Insulin Sensitivity: 5 Ways to Ruin It

Insulin Sensitivity: 5 Ways to Ruin It

Insulin Sensitivity: 5 Ways to Ruin It

1 comment 📅03 June 2015, 11:47
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By Adel Moussa |

Diabetes is only the last station on a very long journey, that starts on the moment we’re born for every one of us. A journey, where over the course of day to day, week for week and year for year our cells react less and less to the signal of the hormone insulin, which gets secreted by the pancreas. But why do more and more people get insulin resistant in the first place? And how can we counteract this epidemic development, which doesn’t affect only obese people?

In today’s article on Aesir Sports I want to tackle this question and I also want to present you a simple 10-step-plan, on how to delay (and even reverse) this process of getting insulin resistant.

For convenience, this program is split into two parts, covering 5 variables per article – five things you have to avoid and five things you have to do regularly to lessen insulin resistance and improve your insulin sensitivity.

Insulin Sensitivity: 5 Ways to Ruin It

5 Things You Have to Avoid to Stay Insulin Sensitive

Since some of these “DO’s” tend to overlap and refer to the “DON’Ts” in this 5.000 words long 2-part article, it makes sense to start with the DON’Ts on the first instalment.

Avoid #1: Being Overweight

Visceral Fat

Not all fat is created equal. The most problematic fat for lean people is the accumulation visceral fat tissue, which might worsen the insulin sensivitiy to a greater degree. (Photo:

Well, this sounds almost too easy, but a normal bodyweight – or, to be more precisely – a low body fat percentage is a fundamental prerequisite for a maximum impact on insulin sensitivity.

But don’t be a fool: Leanness on its own is no guarantee for a high insulin sensitivity. Studies have shown, that the number of lean people with high visceral fat content (e.g. in the belly) is rising steadily. This body fat produces proteins called “cytokines”, that lead to an immune reaction, that hampers the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream. This effect is not correlative, but causative as studies done by Gabriely et al. suggest.

These scientists from the Einstein College in New York demonstrated, that the removal of this visceral belly fat improved insulin sensitivity to a greater degree [1].

Avoid #2: Lack of Activity

Rest intervalls improve insulin sensitivity

Lack of activity leads to a decline in insulin sensitivity. Short (but active) rest intervals during your day can help to lessen insulin resistance by over 20 % (Source: Dunstan (2012))

People who tend to sit around for the whole day rob their muscle of the chance to burn the energy, which is stored as ATP and glycogen in these tissues.

What happens if those energy stores don’t get depleted? The body tends to save the additional incoming energy as body fat. This process doesn’t only lead to overweight, but it also results in a problem, because it takes for the body a lot of time to control the blood sugar after a carbohydrate-rich meal.

In 2012 a group of scientists around David W. Dunstan presented their interesting findings on this topic. These scientists measured the rise of the insulin concentration and blood sugar level after a standardized meal. Dunstan et al. showed, that active rest intervals, which consisted of 14 x 2 minutes and got incorporated in the daily office life, reduced the rise of blood sugar levels and insulin concentration (after the standardized meal) by 21 %, respectively 24. % [2].

To regulate the blood sugar levels our pancreas excretes the hormone insulin, which – just like your shouting mother when you didn’t tidy up your room in the old days – loses its impact.

The result: Your insulin sensitivity declines and the negative effect of your lack of activity potentiates it – a devilish cycle begins.

Avoid #3: A Carbohydrate-Rich and Fat-Rich Meal on the Same Time

A lot of nutritionists still believe that the fat content of our meals is responsible for the decline of insulin sensitivity in the body. Therefore they recommend to limit the daily fat intake to a certain threshold, when in fact it is the combination of carbohydrates and fat that worsens the insulin sensitivity.

Inhibition of sugar uptake through fat

Lots of carbohydrates and fat on the same time are quite a bad idea: Too much triglycerides inhibit glucose uptake from the blood circulation system and vice versa. (Based on data from Nuutila et al. (1992))

While we can force our body to concentrate on the utilization of fat as an energy substrate when on a ketogenic diet (keyword: “Ketosis”), it is just plain overwhelmed with the utilization of big amounts of sugar and fat.

Fat + Carbs = Lower Insulin?! Caution Bro-Science!

It is a big believing on the web that the addition of nutritional fat to a carbohydrate containing meal is able to reduce the total amount of excreted insulin. In fact, the opposite is the truth. Collier & O’Dea showed in 1983, that the combination of 50 grams of butter to 50 grams of potatoes leads to a larger amount of secreted insulin (relative to the blood sugar levels) and thus leads to a reduction of insulin sensitivity (and promotes insulin resistance) [4].

