What Exactly Is Insulin Resistance?

Important Points:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • Glucose

What Exactly Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is a vital hormone that controls the levels of sugar in our bodies. In a nutshell, it removes excess glucose from the blood through a process known as glycogenesis.

However, problems with insulin are at the heart of many medical conditions. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells stop responding to insulin allowing sugar to build up in the bloodstream. About 100 million Americans are affected by insulin resistance. Fortunately, dietary and lifestyle changes can dramatically improve this condition.

This article explains all you need to know about insulin and insulin resistance.

What Is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by beta cells in the pancreas. Its main function is to regulate the amount of glucose circulating in your bloodstream, but it also affects fat and protein metabolism. When you eat a slice of bread, the carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream causing your blood sugar to rise. Consequently, your beta cells in your pancreas are stimulated to produce insulin. The insulin is released to your bloodstream where it removes the sugar and stores it in cells. This process reduces the blood sugar levels.

However, cells sometimes become less sensitive to insulin. When this happens, sugar begins to buildup in the bloodstream because the process of removing it is limited. Your pancreas senses an excess of blood sugar and produces even more insulin to lower the blood sugar levels. High insulin levels in your blood is called hyperinsulinemia.

Diabetes type 2 occurs when your cells become increasingly resistant to insulin, resulting in a rise in both insulin and blood sugar levels. If this persists for long, your beta cells may become damaged, leading to decreased insulin production.

Insulin resistance is the main cause of type 2 diabetes.

What About Insulin Sensitivity?

Insulin sensitivity is just the opposite of insulin resistance because insulin sensitivity is beneficial. When you have insulin resistance it also means that you have low insulin sensitivity.

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is caused by many factors. A number of studies have shown that high amounts of free fatty acids in your blood as a result of eating too many calories can cause insulin resistance. Being overweight or obese is also linked to insulin resistance as visceral fat that mostly accumulates around your waist can release free fatty acids into your blood and also trigger inflammation. However, even people with moderate weight can develop insulin resistance possibly due to genetic predisposition.

Other possible causes of insulin resistance include:

  • High sugar diet. Even artificial sugars have been linked to inflammation and insulin resistance.
  • Inactivity. Regular physical activity can reduce insulin resistance by stimulating weight loss.
  • Gut microbiota. A disruption in the bacterial environment of your digestive system can cause inflammation and insulin resistance.
  • Genetic factors: African American, Hispanic, and Asian peoples are at higher risk for insulin resistance.

What Are The Complications Of Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is the precursor for diabetes type 2 and metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

By the time a person is being diagnosed with diabetes type 2, they are likely to have developed chronic insulin resistance. It is estimated that by the time a diagnosis is made, 50% of insulin-producing cells may have lost function. This means that the person is not only resistant to insulin but they are also unable to produce adequate amounts of insulin.

Insulin resistance is also strongly associated with heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US. 

Other diseases linked to insulin resistance include:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Cancer
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Alzheimer’s disease

How to Reduce Insulin Resistance

Weight loss is one of the most effective ways of reducing insulin resistance. Making drastic dietary changes is also necessary so that you are consuming more of the beneficial foods and less of the harmful ones. Exercise also helps to shed off extra weight and maintain health. Lastly, doing away with harmful habits such as smoking and excessive drinking also plays a significant role.

  • Engage in regular exercise such as brisk walking or jogging for 30 minutes each day.
  • Lose belly fat
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce intake of artificial sugar such as from artificially sweetened beverages
  • Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids

For more on improving insulin sensitivity with dietary changes, read our previous article here.

The bottom line

Insulin resistance is responsible for a number of chronic health complications. Often it can go on undetected for a number of years without causing alarm. When insulin resistance is not detected early enough it is likely to wreck a person’s health. Fortunately, a number of things can be done to prevent or stop the progression of insulin resistance, and if insulin resistance can be prevented, we will definitely have millions of people living healthier, more fulfilled lives that are free of disease.


1.   NCBI (2005): Dose-response effect of elevated plasma free fatty acid on insulin signaling. Retrieved from

2.   CDC (2017): New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. Retrieved from

3.   NCBI (2005): Dose-response effect of elevated plasma free fatty acid on insulin signaling. Retrieved from

4.   NCBI (2013): The Role of Gut Microbiota on Insulin Resistance. Retrieved from



Foods That Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Important Points:

  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Fiber
  • Processed foods

Foods That Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is an essential hormone responsible for regulating levels of blood sugar, and the bodies response to the release of insulin is called insulin sensitivity. When the sensitivity is high, the body will require a small amount of insulin to reduce blood sugar levels. When sensitivity is low, the body may fail to respond to even high levels of insulin, and this labeled as insulin resistance.

