Here’s How You Can Lower Insulin Levels for Weight Loss

Published on September 1, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on October 10, 2021

Some experts – and several people on Twitter – believe that insulin and carbs make you gain weight. In order to fix this, they suggest a simple idea: If you eat a low-carb diet, you’ll eventually get low insulin levels and rapidly lose weight without worrying about calories (1).

Insulin, Carbs, and Obesity

It all starts with what is known as the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity, which is a simplified explanation as to why global obesity persists to this day (1).

It is known that when you eat certain carbohydrates like starch and sugar, they can be quickly broken down into glucose and get absorbed into your bloodstream, which in turn raises your blood glucose (a.k.a. blood sugar) levels (1).

The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood glucose rises. In general, the body wants to maintain a normal range of 70 to 100 mg/dl of blood glucose level, to keep you healthy and your systems functioning optimally. As a result, the body strives to regulate the rising blood glucose levels as you intake carbohydrates (1).

Now enters insulin into the picture. When you eat carbohydrates, not only would your blood glucose rise, but your body, specifically your pancreas, releases insulin. That’s because insulin is the body’s regulator of blood glucose (1).

Insulin transports glucose from your bloodstream into your muscle and fat cells, where it could be stored and used for energy later on. Without insulin, your blood glucose levels stay elevated for a longer span, which is why people with Type 1 Diabetes must take insulin every day through injections or a pump (1).

It’s also important to understand that people respond differently to the same number of carbohydrates, depending on several factors like (1):

  • Body fat (1)
  • Fitness level (1)
  • Muscle health (1)
  • Genetics (1)
  • Microbiome health (1)
  • Amount and frequency of exercise (1)
  • Time of the day (1)
  • Foods they consume (1)

Usually, a fit and more active person is more sensitive to insulin, which means that they need less insulin to move glucose out of their bloodstream. Because of this, fit people are able to tolerate more carbs better than sedentary folks. These individuals also benefit from more carbs, to aid in recovery and performance (1).

To resolve this, a lot of advocates of the carbohydrate-insulin model claim that a simple solution would be to adopt a low-carb diet (1).

Insulin: What Is It?

Insulin therapy is a common treatment for diabetes that causes people to gain weight. People who take in insulin are able to manage their weight with certain diet and lifestyle strategies (2).

As we mentioned, insulin is an extremely important hormone produced in the pancreas. It has several functions, including regulating the levels of glucose in the blood, helping body cells to absorb glucose, and allowing the same cells to take sugar from your blood for energy (2) (3).

What Happens When the Cells Absorb Too Much Glucose?

When the cells absorb too much glucose, the body converts this into fat – leading to weight gain (2). More specifically, having chronically high insulin levels translates to a condition known as hyperinsulinemia, which can lead to excessive weight gain and serious health problems like cancer and heart disease (3).

Moreover, high blood insulin levels can cause your cells to become resistant to the hormone’s effects – a condition known as insulin resistance. This leads your pancreas to produce even more insulin, creating a precarious cycle (3).

During digestion, insulin stimulates fat, muscle, and liver cells to absorb glucose. The cells, in turn, either use this glucose for energy or convert it into fat for long-term storage. Consuming more calories than what the body needs leads to excess glucose levels. If the cells do not remove glucose from the blood, the body also contains these in the fat tissues (2).

Diabetes and Weight Gain

The main premise is this: untreated diabetes can cause weight loss, since the body is not converting food into energy correctly. Taking insulin solves the problem, which is why people may notice weight gain when they start taking insulin (2).

On one hand, a person who takes insulin as a therapy for diabetes may absorb too much glucose from food, resulting in weight gain (2).

Weight gain is a common symptom found in people with diabetes and other insulin-related medical conditions. Compared to people without these conditions, young adults with Type 1 Diabetes have a higher risk of developing excess body weight or obesity (2).

According to 2003 estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), 90 percent of individuals with Type 2 diabetes either have obesity or are overweight. This is because people with diabetes may experience weight gain as a side effect of insulin therapy. Moreover, insulin helps regulate glucose levels and promote fat storage in the body (2).

By lessening excess body weight, people can manage diabetes symptoms and even reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes (2).

