With so much written about diet versus exercise and exercise versus diet, it’s easy to overlook the role hormones play in our health and wellbeing, but they can make all the difference. In honor of American Diabetes Month, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the hormone insulin: What is it, and how does it relate to diabetes? Can we manipulate insulin to help us lose fat and live longer? As it turns out, we can — and pretty easily, too.
What Is Insulin and How Does It Relate to Diabetes?
Insulin is a super important hormone that helps us absorb nutrients from our food. Whenever we eat carbs (and a little bit when we eat protein), the amount of sugar in our blood increases, and the pancreas releases insulin to help take the sugar out of the bloodstream and into our organs (mostly the liver and muscle cells) where it can be used for energy .
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when that insulin response doesn’t work properly and sugar piles up in the blood with nowhere to go. This can result in a whole lot of problems, including vision loss, hearing loss, high blood pressure, and gum disease.
There are two main kinds of diabetes: Type 1 occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Type 2 occurs when insulin is produced, but the body doesn’t respond to it the right way. What causes Type 1 is often hard to pinpoint. Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common — some have estimated that a third of Americans born in 2000 will develop the disease — and a lot of the time, it can be prevented. How? Let’s talk insulin sensitivity.
What is Insulin Sensitivity?
Doing a lot of something can make you less sensitive to its effects, right? Drinking coffee all the time can dull the caffeine, regular drinkers find they need more beers to get drunk than they used to, and so on.
In kind of the same way, eating carbs too often (especially simple ones, like sugars), can make us less sensitive to insulin (or more “insulin resistant”). When that happens, we need to produce more insulin than we should need to in order to keep blood sugar stable.
That’s bad. If insulin sensitivity becomes poor, we have trouble digesting carbs and absorbing nutrients, and we gain weight. If it’s really bad for a long time, the pancreas needs to make more and more insulin because we’re so insensitive to it. Eventually, it gets exhausted and stops being able to release the hormone properly — and that’s when Type 2 diabetes occurs.
But insulin resistance doesn’t just increase the risk of diabetes. It ups the risk of thyroid problems and several kinds of cancer, and it also makes it a lot harder to control body fat   . So if we want to burn fat, we want to be sensitive — even the big, tough guys! Fortunately, we know plenty of ways to make your insulin work for you.
8 Ways to Improve Insulin Sensitivity
If insulin sensitivity is of concern, it’s not hard to get it tested — just ask a doctor for a fasting plasma glucose test. Maximizing insulin sensitivity should be a priority for anyone interested in improving their health, minimizing their diabetes risk, and even rocking sweet abs. Here are eight tips to help that happen.
- Exercise regularly
Exercising 3 or 4 times a week can improve nearly every health marker there is, and insulin sensitivity is no exception  . To maximize the insulin-related benefits, make the workouts extra intense with high intensity interval training or depletion workouts .
- Get plenty of sleep
Lying down’s never been so healthy! Getting adequate sleep is crucial to keep the body functioning smoothly, and that includes hormone production .
- Eat fewer carbohydrates, especially simple carbs
Eating lots of carbs makes us produce a lot of insulin, so it’s best to follow a diet that’s low in simple and processed carbs, especially sugar, to maximize our sensitivity to the stuff . An exception is after you exercise — a blood sugar spike is a good thing post-workout, because the insulin helps to quickly send nutrients to exhausted muscles.
- Eat slow-digesting foods
When foods digest slowly, the sugars take longer to hit the bloodstream, and insulin is released more gradually. Fats, fiber, and protein are all great examples, and should make up a significant portion of our diets  .
- Fast regularly
Intermittent fasting can be a useful method to lower the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a wide range of other illnesses  .
- Eat cinnamon
Cinnamon is a delicious way to control blood glucose . Put that ish on everything, from yogurt to coffee.
- Drink green tea
Drinking plenty of green tea has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar concentrations, but ditch the milk — it can undermine tea’s circulatory benefits   .
- Keep body fat low
However it’s achieved, simply being lean can improve insulin sensitivity . There’s never been a better reason to train for fat loss!
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