Increased insulin resistance is a harbinger of many aging-related diseases and ailments; it does not only cause belly fat, but also increases the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
In fact, one of the hallmarks of aging is increased insulin resistance.
Increased insulin resistance means that our cells become resistant or numb to insulin, making them less able to take up glucose that is circulating in the blood, especially after a carbohydrate-rich meal.
Insulin is a hormone that opens the gates of our cells to take up the glucose from the blood. The less responsive our cells become to insulin, the less they are able to take up the circulating sugar.
The longer these sugars circulate in the blood, the more damage it can cause in our body.
Sugar for example can form sugar-crosslinks, called AGEs (Advanced Glycation End products), which crosslink or “glue” proteins together, like elastin and collagen. This crosslinking makes tissues more stiff, contributing to high blood pressure or wrinkles for example.
Insulin resistance = accelerated aging
Increased insulin resistance is the first step towards prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. In fact, type 2 diabetes is caused and defined by severe insulin resistance.
Increased insulin resistance is also associated with an increased risk of many aging-related diseases and symptoms, like heart attacks, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, belly fat, being overweight and having difficulty losing weight, osteoarthritis, macular degeneration, and so on.
When we get older, we automatically become more insulin resistant. It’s a part of the aging process. However, you can considerably slow down the pace of insulin resistance. The opposite of insulin resistance is insulin sensitivity. The more sensitive and less resistant your body is to insulin, the healthier. So it’s very important to be insulin sensitive as long as possible.
Tests to measure insulin resistance
Insulin resistance can be measured via various methods. One way is to measure via a blood draw fasting insulin levels and fasting glucose levels. If fasting insulin or glucose levels are increased, this could be a sign of insulin resistance. Fasting insulin and glucose are used to calculate HOMA-IR, which is also a measure of insulin resistance.
Another way is to measure glycation of red blood cells (called HbA1c). If the red blood cells are too glycated (meaning too many sugars stick to on the red blood cells) that could be a sign of glucose levels being too high because of insulin resistance.
You can also do an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), in which you drink a large amount of sugar and then the levels of blood glucose are measured every few hours to see how long the glucose keeps circulating in your blood.
Some biohackers resort to buying a continuous blood glucose monitor, like the Dexcom, to have a better idea how their body processes sugars after every meal.
24 ways to reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity
1. Less starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta, rice
Replace these starchy foods more with alternatives, like vegetables, mushrooms or legumes. So instead of potato mash, you can consume broccoli mash. Or instead of rice you can eat lentils. Or instead of pasta you can enjoy oyster mushrooms.
Most people think that cutting back on sugary foods like soda and snacks is sufficient to improve insulin resistance, prediabetes and diabetes, but that’s not the case. It is also important to eat much less bread, potatoes, pasta and rice. These foods are made of starch, which are long chains of glucose, so if you eat a few sandwiches for breakfast, or a plate of pasta for dinner you still increase blood glucose levels a lot.
2. Less sugary foods
That means much, much less (or no) soda, sweets, biscuits, cake, candy bars, and so on. Replace sugary soda with for example (flavored) water, green tea, low-sugar vegetable juices, or coffee. Replace unhealthy snacks with nuts, fruits (hmm, delicious peaches and nectarines!), dark chocolate, or low-sugar vegetable protein bars.
There are many fasting methods, including 12 to 18 hour fasts, but ideally one fasts 3 days: only then you enter ketosis properly and all kinds of repair mechanisms kick into action, including a reset of your metabolism, and even repair and regeneration of your stem cells (R).
For example, one could fast 3 days at the start of every new season. If you have insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or diabetes, one could do more regular 3 day fasts, like very month or so, especially in the beginning.
Keep in mind that on day two, the hunger has often subsided considerably, and people are better able to concentrate because ketones are now used as fuel.
If a 3 day fast is too long for you, try at least a 24 hour fast (that is the minimum amount to switch from a glucose-fueled metabolism to a fat-ketone fueled metabolism after glycogen reserves have depleted, which takes around 24 hours) (R).
There are specific probiotics/bacteria that can improve insulin resistance.
For example, a company called Pendulum created a novel probiotic that can reduce insulin resistance (this is not a sponsored link – we don’t do that). Their probiotic contains various strains of bacteria that a standard off-the-shelf probiotic does not contain. They did a scientific study demonstrating improved insulin sensitivity, and some people claim they achieved very good results with this product.
5. Be careful with low-carb diets
Often, low-carb diets are advised to improve insulin resistance. Such diets can improve insulin resistance in the short term, but in the long term they are unhealthy. This is because these low-carb diets replace the carbs with animal protein. However, too much animal protein also contributes to insulin resistance and accelerates aging (R,R,R).
6. Be skeptical of official government recommendations
Governments have official guidelines for diabetes and insulin resistance. These government guidelines are often based on outdated science, are too watered-down and ineffective (one reason for this is that they don’t want to be too “harsh” or “difficult” for people), and can be much improved upon.
7. Vegetables, vegetables and veggies
Consume much more vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, kale, and so on. To increase your intake of vegetables, replace your starchy foods (e.g. potatoes, pasta, rice) more with vegetables (keep in mind that potatoes do not belong to these healthy vegetables). So instead of potatoes, pasta or rice you eat cauliflower, broccoli or spinach for example.
