing prevalence of Type II Diabetes and Obesity in developed nations. In studying previous generations, especially the hunter-gatherer model, he realized that humans prior to more modern times had to frequently go through cycles of feast and famine. He realized that during times of feast, the bodies of the hunter-gatherers were able to pack on more weight in effort to last until they were able to feast again, after a not being able to have food. The theory earned the name ‘thrifty genotype’ which refers to the group of genes within the human body that favor the fasting a feasting model.
Nowadays, we’re used to having food at our fingertips, literally. We’re surrounded by it 24-7 and the ease of access greatly contributes to overconsumption. Here’s the thing though – our bodies haven’t changed that much. In fact, your body has no clue when you’re going to feed it next, unless you run your life on a very strict eating timeline that you’ve been practicing for years. So based on the thrifty gene hypothesis, it’s going to hold onto that weight for storage between your periods of eating. If you eat often, you store more, meaning you’re going to gain more weight. If you eat less often, you expend energy, you lose weight, and then replenish nutrients, and do it all over again. Insert – the idea behind intermittent fasting. In our opinion, intermittent fasting, in combination with a lower carbohydrate lifestyle, is the easiest way to naturally increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels.
Insulin Sensitivity and Intermittent Fasting
Through the Thrifty Gene Hypothesis as well as other recent research, it is suggested that individuals who regularly implement intermittent fasting into their lifestyles have higher levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), improved insulin resistance, and lowered inflammatory response.1 By changing your eating cycles to those of feast and famine, you can literally change your metabolic status for the better (READ the Quick 1-2-3 Guide On Intermittent Fasting)
Initially, we have to have glucose available for energy transfer within the body. It’s easiest/fastest to get through the diet (think about how athletes eat gels before a triathlon for fast energy). It’ll last for quick bursts but will run out of storage pretty quickly. The next preferred source of glucose is sourced from dietary proteins and triglycerides, which is stored glucose. Which leads us to the type of energy transfer that happens when we intermittent fast: ketone formation.
Intermittent fasting positively affects insulin by shifting to ketone formations for energy transfer instead of glucose. When we don’t have many carbohydrates coming into the body by way of food, our liver can make ketones for energy, putting you into a state of ketosis. Once ketones are made in the liver, they are then ready to be shipped up and out for use in the tissues for energy. Using ketone bodies for energy is referred to as ketosis.
The Role of Ketones & Insulin Resistance
The quick over is this: ketones are produced by the body to supply long-lasting energy, as opposed to glucose, which is created and stored from the consumption of carbohydrates in the diet.
There are three basic types of ketones
Ketones are water-soluble and can be converted into acetyl-CoA to supply muscle tissues, the brain, and red blood cells with sufficient energy transfer when glucose supply is low. Being in ketosis and living a low-carbohydrate lifestyle while intermittent fasting all contributes to lowering insulin levels with ease and benefit.
The Bottom Line
Even if you choose to not intermittent fast to increase insulin sensitivity, choosing to enrich your nutritional lifestyle with quality carbohydrates and regulating simple carbohydrates, like sugars, will benefit you in the long run, and increase your insulin sensitivity. If you’re interested in finding out if a low carbohydrate lifestyle is for you, and if you want to increase your insulin sensitivity to lose body fat, we recommend to continue reading the following articles for more information.