Insulin Resistance Syndrome (Holistic)Skip to the navigation
About This Condition
Improve the action of insulin by supplementing with 200 to 1,000 mcg of this mineral
Fight back with fiber
Improve blood cholesterol and blood sugar by taking 8 to13 grams a day of a glucomannan fiber supplement; dive into two or three doses and take with meals
Control your carbs
Prevent excessive insulin production by saying no to foods with a high glycemic index
Choose a heart-healthy diet
Reduce your risk by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish; at the same time avoid fats from meat, dairy, and processed foods high in hydrogenated oils
About This Condition
The insulin resistance syndrome (IRS; also called metabolic syndrome) is a group of health risk factors that increase the likelihood of heart disease,1 , 2 , 3 , 4 and perhaps other disorders, such as diabetes and some cancers.5 , 6 The risk factors that make up IRS include insulin resistance, which refers to the reduced ability of the hormone insulin to control the processing of glucose by the body. Other major risk factors often associated with IRS include high blood sugar and high blood triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excessive body fat in the abdominal region. People with IRS do not always have every one of these risk factors, but they usually have many of them. A qualified doctor should make the diagnosis of IRS after a thorough examination and blood tests.
Most people with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, but many more people who are not diabetic also have insulin resistance.7 , 8 , 9 Since insulin resistance itself often does not cause symptoms, these people may not be aware of their problem. Some authorities believe insulin resistance is partially inherited and partially due to lifestyle factors.
In addition to the recommendations discussed below, people with IRS may benefit from some of the recommendations given for type 2 diabetes. People with IRS should also benefit from health strategies that reduce the severity of the risk factors they possess, including obesity, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Obesity , especially when fat accumulates in the abdominal region, increases the severity of insulin resistance,10 , 11 and has been associated with IRS.12 , 13 Loss of excess weight tends to improve insulin sensitivity (i.e., reduce insulin resistance),14 , 15 and this has been recently shown to be true for people with IRS as well.16 Weight loss also reduces many of the other health risk factors associated with IRS.17
Cigarette smoking, in most,18 , 19 though not all,20 studies, as well as exposure to secondhand smoke21 and use of nicotine replacement products,22 , 23 have been associated with insulin resistance. Smoking cessation has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in healthy people.24
Alcohol consumption in the light to moderate range (up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men25) is associated with better insulin sensitivity in healthy, nondiabetic people.26 , 27 , 28 , 29 Since alcohol consumption also reduces other risk factors for heart disease,30 , 31 it does not appear that people with IRS would benefit from avoiding alcohol if they are currently light to moderate drinkers. However, alcohol is potentially addicting and can increase the risk of other diseases, so people with IRS who are not users of alcohol should consult a doctor before starting regular consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Either aerobic exercise or strength training improves insulin sensitivity in both healthy and insulin-resistant people in most studies, 32 , 33 though a recent controlled trial found that aerobic exercise alone did not affect insulin resistance in people with IRS.34 Studies comparing strength training to aerobic exercise in insulin-resistant people have reported greater benefits from strength training,35 , 36 but a combination of the two will probably be more effective than either one alone. Current recommendations for exercise includes about 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening exercises (working all major muscle groups) at least two days per week.37 , 38 , 39 In addition, exercise has many benefits in reducing many of the risk factors associated with IRS.40
Some popular diet books claim that insulin resistance causes weight gain and prevents successful weight loss. However, one controlled study found no difference in the number of women experiencing successful short-term weight loss between women with or without insulin resistance.41
Insulin sensitivity decreases after certain stressful experiences, such as surgery,42 and decreased insulin sensitivity is associated with work-related mental and emotional stress,43 and other aspects of a stressful lifestyle.44 However, these associations have not been explored in people with IRS, nor has stress reduction been investigated as a treatment for IRS.
The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.
|Eat a healthy diet||
In one study, a diet low in fried foods and sausages and high in vegetables, fruits, fish, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains was shown to protect against many aspects of IRS.
Some authorities recommend people with IRS avoid high-carbohydrate diets, and some recommend a diet lower in carbohydrate than current public health guidelines suggest. The rationale is that high carbohydrate intake stimulates increased insulin levels, which can lead to high triglycerides, low HDL, and other adverse changes in the levels of blood fats that contribute to heart disease risk.45 Other authorities disagree, however, because they believe a lower carbohydrate diet will result in higher calorie intake from fat, leading to more difficulties with overweight, insulin resistance, and heart disease risk.46 A recent preliminary study suggested that a healthy, balanced diet low in fried foods and sausages, and high in vegetables, fruits, fish, and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain rice and pasta, was associated with protection from many aspects of IRS.47
|Get your protein||
Although more research is needed, diets high in protein may benefit people with IRS.
Very little research has investigated the effect of increasing dietary protein intake on insulin resistance in people with or without IRS. One controlled study found that people with some features of IRS lost more weight on a high protein diet than on a high-carbohydrate diet, although both diets produced similar improvements in a measurement of insulin sensitivity.48 Preliminary and controlled trials in people without IRS have also shown that substituting protein for carbohydrate in a low-fat diet can improve blood lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides and HDL) towards reduced heart disease risk.49 , 50 More research is needed on the effects of high protein diets in people with IRS.
|Keep your eye on the GI||
Choosing carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (foods that don’t cause a spike in blood sugar) and foods that are high in fiber may improve insulin sensitivity.