What You Should Know About Insulin Resistance

Normally, insulin would allow cells to absorb and make use of glucose for energy. In people with insulin resistance, however, the cells are unable to make use of insulin effectively (4).

When the cells are not able to absorb glucose, the glucose levels build up in the blood. If glucose, or blood sugar, levels are higher than the average yet not high enough to cause diabetes, doctors refer to this as “prediabetes (4).”

Around 1 in 3 people in the United States have prediabetes, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prediabetes often occurs in people with high insulin resistance (4).

Insulin resistance occurs when excess glucose in the blood lessens the ability of the cells to absorb and use blood glucose for energy. Apart from prediabetes, insulin resistance also occurs in the development of prediabetes, and eventually, Type 2 Diabetes (4).

This is because people with prediabetes have a pancreas that works excessively hard to release enough insulin to overcome the body’s resistance and keep blood sugar levels down. Over time, the pancreas’ ability to release insulin begins to decline, leading to Type 2 Diabetes. This just goes to show that insulin resistance remains a major feature of type 2 diabetes (4).

If the pancreas is able to make enough insulin to overcome the low absorption rate, diabetes is less likely to develop. More so, blood glucose will stay within a healthy range (4).

Does Insulin Inhibit Your Body From Burning Fat?

Not exactly, but insulin influences the rate of your fat-burning process. Adding to insulin’s main role as key regulator of blood glucose are the following ways insulin affects your fat-burning process (4):

1. Insulin inhibits lipolysis.

During lipolysis, stored fatty acids are moved out of your fat cells and into your bloodstream, where they can be used for energy. If this process is hindered – as in the case of high insulin levels – fewer fatty acids are available to boost your muscles and other metabolically active tissues. Because of this, a lot of people equate insulin spikes with “switching off” the body’s ability to burn fat (1).

2. Insulin stimulates lipogenesis.

During lipogenesis, fatty acids are moved from your blood into your fat cells, where they are stored for later use. This is often referred to as being in “fat storage mode” – something that many people try to avoid (1).

Moreover, lipogenesis can also cause carbs to be converted to and be stored as fat (known as de novo lipogenesis, or DNL). It’s important to note, however, that DNL only happens in meaningful amounts when there’s an overall surplus of carbs and calories due to consistently eating more calories than you would burn (1).

Having known this, you can conclude that insulin is a real problem for fat loss. Still, insulin’s purpose is not to make you fat (1).

Insulin and Weight Loss

Insulin inhibits lipolysis because you have taken in carbohydrates and/ or protein. More importantly, it’s more efficient for your body to use those incoming nutrients for energy than to liberate stored nutrients for energy (1).

In addition, there is a complex interplay of hormones and enzymes that can limit, counteract, or enhance the effect of any single chemical, including. For instance, while insulin stimulates lipogenesis (fat storage), other hormones – namely leptin, growth hormones, and small increase in cortisol – prevents lipogenesis. These hormones can help modulate the effects of insulin (1).

With that said, the impact of insulin is not straightforward; rather, it is a result of many factors interplaying with one another (1).

If you’re still in question as to what role insulin plays in weight loss, they key answer to its success is this: control your insulin by keeping it as low as possible (5)

Ways to Lower Your Insulin Levels

1. Keep Carbohydrates at a Minimum

Your body will make and release less insulin to reduce body fat build up. When looking at food labels, anything more than 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving is considered too high (5).

Carb-heavy foods are surely delicious, but they are not the best ones for your to consume since they raise both blood sugar and insulin levels considerably (6).

Research has shown that adopting a low-carb diet helps to reduce insulin levels, lower blood pressure, and aid in weight loss. This is especially true for people who have health conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as metabolic syndrome or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (6).

More specifically, a Mediterranean-style diet is a great option, since it emphasizes consuming veggies, fiber-rich foods, nuts, beans, fish, and healthy fats. It’s also well-rounded and easy to follow (6).

2. Take a Breather

Sleep deprivation leads to increased blood sugar and greater secretion of insulin. That’s why, getting at least 7 hours of sleep is important to regulate these situations (5).

