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Improve insulin sensitivity

Dr. Spencer Nadolsky is a practicing medical physician. He is based in Suffolk, Virginia.

Your body is on a never-ending quest for balance. Its ultimate goal is homeostasis, or an active balance, inside every cell. A key way your body regulates itself is through hormone sensitivity and resistance. Being sensitive to a hormone means it only takes a little bit of it to trigger a reaction in your body. Being resistant means it’ll take a far higher exposure to that hormone before your body pays attention. If you want to build lean muscle mass and burn body fat, then your sensitivity to insulin is of critical importance.

The importance of insulin
Insulin is produced in the pancreas and plays numerous roles, including anabolism – or the growth of new muscle tissue through protein synthesis – but the key function is to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat in your body. After you eat and as food is digested, glucose enters your bloodstream. In response, your pancreas secretes insulin to shuttle this energy into muscle cells, fat tissues and your liver.

If your sensitivity to insulin is optimal, then your body will use it to drive glucose and amino acids into your muscle cells where new tissue is grown. The result is a bigger, leaner physique. If your insulin-response levels are not optimal, a scenario that can be caused by many factors, including long-term consumption of simple carbohydrates with subsequent increase in visceral fat, then you are always going to struggle to build a better body.

Insulin sensitivity and resistance is among the most researched metabolic conditions because of its association with type-II diabetes, a growing problem in the Western world because of rising obesity rates. It’s through this research that we know so much about how insulin affects so many aspects of health, including the addition of lean muscle mass and the storage of fat. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, but we also know that we can help restore it to optimal levels through supplementation.

Supplements to promote sensitivity
A resistance to insulin could be a result of a zinc deficiency. Myo-inositol is another molecule shown to improve insulin sensitivity. Taking these two supplements daily may help with insulin resistance.

Zinc Dosage 30mg
Zinc is one of the 24 micronutrients essential for survival. It is found in meat, eggs and pulses. If you are insulin resistant then zinc is excreted in higher doses through urination, and it is lost through sweat, making supplementation very important for athletes and serious gym-goers.

Myo-inositol Dosage 2-4g
Myo-inositol is a small molecule, structurally similar to glucose, that is involved in cellular signalling. Similar to zinc, urinary excretion of inositol derivatives seems to increase in relation to insulin resistance. It appears to have anti-anxiety effects at higher doses, and is quite effective in treating insulin resistance with standard doses.

Secondary steps
If you’re not deficient in zinc and the myo-inositol didn’t help, then these three supplements will improve insulin sensitivity to help build muscle and burn fat.

Creatine Dosage 5g
Creatine is a naturally-occurring organic acid that helps with energy supply to muscle cells. Supplementation appears to augment the exercise-induced uptake of glucose into muscle tissue without necessarily affecting fasting glucose levels. Increased glucose uptake into muscle tissues associated with exercise lowers levels of glycated hemoglobin, the key metric for measuring plasma glucose concentration.

Berberine Dosage 1500mg
Berberine is a supplement extracted from plants and reduces blood-sugar levels by causing cells to take in more glucose. It’s a highly effective supplement and, gram-for-gram, is as potent as the leading pharmaceutical drugs used to fight diabetes.
Studies have shown that taking berberine in three daily doses of 500mg is preferential, and it is advisable to consume it with coconut oil or dairy products to enhance absorption.

Nigella sativa Dosage 2g
Nigella sativa, more commonly known as black cumin, is a medicinal spice that contains a potent bioactive compound known as thymoquinone, which shows promise in treating epilepsy, allergies, and boosting the immune system. Similar to berberine it activates AMPK, an enzyme involved in cellular energy homeostasis, although less potently, but has two other mechanisms of action that are unique. It appears to stimulate PPARY activity, which regulates fatty acid storage and glucose metabolism, and can promote insulin secretion from the pancreas. Two grams of the seeds appears to be the dose required for these effects, and no specific extraction process is needed; seasoning food with black cumin seeds should be effective.

Quick-fix options
There are other supplements that can reduce glucose levels in the blood, but unlike the options above, they have only immediate benefit and are not implicated in improving long-term insulin sensitivity.
Cinnamon can mimic insulin’s effect on a cell, causing it to take in more glucose. The effect is far less potent than insulin, but it does use the same insulin signaling pathway. Be aware that very high doses can cause low blood sugar if not taken with enough carbohydrates. Isoleucine is a branched-chain amino acid that increases the amount of glucose muscles take in. Up to 10g of supplemental isoleucine can improve carbohydrate uptake after meals and even induce muscle protein synthesis.

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