Itoh et al. just recently demonstrated that saturated fats (as in butter, lards and industrial food containing palm fat (“vegetable fats”)) in particular lead to a greater degree of insulin production, because they stimulate a specific “control hormone” called Glucose-dependent Insulinotropic Polypeptide (GIP) [5].


Be aware: The presence of large amounts of free fatty acids and triglycerides in the blood inhibits the uptake of glucose in the muscle and fat cells. This effect leads to a rise in blood sugar concentration and thus the pancreas reacts with an amplified insulin secretion. But since insulin hampers the utilization of fat as an energy substrate it get cleared out pretty slow of the blood circulation.

The result: Another vicious cycle, that leads midterm to a decline in insulin sensitivity. And if this situation gets chronically (like every day) it can lead to a rising risk of developing Diabetes mellitus tremendously.

Avoid #4: Large Intakes of Sugar-Rich Food Stuffs

Softdrinks and insulin sensitivity

A sure way to sabotage your insulin sensitivity: Loading up on sugary soft drinks is not a good idea either. (Bildquelle: Wikimedia / Liftarn/SMC ; Public Domain Licence)

Well, generally speaking sugar (and fructose) aren’t really a bad thing, but for the Average Joe, who spends most of his day in the office (and therefore doesn’t burn lots of glycogen due to a lack of activity) those sugar laden meals might pose a real problem. Glycogen levels remain filled and high and the glucose (out of simple carbohydrate, softdrinks and snacks) doesn’t really has anywhere to go, where it might serve a useful purpose (except storing energy aka body fat).

Since “complex carbohydrates” (long polymerized sugar chains) first have to get broken down in the digestive tract to “simple carbohydrates” (glucose) the blood sugar levels tend to rise slowly and steadily. On the other side we have food stuffs that contains these simple carbohydrate – sugar – in big quantities and these little fellows tend to flood the blood circulatory system like a Tsunami.

Here they can serve three purposes:

  • Fuel the muscles, brain and liver or
  • get burned for energy in other organs or
  • get stored as glycogen in muscle and liver.

If this is not possible (because 1.) no energy is needed right now or 2.) stores are already full) there is only one way to go – right into the fat cells.

Did you ever wonder why “fat cells” are called “fat cells” in the first place? Well, most certainly not because they store sugar (glucose). To store the energy on a mid- and long-term basis it needs to get converted to triglycerides and this is a very complex and energy demanding process (even if these cells aren’t filled to the maximum). Regulating blood sugar levels might be a real challenge for our body if it gets constantly flooded with simple carbohydrates.

The result: Although the insulin levels rise, the blood sugar concentration does not, while our liver is producing triglycerides like crazy [6]. This might slow the rising blood sugar a little bit, but our fat cells – which used to convert this glucose to fat themselves – doesn’t take up any sugar anymore. They just take the fat, that is circulating in the blood instead and store it for the “bad times” (that will probably never come).


If you just start to consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates the same scenario, as described in point #3, manifests itself pretty soon: We get high levels of glucose and triglycerides in the blood circulatory system that inhibit the uptake of each other (because these triglycerides tend to amplify the insulin concentration [7]).

Fructose and impact on triglyceride level

Fructose: Higher impact on triglyceride levels and thus even worse when consumed as a beverage. (Source: Teff (2009))

And what about the so-healthy fructose? Things get even worse, because the utilization is more limited and works even slower. Once the liver has stored its fair share of glycogen the remaining sugar gets transformed into fat and send into the fat deposits [8]. And since the fructose (from liquids) gets converted into huge amounts of triglycerides in the liver (which exert an inhibiting effect on the utilization of glucose) this effect is more profound that with simple carbohydrates like glucose itself (this doesn’t has to apply to whole fruits, though) [9].

Avoid #5: Stress and Lack of Sleep

It is well-known that a chronic lack of sleep adds to the development of Diabetes mellitus (Type II), but is not so well-known that even one day with lack of sleep can reduce insulin sensitivity in healthy young persons (- 20 %) [10]. (Party animals, TV- and Internet-Junkies like to forget about this).

Therefore it shouldn’t be a real surprise to you that a lot of epidemiological studies (large study groups consisting of tens of thousands of people) show that people, who get less than 6 hours per day have a 28 % higher risik of developing Diabetes (“Insulin Resistance”).