High-carbohydrate diets have also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity; the reason for this may partly be that weight loss often occurs on this type of diet,51 or that these diets are low in fats, such as saturated fat, that worsen insulin sensitivity.52 , 53 The type of carbohydrate consumed may influence the effect of a high-carbohydrate diet on insulin sensitivity. Animal research suggests that very high intake of fructose or sucrose worsens insulin sensitivity, but human studies have been inconsistent.54 , 55 “Glycemic index” refers to the blood sugar-raising effect of a food, and there is preliminary evidence from some,56 , 57 , 58 though not all,59 human research, that consumption of low glycemic index foods improves insulin sensitivity. Effects on glycemic index may be one reason dietary fiber is associated with better insulin sensitivity.60 As with dietary fat intake, it makes sense for people with IRS to choose carbohydrates according to their effects on heart disease risk. Therefore a diet low in refined carbohydrates and high in fiber appears most prudent.61
|Try a low-fat diet||
Avoiding fats from meat, dairy, and processed foods high in hydrogenated oils while allowing fish, olive oil and other monounsaturated fat sources makes sense for people with IRS.
The effect of dietary fat on insulin resistance seems to depend on the type of fat eaten. Preliminary studies in animals and humans suggest that insulin resistance is worsened with increased use of saturated fat and improved with increased unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids from fish, while the role of other unsaturated fats is less clear.62 However, recent research has reported that diets high in monounsaturated fat improve insulin sensitivity in both healthy people and people with diabetes.63 A diet low in saturated fat, but which allows both fish and monounsaturated fat makes sense for people with IRS, because such a diet is associated with protection from heart disease. Recently, a low-fat diet allowing fish was shown to decrease insulin resistance in people with IRS.64
In two controlled studies,65 , 66 a combined program of a weight-loss diet lower in fat and higher in fish, along with exercise three times per week, improved several measures of insulin resistance, blood triglycerides and cholesterol, and blood pressure in a group of people with IRS.
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8 to 13 grams daily
Taking a glucomannan fiber supplement may improve blood cholesterol and blood sugar.
Glucomannan , a type of water-soluble dietary fiber, may reduce many risk factors in people with IRS. A double-blind trial found that 8–13 grams per day of glucomannan significantly improved several measures of blood cholesterol control and one measure of blood glucose control in people with IRS.67 Another double-blind study of healthy people found that 30 grams per day of guar gum, a fiber similar to glucomannan, improved insulin sensitivity and many other components of IRS, including blood pressure and blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides, leading the authors to recommend guar gum for people with IRS.68 However, in another study, obese people taking 8–16 grams per day of guar gum for 6–12 weeks did not experience any change in insulin sensitivity.69
200 mcg daily
Supplementing with chromium may help improve the action of insulin.
Chromium has long been known to be helpful to people with insulin-related disorders.70 , 71 While no chromium research has been done specifically on people with IRS, known mechanisms of chromium’s effects indicate that chromium plays a role in promoting insulin sensitivity.72 , 73 Preliminary evidence also suggests that insulin resistance may cause loss of chromium from the body, increasing the likelihood of chromium deficiency.74
30 grams daily
One study of healthy people found that guar gum, a fiber similar to glucomannan, improved insulin sensitivity and many other components of IRS.
Glucomannan , a type of water-soluble dietary fiber, may reduce many risk factors in people with IRS. A double-blind trial found that 8–13 grams per day of glucomannan significantly improved several measures of blood cholesterol control and one measure of blood glucose control in people with IRS.75 Another double-blind study of healthy people found that 30 grams per day of guar gum, a fiber similar to glucomannan, improved insulin sensitivity and many other components of IRS, including blood pressure and blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides, leading the authors to recommend guar gum for people with IRS.76 However, in another study, obese people taking 8–16 grams per day of guar gum for 6–12 weeks did not experience any change in insulin sensitivity.77
Refer to label instructions
One study found that supplementing with calcium improved insulin sensitivity in people with hypertension.
Caution: Calcium supplements should be avoided by prostate cancer patients.
One double blind trial found that 1,500 mg per day of calcium improved insulin sensitivity in people with hypertension.78 No research on the effects of calcium in people with IRS has been done.
Refer to label instructions
Coenzyme Q10 may improve insulin sensitivity in people with components of IRS.
Refer to label instructions
Magnesium deficiency can reduce insulin sensitivity, and low magnesium levels have been associated with greater insulin resistance in people without diabetes, leading some doctors to believe that supplementing with magnesium may improve IRS.
Magnesium deficiency can reduce insulin sensitivity,80 and low dietary intake81 and low blood levels82 of magnesium have been associated with greater insulin resistance in nondiabetic people. However, no studies of magnesium supplementation in people with IRS have been done.
Refer to label instructions
Vitamin E has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in both healthy and hypertensive people and may have a similar effect on people with IRS.
Vitamin E , 800–1,350 IU per day, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in both healthy83 and hypertensive84 people in double-blind studies. Research is needed to investigate this effect in people with IRS.
Refer to label instructions
Low zinc intake appears to be associated with several of the risk factors common in IRS, and a low blood level of zinc is associated with insulin resistance in overweight people.
Preliminary studies have reported that low zinc intake is associated with several of the risk factors common in IRS,85 and a low blood level of zinc is associated with insulin resistance in overweight people.86 However, people with IRS have not specifically been studied to determine whether they are zinc deficient or whether zinc supplements are helpful for them.
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Last Review: 10-21-2014
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.