Insulin Resistance: A Reversible Warning Sign for Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes affects more than 34 million Americans—nearly 11% of the US population. What’s more, another 88 million have prediabetes—meaning if they don’t make important changes necessary to get their blood sugar under control, they may very well end up with full-blown diabetes.
In the case of both diabetes and prediabetes, there’s usually a warning signal given by the body that something’s just not right with the way blood sugar is being used. This “clue” is insulin resistance.
What Is Insulin Resistance?
Made by the pancreas, insulin is a hormone that moves glucose (sugar from the food you eat) into your cells, where it is then used for energy.
When you eat, blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels rise. In response, your pancreas releases insulin, which lowers blood sugar back to normal range.
With insulin resistance, your cells have a weakened response insulin. They’re not as sensitive or responsive to the effects of insulin. As a result, your cells don’t take up glucose from your blood as easily or effectively. This causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream. Your pancreas responds by cranking out even more insulin.
As long as your pancreas is able to produce enough insulin to help glucose enter cells, your blood sugar levels should stay in a normal range.
But your pancreas can’t work in overdrive forever. It will eventually burn out and start to function less efficiently. This means more glucose stays in the bloodstream than necessary, which sets the stage for prediabetes, then type 2 diabetes.
Signs & Risks Factors
There’s no real test for insulin resistance. But if you have the following issues, there’s a good change you have insulin resistance as well:
- Belly fat: 40+ inch waistline for men, 35+ inch waistline for women
- Fasting glucose levels above 100 mg/dL
- Fasting triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL
- Low HDL (beneficial) cholesterol (under 40 mg/dL for men, under 50 mg/dL for women)
- Certain skin conditions like acanthosis nigricans and skin tags
Other risk factors for insulin resistance include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Age (it becomes more common in the mid-40s and up)
- Poor diet
- Family history of diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Having other health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, liver disease, Cushing’s syndrome, and gestational diabetes
Reversing Insulin Resistance
The good news is, insulin resistance is reversible. Here’s what you need to do:
It’s not the most popular thing to hear, but diet is the #1 key component to reversing insulin resistance. Eliminate (or at the very least, greatly reduce) refined/simple carbs, sugar, processed foods, and “fake fats” (trans fats, and vegetable oils like canola and soybean).
Focus on filling your plate with fiber- and nutrient-rich whole foods: veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, protein, and whole grains.
Physical activity has a significant effect on insulin sensitivity. Any type of movement or exercise is better than nothing, but the greatest effects are seen when combining aerobic activity with weight or resistance training.
Aerobic exercise burns more calories and glucose than weight training. But, weight training builds muscle, which is what burns glucose while you work out. So, the more muscle you have, the better.
Not only that, exercise helps to reduce or eliminate a number of risk factors that contribute to insulin resistance. When you work out, you lose excess weight and fat (including around your belly), your blood pressure improves, and your cholesterol levels fall into healthier range.
There are also several blood sugar-supportive supplements that can help manage or reverse insulin resistance.
Berberine is a top choice. This medicinal compound is found in the roots and stem bark of various plants, including goldenseal, barberry, and Oregon grape. Not only does berberine have anti-inflammatory properties, its effects on blood sugar are impressive.
In one of the first major studies of berberine, researchers compared it to metformin, one of the most popular diabetes drugs. After three months, the researchers noted the effects of berberine were similar to that of metformin. In addition, A1c, fasting glucose, postprandial (post-meal) glucose, and triglyceride levels significantly decreased.1
A more recent meta-analysis showed that treatment with berberine led to better reduction of fasting and postprandial glucose, and A1c levels compared to controls. Not only that, taking berberine with prescription diabetes medication enhanced the effects. So, if you’re already on metformin, you don’t have to shy away from this supplement!2
Along with controlling blood sugar, berberine has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, lower inflammation, and support gut health.
The recommended dosage is 1,000–1,500 mg per day, in divided doses.
Gymnema sylvestre is an extract that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to balance blood sugar for more than 2,000 years.
In one study, those taking G. sylvestre had major improvements in glucose tolerance, A1c, body mass index and weight, and LDL cholesterol.3
The typical dosage is 400 mg a day, in divided doses.
Chromium is an essential mineral that keeps your blood sugar in check by binding to insulin receptors (“docking stations”) on the surface of cells, and enhancing insulin activity. These actions move glucose from the bloodstream and into cells.
Chromium deficiency is linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance. When chromium is low, glucose levels can become chronically elevated. The body releases more and more insulin to balance out blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance over time.
Research shows that chromium supplementation lowers blood glucose, improves HDL cholesterol, and helps with weight and fat loss. Since chromium helps insulin to function more efficiently, less insulin is needed and glucose levels decrease. While high insulin levels favor fat storage, low insulin enables fat burning.4
A typical dosage for chromium is 200 mcg daily, in divided doses.
An All-In-One Blood Sugar Supplement
Berberine, chromium, and Gymnema sylvestre are all readily available as standalone supplements. Or you can buy a product that combines all three, such as Newport Natural Health’s Complete Glucose Support.
If you have insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes, be sure to discuss the use of this or any supplement with your doctor. This is especially important if you have kidney, liver, or heart issues, and/or use medications for diabetes or blood pressure. While all three of these nutrients are safe and have few if any side effects, Gymnema sylvestre does interact with some diabetes drugs.
- Yin J, et al. Efficacy of Berberine in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712-17.
- Liang Y, et al. Effects of Berberine on Blood Glucose in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systemic Literature Review and a Meta-Analysis. Endocr J. 2019 Jan 28;66(1):51-63.
- Gaytan LA, et al. Effect of Gymnema sylvestre Administration on Glycemic Control, Insulin Secretion, and Insulin Sensitivity in Patients with Impaired Glucose Tolerance. J Med Food. 2021 Jan;24(1):28-32.
- Suksomboon N, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of chromium supplementation in diabetes. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2014 Jun;39(3):292-306.