Lack of sleep and diabetes risk

A meta-analysis (studies about studies) with more than 10.000 participants suggests, that not being able to fall asleep or the ability to sleep through the whole night, leads to a stronger rise in the risk of developing Diabetes than a lack of sleep (5-6h per day) (Cappuchino et al. (2009).

This meta study (13 total studies with a total of 107.756 participants) demonstrated, that sleep quality has a bigger impact on the risk of developing Diabetes than the duration of sleep itself. For example: insomniac people have a 57 % higher risk while those who can’t sleep through the whole night display an even large effect of 84 %.

Of course: Lack of sleep isn’t the only stress factor we have to endure. It looks like psychosocial stress (e.g. at the working place) or stress in our private life tends to worsen insulin sensitivity, too [12]. It remains a topic of question how this might affect insomnia and the missing ability to sleep through the whole night, but one can assume that there might be an impact on some of those 107.756 participants from the meta study conducted by Cappucino et al..

Final words

Speaking of stress: All of you who can imagine that Damian and myself can’t pay the rent and our daily food costs with writing articles, will understand deep down that I will postpone the discussion on the 5 DO’s for the ideal insulin sensitivity to the second part of this article series. Plain and simple: It would be really scary if I wouldn’t follow my own advices to limit stress (and thus heightening the risk of damaging my own insulin sensitivity).

And by the way: Covering lipoic acid, cinnamon and substances of that sort, we’ll discuss a broad range of supplements, which you guys might add to your already quite comprehensive supplement stack. Don’t get stressed out, once you realize that you didn’t follow this DON’T’s which got discussed in this article – and if you now think that the first part didn’t bestow any new insights to you –  the next one will be worth your time. I promise that.

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About the Author

Suppversity by Adel MoussaAddel Moussa (Suppversity): “In the seminars I hold in the faculty of physics at the university, the main point lies in conveying data, facts and techniques to the students, which – although not related to religion – that are as safe as the “gospels truth”. It is hard to find these “buts” (data and facts) on the internet, when it comes down to searching for information on training, nutrition and supplementation. Well, at least it was like that 4 years ago and it was reason enough for me to launch my own blog on this area.

The Name “SuppVersity” – you can already hear the word “University” and “Supplement” out of this name – says it all. At I discuss and scrutinize the latest studies in the area of training, nutrition and health, looking steadily for something that might not even exist: the ideal workout, nutrition and supplement plan for me, you and everyone else.”

References (click to expand)

[1] Gabriely, I., et al. (2002): Removal of Visceral Fat Prevents Insulin Resistance and Glucose Intolerance of Aging An Adipokine-Mediated Process? In: Diabetes. URL:

[2] Dunstan, DW., et al. (2012): Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses. In: Diabetes care. URL:

[3] Nuutila, P., et al. (1992): Glucose-free fatty acid cycle operates in human heart and skeletal muscle in vivo. In: Journal of Clinical Investigation. URL:

[4] Collier, G. / O’Dea, K. (1983): The effect of coingestion of fat on the glucose, insulin, and gastric inhibitory polypeptide responses to carbohydrate and protein. In: The American journal of clinical nutrition. URL:

[5] Itoh, K., et al. (2014): High saturated fatty acid intake induces insulin secretion by elevating gastric inhibitory polypeptide levels in healthy individuals. In: Nutrition Research. URL:

[6] Kuo, PT. / Bassett, DR. (1965): Dietary Sugar In The Production Of Hyperglyceridemia. In: Annals Of Internal Medicine. URL:

[7] Olefsky, JM. / Farquhar, JW. / Reaven, GM. (1974): Reappraisal of the role of insulin in hypertriglyceridemia. In: The American journal of medicine. URL:

[8] Thorburn, Aw., et al. (1989): Fructose-induced in vivo insulin resistance and elevated plasma triglyceride levels in rats. In: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. URL:

[9] Teff, KL., et al. (2009): Endocrine and metabolic effects of consuming fructose-and glucose-sweetened beverages with meals in obese men and women: influence of insulin resistance on plasma triglyceride responses. In: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. URL:

[10] Donga, E, et al. (2010): A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. In: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. URL:

[11] Cappuccio, FP., et al. (2010): Quantity and Quality of Sleep and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes A systematic review and meta-analysis. In: Diabetes care. URL:

[12] Räikkönen, K, et al. (1996): Psychosocial stress and the insulin resistance syndrome. In: Metabolism. URL:

Picture sources: Flickr / Jahred Zammit ; CC Lizenz


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