Other than the fact that needing less insulin will save you tons of money, it also helps your overall health. The better your body is at using and processing insulin, the less you’ll need, and the more optimally your body will perform as a whole. Personally I saw the biggest improvements when I made the trifecta change: I went paleo, started eating low carb, and changed around my exercise routine. But all five of the tips below have helped increase insulin sensitivity and allowed me cut my insulin needs in half! Yes, half!
1. Go Paleo
The biggest reason for me to go paleo, even before I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, was because of the the Celiac + T1D connection. Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease share similar genes (DQ2 and DQ8) and are both immune-regulated. Typically type 1 diabetes is diagnosed first, even if you developed Celiac before developing T1D. Reason being because T1D symptoms are more obvious than Celiac symptoms especially because only 30% of people with Celiac have symptoms and on top of that celiac disease tends to be asymptomatic in type 1 diabetics (which it was for me).
Once I eliminated grain from my diet I figured I was already halfway to paleo so why not just take the plunge?! This switch, going from processed foods to real whole foods, was jaw dropping in regards to my insulin resistance. Now, even though I haven’t been able to find a solid study proving this, my own personal experience was all the proof I needed to turn me into a full blown Paleo enthusiast. My insulin responded better and my BG was more predictable which gave me more control. And what diabetic doesn’t want more control? My BG control & insulin resistance improved even more with my next point.
2. Low Carb Diet
When type 1’s tell me they eat high-carb and have a great A1C with little to no spikes and dips in BG I come to two conclusions: they are either super talented (and probably exhausted) or we have very different ideas on what a stable blood sugar means . Eating high-carb, low-fat, requires a vigorous (and dangerous) dance of dosing insulin, carb counting, and timing. If you play big, you lose big. But if you play small, you lose small. Not good advice for business investments, but great advice if we’re talking about blood sugars.
It doesn’t take a scientific study to prove that eating a low carb diet in people who can’t properly process carbohydrates will lead to better BG control. But incase you want to read some here is one study and here is another study.
When I went low-carb I saw a drastic drop in my insulin needs. The obvious drop came from mealtime boluses, but the not so obvious drop came from my basal requirements. I needed less insulin all around – it was amazing!
If you’re looking for a good resource on going low carb, I highly recommend reading Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. His book is packed with information about the benefits of type 1 diabetics going low carb.
3. ACV With Meals
I started talking raw apple cider vinegar with my meals after reading the book Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You. Now before you think this section isn’t for you because you have heartburn & acid reflux and don’t need anymore acidity in your stomach I’m going to stop you right there! Over 90% of the population has an underproduction of stomach acid and have been misdiagnosed. The reason for your heartburn is more likely the cause of acid turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time (a symptom of low stomach acid). Now back to why apple cider vinegar helps increase insulin sensitivity.
Apple cider vinegar aids in digestion and slows down stomach emptying. Slowing down stomach emptying is important for type 1 diabetics (and really everyone) because it leads to a gradual absorption of sugar into the bloodstream; especially with higher carbohydrate foods. The more you can avoid drastic spikes in BG the less resistance you’ll experience. I’ve noticed that even when I give enough insulin to cover a meal or snack, if I don’t get the timing right or if the sugar hits my bloodstream too fast I will spike high, then drop fast back into range. Even experience just a few of these spikes during the week can make me more insulin resistant in the coming days.
4. Strength Training & Other Anaerobic Activities (like sprinting)
Anaerobic activity (which is anything that requires short, intense, bursts of energy – like strength training or sprinting) is more efficient at burning fat and burning through glucose stores than aerobic activity (aka steady-paced exercise). When you deplete these energy stores your body becomes more sensitive to insulin. And the fastest, most efficient way to deplete those stores is through anaerobic activity.
An energy-replete cell is in insulin resistant cell. An empty, “starving” cell is an insulin sensitive cell.
Mark Sisson, Founder of the Primal Blueprint
Once I began to incorporate anaerobic exercise into my regiment I noticed great improvements in my insulin sensitivity. I was able to cut back even more on my basal rates. And although I do see a slight rise in BG in the immediate moment of anaerobic activity (usually only about 30-50mg/dL), which I now pre-bolus for, I have been able to lower my overall basal rates by about 10%. The effects of anaerobic activity is said to last only around 24-36hrs, but in my personal experience in insulin sensitivity effects last more like 48-72hrs. After about 2-3 days of no aerobic activity I notice I need to increase my basal rates by about 10%.
5. Vitamins & Minerals
Magnesium supports hundreds of physiological processes, a lot of which relate to insulin sensitivity. If you’re low in magnesium you can bet you’re struggling with insulin resistance. The good news is, magnesium is pretty easy to get. Food sources include spinach, fish, nuts & seeds, and dark chocolate. You can also take oral supplements, soak yourself in a nice warm Epsom salt bath once a week, or spray magnesium oil on your skin nightly. I personally eat the food sources a few times a week, take an Epsom salt bath a couple times per month, and spray magnesium oil on my skin nightly. The nice thing about topical magnesium (bath or spray) is that your body will only absorb what it needs – so an overload is impossible.
Copper & Zinc are also two important minerals in regards to insulin sensitivity because they counteract insulin resistance. Food sources include liver and oysters. However I personally I’m not a fan of either which is why I take desiccated liver capsules and an additional supplement of zinc.