Insulin is made by beta cells in the pancreas. When the body’s cells are insulin resistant, they can’t use insulin effectively and the blood sugar level rises as it builds up in the blood. When your pancreas senses high blood sugar, it makes more insulin to overcome the resistance, but this may not improve the situation. Chronic insulin resistance, common in type 2 diabetes, may deplete beta cells in the pancreas. Prolonged high blood sugar can damage nerves and organs, so improving insulin sensitivity to reduce insulin resistance in imperative.

Here are 8 ways to improve insulin sensitivity.

1.   Eat More Soluble Fiber

Eating soluble fiber has many health benefits and has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity

There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber helps in forming stool that can easily move through the bowels, while soluble fiber plays a huge role in promoting insulin sensitivity, as shown in a study published in NCBI. Another study showed that women who ate more soluble fiber had significantly lower levels of insulin resistance. Soluble fiber promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in your gut which has been linked to decreased insulin resistance.

Foods that are rich in soluble fiber include legumes, oatmeal, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, and fruits like oranges.

2.   Eat More Colorful Fruit and Vegetables

Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants which rid the body of free radicals causing harmful inflammation and insulin resistance.

3.   Use Herbs and Spices

A number of spices play a role in promoting insulin sensitivity. They include:

  • Fenugreek seeds have high soluble fiber content. A 2001 study concluded that “fenugreek seeds improves glycemic control and decreases insulin resistance in mild type-2 diabetic patients.”
  • Turmeric containsan active component called curcumin which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which help to reduce insulin resistance.
  • Ginger contains acomponent called gingerol which increases sugar uptake and improves insulin sensitivity.
  • Cinnamon is known for its ability to reduce blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity.

4.   Drink More Green Tea

Green tea is a choice drink for people with diabetes type 2. Green tea has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar levels. Green tea also has antioxidants that help to fight off free radicals and many other health benefits.

5.   Try Apple Cider Vinegar

Vinegar, a key ingredient in apple cider vinegar, could help increase insulin sensitivity by reducing blood sugar and improving the effectiveness of insulin. Vinegar helps to slow gastric emptying hence allowing time for the body more time to absorb sugar. This gives insulin more time to act. Apple cider vinegar can be added to cold salads or drinks.

6.  Cut Down on Carbs

Carbs are the main stimulus behind high sugar levels and the production of insulin. Carbs release sugar into the bloodstream when they are broken down, and this sugar is an essential source of energy for the body. When the body breaks down carbs into glucose and releases it into the blood, the pancreas releases insulin to move the glucose from the blood into the cells. Consuming excessive carbs could cause insulin resistance because of the excess glucose from those carbs sparks an overproduction of insulin. Reducing your carbohydrate intake could increase insulin sensitivity. There is no need to eliminate carbs as that will cause other problems. Processed carbs that are likely to trigger insulin resistance include white rice, pasta, and white bread.

7.  Avoid Artificial Trans Fats

Trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils that are usually added to processed foods to help them keep for longer and to give them a better taste. Foods that typically contain artificial trans fats include cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, and fried fast foods. Artificial trans fats are typically found in more processed foods.  

Trans fats have been shown to cause inflammation and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared trans fats unsafe to eat in 2018, however, this directive is yet to be implemented by manufacturers. It is up to you the consumer to scrutinize the ingredient list before buying any processed foods.

8.   Reduce Your Intake of Artificial Sugars

Artificial sugars are mostly found in processed foods, and they contain two main types of sugar: high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar known as sucrose. Fructose has been linked to insulin resistance even in people with no diabetes.

Can Supplements Help to Improve Insulin Sensitivity?

The idea of taking natural supplements is a controversial one and may require consultation with your physician. If you have been diagnosed with insulin resistance, you may benefit from taking supplements that increase insulin sensitivity. These include chromium, berberine, and magnesium supplements which are linked to increased insulin sensitivity. Another compound, Resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes and other berries also appears to increase insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.

Since supplements can interact with other medication, it is important to consult your doctor before you start taking them.


1.   NCBI (2011): Trans Fatty Acids Induce Vascular Inflammation and Reduce Vascular Nitric Oxide Production in Endothelial Cells. Retrieved from

2.   NCBI (2013): Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Retrieved from

3.   NCBI (2014): The impact of soluble dietary fiber on gastric emptying, postprandial blood glucose and insulin in patients with type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from

4.   NCBI (2013): The Role of Gut Microbiota on Insulin Resistance. Retrieved from

5.   NCBI (2001): Effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) seeds on glycaemic control and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a double blind placebo controlled study. Retrieved from

6.   NCBI (2014): Effect and mechanisms of action of vinegar on glucose metabolism, lipid profile, and body weight. Retrieved from