When you are stressed out, your body will release more insulin for energy. So, if you are stressed all the time, your insulin levels will be higher. If you experience this, take the necessary steps to reduce your stress. You may try practicing yoga or meditation, get enough sleep, work out more, or just spend more time each day doing something you enjoy (6).

3. Start Working on Your Fitness

If relaxing on the couch is your ideal way to de-stress, that’s okay. However, it’s also important to incorporate some physical exercises  to improve your insulin levels (6).

In fact, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle can be as easy as taking a walk after eating a large meal or making sure to get up and walk around even if you’re just sitting at your desk all day. Research shows that merely getting up and walking around a few times to break up long periods of sitting can improve your insulin levels and insulin sensitivity (6).

The Department of Health and Human Services suggest that a reasonable goal for most adults is at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity per week. This should include moderately intense aerobic activities like: walking, water aerobics, dancing, bicycling, or gardening.  In addition, try including some muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week (7).

Exercise is a natural way to lower your insulin, especially if you have a higher body weight or have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. While any kind of workout seems sufficient, sustained aerobic exercises seem to lower insulin more than HIIT workouts. Aerobic exercise is any type of cardio that increases your breathing and heart rate (6).

Cardio exercises can be anything from brisk walks to a long run or Zumba class. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to do it in at least 30 to 60 minutes daily, or a few times weekly (6).

4. Watch Your Food and Insulin Intake

When you eat too much of any food in just one gulp, your pancreas produces more insulin. Basically, overeating easily leads to hyperinsulinemia, especially if you possess a higher body weight and insulin resistance (6).

Eating smaller portions and less calories can lower insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, regardless of what type of diet you are following (6).

Also, ask your doctor about diabetes medications that can help you regulate blood glucose levels, possibly promote weight loss, and allow you to reduce insulin dosage. These include (7):

  • Metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage, others) (7)
  • Exenatide (Byetta) (7)
  • Sitagliptin (Januvia) (7)
  • Saxagliptin (Onglyza) (7)
  • Canagliflozin (Invokana) (7)
  • Liraglutide (Victoza) (7)
  • Empagliflozin (Jardiance) (7)
  • Pramlintide (Symlin) (7)
  • Albiglutide (Tarzeum) (7)
  • Dulaglutide (Trulicity) (7)
  • Dapagliflozin (Farxiga) (7)

To ensure safety, always consult your doctor if these or other medications are appropriate as part of your diabetes treatment plan (7).

5. Replace Sugar With Cinnamon

When it comes to insulin, sugar is another important thing to limit, as consuming too much of the sweet stuff can promote insulin resistance, and therefore raise your insulin levels (6).

In a small 2009 study, a group of people consumed a lot of candy over the course of 2 weeks, while another group consumed a lot of peanuts. The candy group had a 31 percent increase in insulin levels, compared to 12 percent of the peanut group (6).

But, if you can’t live without a little sweetness in your life, cinnamon is an ideal sweet that can lower your insulin (6).

Research shows that spice could lower insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity in both people with Type 2 Diabetes and people who don’t have. While this may be true, it’s important to know that the effects of cinnamon vary from one person to another. It’s definitely worth a try (6).

6. Drink Green Tea

Given the health benefits of green tea, it’s no surprise that it has also been shown to help fight insulin resistance. A review of 17 studies found that green tea significantly lowered insulin levels (6).

Like cinnamon and apple cider vinegar, this may not work for everyone. Since green tea is full of antioxidants and is also known to aid in weight loss, it would make a great addition to your diet (6).

Points to Ponder

While insulin does play a role in how people can gain weight, it does not work solely on its own. Rather, it is part of a bigger interplay of hormones to maintain balance within your body’s system. If you’re aiming to lose weight, keeping your insulin levels low is your best bet.

References:

  1. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/the-truth-about-insulin-carbs-and-weight-loss
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325328
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/14-ways-to-lower-insulin
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305567
  5. https://scottsdaleweightloss.com/news/the-truth-about-insulin-and-weight-loss/
  6. https://greatist.com/health/how-to-lower-insulin#cutting-carbs
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/insulin-and-weight-gain/art-20047836
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