Hormone SERIES Insulin 3 of 3: Nutrients to Improve Insulin Sensitivity

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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Hormone SERIES Insulin

In this final post on insulin, we’ll discuss various nutrients that combat insulin resistance and make our bodies more sensitive to this important hormone. People tend to jump straight to nutritional supplements, botanicals, herbals, or homeopathy when dealing with insulin resistance, diabetes, and other hormonal issues. However, the lifestyle factors that we discussed last week are critical to address first. They’re the very foundation of health.
 
Now that we’ve talked about the foundational lifestyle elements of exercise, food, sleep, and stress management, let’s talk about some nutrients and botanicals that are beneficial for insulin resistance. There are a myriad of different nutrients that we could use. Today, I’ll focus on the ones that I believe have the most science and data behind them, and those that provide the most benefit for the cost.
 

 

Nutrients

Vitamin D

First up is vitamin D. There is ac direct correlation between low vitamin D levels and the risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Think about this statistic. Metformin helps improve insulin sensitivity by about 13%, yet giving vitamin D supplements to people who are deficient improves insulin sensitivity 60%!

Vitamin D deficiency is very prevalent in the U.S, with 42% of the general population (up to 82% of minority ethnic groups) having a vitamin D deficiency. So you can see how simply improving vitamin D levels can be more powerful than the number one recommended medication for diabetes in the country.

You read that correctly:

If your vitamin D level is low – which includes most of the patients I see – raising your vitamin D level alone will work better for you than a prescribed medication. 

Chromium

Chromium is an important trace mineral required for carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Chromium levels can affect insulin sensitivity, and chromium supplementation can have medicinal properties for improving insulin sensitivity. There’s a proprietary product called chromium GTF that’s been studied for its effect of improving insulin sensitivity. This is a go-to product for me.

Magnesium

Magnesium is another mineral that is essential for insulin control. One interesting thing about magnesium is that between 30 to 40% of Americans are magnesium-deficient or insufficient. Magnesium helps blood sugar to cross the cell membrane; a deficiency is directly associated with insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and neurological issues. A simple dose of 400 milligrams a day is a good starting place for this nutrient. I tend to use magnesium glycinate as it’s better absorbed by mouth and tends to have the fewest side effects.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The next nutrient to consider is omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA are critical omega-3s for sugar control, cell membrane balance, inflammation control, and more. A dosage of 1000-2000 milligrams a day is a good starting point. If you take more than 4000 milligrams a day of omega-3s, you should balance it with vitamin E because excessive omega-3’s can actually induce insulin resistance. So that’s a caveat to keep in mind.

Botanicals

Botanicals are plant-based nutrients that can be used to help regulate metabolism and your body’s other systems. Many drugs we currently use actually originated in the plant and animal kingdom.

Berberine

Berberine, a naturally occurring plant compound, is basically nature’s Metformin. It has been used to help control sugar and cholesterol levels at the Vanderbilt Hypertension Clinic. Berberine can have a profound impact on insulin resistance. It can also improve digestion, support the growth of good bacteria in the gut, and has a whole host of different functions. Usually, 500 milligrams twice a day is the starting dose. There can be some GI upset from Berberine (similar to Metformin), but overall it is well-tolerated.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a spice that has insulin-like or insulin-activating properties. It’s commonly used and has been studied throughout the world. A proprietary product called CinSulin has been studied for insulin resistance and that’s my go-to when using cinnamon as a supplement to support insulin sensitivity.

Green Tea

The active ingredient in green tea, EGCG, has profound metabolic effects. EGCG has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, helps improve insulin sensitivity, and also helps with controlling the inflammasome, which is the part of our cellular metabolism that regulates inflammation. Green tea also has positive effects on the immune system. It helps protect your B-cells from cytokine-induced damage. Cytokines are the part of your immune system that you see elevated with inflammation. So – almost by definition – if you have insulin resistance, you therefore have inflammation. EGCG can help protect your your immune system from damage from inflammation. A typical dose of EGCG is about 500 milligrams 1-2 times per day. If you prefer to get it from drinking green tea, the therapeutic dose of green tea is about four to six cups per day.

Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol is a standardized extract from maritime pine bark. Pycnogenol has been used throughout the cardio metabolic world for reducing cholesterol and inflammation, as well as a support for patients with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Through its anti-inflammatory effects and its basic plant structure, it actually helps lower insulin resistance as well. Pycnogenol contains certain plant chemicals called polyphenols that help modulate inflammation and has been shown to lower A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol. I tend to actually use Pycnogenol more for in my cholesterol patients than in my diabetic patients. But because it’s such a versatile product that also helps with joint aches and pains from inflammation, it can be great adjunct in this arena.

Summary

This wraps up our three part series on insulin. Getting your insulin under control will affect the first-triad hormones (insulin, thyroid, cortisol), which will, in turn, affect all the downstream hormones, including your sex hormones. And remember, if you’re having symptoms that sound like traditional sex hormone issues, consider those hormones at the top first: insulin, thyroid, and cortisol.

I hope this was helpful, and if you have more questions about this, please feel free to check out the reading list, other blog posts, and the food plans we have freely available on our website. These are educational resources for you that you can feel free to share with your friends.

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Take care and be well.

Other Articles In This Series

<< Hormone Series Insulin 2 of 3: Lifestyle Medicine to Treat Insulin Resistance