Insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions. Insulin resistance (IR) is a well recognized risk factors for several types of cancer, as well as other chronic diseases. So what can we do to improve insulin resistance?
Signs of insulin resistance
Because IR is seen to be associated with increased risk of cancer, it is something we should all be concerned about. Take a look at some of the physical signs of insulin resistance to see if you should investigate further:
- weight gain around the belly
- feeling tired after a meal
- energy swings
- heart disease
- memory loss
- harder time losing weight
- hot flashes for women
- cravings for certain foods
If you have several of these signs, it is worth getting tested for insulin resistance (IR) through your doctor. Here are some tests that can be conducted.
Insulin resistance tests
- Belly fat – if your waist to hip ratio is >1.0 for men or >0.8 for women, this suggests you might have IR
- Elevated blood sugar levels
- Elevated blood insulin levels
- High blood pressure greater than 140/90mmHg
- High triglycerides >150mg/dL
- Low HDL <40mg/dL for men and <50 mg/dL for women
- Elevated CRP (C-reactive protein)
While it might be a little worrying to go to your doctor and ask to be tested for IR, it is worth doing if you are showing some of the physical signs. The earlier you find out, the easier it is to reverse. And reversing it will reduce your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Causes of IR
Some of the causes of insulin resistance include:
- poor diet – high in simple sugars and refined carbohydrates
- weight gain
- lack of physical activity
- inadequate sleep
- gut issues – such as dysbiosis of gut microbiota
- chronic stress
These are modifiable factors, and generally diet and lifestyle changes can completely reverse insulin resistance and poor sugar control.
Here are five strategies to help with this:
Diet – Reduce refined carbohydrates
Blood sugar disorders are characterized by an inability to process sugars effectively. The recommended diet to improve insulin resistance is therefore a low refined-carbohydrate diet. This means avoiding white bread, crackers, cookies, muffins, cakes, and other processed foods made with flour and sugar. To help you figure out what to avoid, measuring your blood glucose levels before meals, and one- and two-hours after meals will give you important feedback on your diet. If you find that certain foods/meals cause spikes in blood glucose levels after meals, these are the foods you need to avoid. See the goals in the previous post.
Diet – Add more fiber and fermented foods into the diet
Our gut flora are involved in how we respond to sugar in our diet. By adding fiber from fruits, vegetables, and legumes, along with fermented foods, we can help support a healthy gut. These foods also contain resistant starch (a type of fiber) which helps improve insulin sensitivity. Our goal should be to have at least 35g of fiber a day. To keep track of your intake, you can use online charts that tell you the fiber levels in foods. Or you can use one of the free diet assessment tools, like cronometer, to analyse your diet.
Lifestyle – Physical activity
Countless studies show that not getting enough exercise contributes to high blood sugar levels and subsequent problems. Too much sitting can have the same effect – even if you get enough exercise. Find an exercise that you enjoy – then you will do it more often. A combination of aerobic/cardio exercise plus strength training is best for improving sugar control. If you like walking, see if you can do 10,000 steps a day. If you sit for a lot of the day, try and get into the habit of standing for periods, or set up a standing desk to work from. Try to get 40 minutes of exercise each day.
Supplement – Magnesium
Magnesium optimizes insulin production, improves glucose metabolism, and increases insulin sensitivity – yet magnesium deficiency is very common. A good way to get magnesium into your body is through regular epsom salts baths, where you absorb the magnesium through your skin. The relaxing baths also help with stress reduction too. If you don’t have a bath, try soaking your feet in epsom salts and hot water. If you want to take a supplement, magnesium glycinate is a good option for a short period (1-2 months) to correct any deficiency/insufficiency. Talk to your health care provider for more information. Magnesium glycinate is great to take before bed, as it also helps sleep. Pumpkin seeds are the best dietary source of magnesium so try a handful of them in the evening, before your soak in epsom salts.
Lifestyle – stress management
Chronic stress reduces our blood sugar control, yet stress management is frequently overlooked as a natural therapy for blood sugar disorders. Find a stress reduction technique that you can incorporate into your DAILY life. It doesn’t have to be for a long period of time. It is better to do something consistently but briefly, than occasionally for long periods. Choose something that appeals to you – meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, biofeedback, deep breathing, making time for yourself. And also include the simple strategies: avoid people who stress you out, learn to say “no”, give up pointless arguments, etc.
If you are monitoring your blood glucose levels, try one or more of these strategies and see if they result in a lower fasting blood glucose level. Some may have a quicker effect than others, but all are worth considering. Blood sugar disorders are key in so many chronic illnesses and as we have seen, insulin resistance can feed cancer. It is something we should all be considering.
Let me know if you give these a try and how they work for you.