8. Replace unhealthy fats with more healthy fats
Unhealthy fats are trans fats, most omega-6 fatty acids and many saturated fats (keep in mind that not all saturated fats are unhealthy, e.g. short saturated fats like butyrate and caprylic acids are in fact healthy).
In general, try to avoid fried foods, fast-food, and bakery products. More specifically, reduce your intake of crackers, cookies, cakes, and other baked foods, refrigerated dough products (e.g. cinnamon rolls, biscuits, …), snack foods (e.g. microwave popcorn), fast-food (e.g. frozen pizza), ready-to-eat meals, various vegetable shortenings (made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil), French fries, and omega-6 rich oils and fasts, like sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, margarine, sesame oil, mayonnaise and many salad dressings.
Try to eat more healthy fats like in olives, olive oil, walnuts, seeds (flaxseed, chia seed), fatty fish, avocado and so on.
9. Stop smoking
10. Don’t drink milk
Milk is made by nature to make calves grow fast. It contains lots of growth stimulating substances that stimulate insulin, insulin like growth factor and other pro-aging pathways. Research shows that drinking milk can increase insulin resistance (R,R,R,R).
In one study, children drank 1.5 liters of milk per day, which led to insulin resistance in just 7 days and this in 8- year old children, who are normally very insulin sensitive (R).
Just 200 ml (7 ounces) of milk combined with a low-glycemic index meal causes a 300 percent increase in insulin (R).
Exercise improves insulin sensitivity in many ways. For example, exercise leads to increased uptake of glucose in the muscles, and increases mitochondrial biogenesis (mitochondria are the tiny power plants in our cells that burn up glucose). Both aerobic exercise (e.g. running, swimming, dancing) and anaerobic exercise (e.g. weight lifting) improve insulin sensitivity (R,R,R). Combining the two has an extra synergistic effect (R,R). HIIT (high intensity interval training) is renowned to improve insulin resistance very rapidly.
12. Don’t sit all day
Avoid sitting too much. Some people call sitting the new smoking. Many people sit the whole day behind their desk, which is very bad for our metabolism. Try to go for a little walk after every hour of desk sitting, and try to sneak in some exercise during the day, like taking the stairs or doing some push ups or squats.
13. Reduce stress
14. Take care of your sleep
Sleep deprivation leads to increased insulin resistance. Even one night of too little sleep increases insulin resistance in healthy people (R). Also, people with irregular sleep patterns, especially people who do night shifts, have more risk of insulin resistance, diabetes and being overweight (R,R).
15. Soluble fiber
Soluble fibers serve as food for the bacteria in our gut, while the insoluble fibers mainly just accelerate bowel movements (peristalsis) but cannot be digested by most gut bacteria. Various studies found that people who consume lots of soluble fiber have reduced insulin resistance (R,R,R).
You can consume inulin and FOS (fructo-oligosaccharide) supplements, but the first 2 weeks you will likely experience increased flatulence, which will mostly wane. You can also increase fiber intake by upping your intake of fiber-rich foods, like flaxseed, chia seeds (which also contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids), pumpkin seeds, walnuts and green-leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli or spinach (R).
16. Consume healthy snacks
17. Consume more spices and herbs
Turmeric, ginger, garlic, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and many other herbs improve insulin resistance, and this via many ways (R,R,R,R,R,R). For example, many spices and herbs reduce inflammation. Low-grade inflammation contributes to insulin resistance.
Spices and herbs also temper overgrowth of bacteria in the gut (often caused by bacteria feeding on the sugars and starches we eat too much via the western diet). This bacterial overgrowth leads to many bacterial toxins to be secreted by gut into the blood, contributing to insulin resistance (R).
18. Avoid alcohol
Many countries still claim it’s ok to drink two units of alcohol per day. However, large recent studies show that this is still too much. Ideally, one should consume maximum one glass of alcohol per day, including also alcohol-free days.
19. Green tea
Drink more green tea. Green tea can improve insulin resistance (R). Green tea can also reduce the risk of many other aging-related diseases and symptoms, like atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. You can also drink white tea, which is green tea but made from fresher, less oxidized leaves.
20. Mind zero calorie diet drinks
21. Address inflammation
Lingering, low-grade inflammation can contribute to insulin resistance. Omega-3 fatty acids, ginger, curcumin, zinc, fisetin, glucosamine, butyric acid, pterostilbene, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, green tea, and a low-sugar/starch diet reduce inflammation. Many of these ingredients can be found in NOVOS Core.
22. Fix choline deficiency
A deficiency in choline is also associated with increased insulin resistance. We advise however to choline chloride instead of choline bitartrate.
Also, some studies suggested that choline may increase atherosclerosis because choline can be converted to TMAO, a pro-atherogenic substance.
However, other studies show no association between intake of choline and the risk of heart disease. And for the ones that do, there is the confounding factor that choline is also found in meat and egg products.
To make a long story short, choline is very important for regulating the epigenome, reduce DNA damage and improve brain function. Many people in the west are deficient in this important nutrient. The advantages of sufficient amounts of choline outweigh the potential and still-to-be-proven risk of increased heart disease.
23. Apple cider vinegar
24. Up your minerals
Low magnesium levels are associated with insulin resistance (R,R). One could take magnesium malate powder for example, which is the best form of magnesium. One could also take chromium (R), zinc and copper (R), as these minerals also play a role in insulin sensitivity.
The more you can lower your insulin resistance, the healthier you will be, and the more you slow down the aging process and reduce your risk of many aging diseases and symptoms.