Understanding blood sugar balance & insulin resistance
Type 2 diabetes is a condition which develops most often between the ages of 40 and 50. It is caused by the body becoming resistant to insulin – the substance produced by the pancreas to deal with sugars.
There are many reasons why people may develop this condition, and some warning signs that you may be at risk:
• Do you often feel hungry even after food?
• Do you crave sweet food, bread or pasta?
• Do you feel angry, irrational or upset when you are hungry?
• Do you every get shaky when you are hungry?
• Is your weight gain mostly around your middle?
• Do you feel tired all the time?
• Do you suffer with high cholesterol or high blood pressure?
• Do you struggle to shift that weight around your middle?
• Are you often thirsty?
• Do you wake up in the night?
• Does exercise not seem to make much difference to your weight loss?
If you have answered yes to quite a lot of those questions, then the chances are that your problems are due to an imbalance in your blood sugar levels.
Did you know, for example, that your body can only burn fat during exercise if your blood sugar levels are stable? Understanding blood sugar balance, and its impact on our weight and health, can be vital in achieving successful weight loss and in trying to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. I will try and explain why…
1. When we eat sugary foods, or simple carbohydrates like white bread, glucose (sugar) is released and enters our blood stream.
2. Glucose is needed by every cell in the body to make it work properly. So, our body produces insulin, which acts like the dinner bell, to warn the cells of the body that dinner (glucose) is on its way and to get ready for it.
3. When we have more sugar than our cells need, the remaining spare glucose will then be stored as fat.
If the excess glucose is stored as visceral fat, around your tummy area, as it builds up it can cause the cells to become deaf to insulin when it rings the dinner bell – consequently the cells go hungry and all the glucose is stored in the fat.
BUT, the cells have now not been fed. Their energy levels are low, so they send out messages to your brain to tell you they need some food – preferably sugar – which you will provide.
Unfortunately, however, the cells don’t listen to the insulin properly again, so they don’t get as much food as they want. Again, the glucose will be stored as fat and sugar cravings will hit, and so the cycle continues. This problem is known as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance makes weight loss nearly impossible, and sugar cravings will probably make many of the diets out there very difficult to stick to anyway.
As this problem develops so does the risk of type 2 diabetes.
So, what can we do to deal with insulin resistance?
• Avoid having too much sugar or refined ‘white’ foods (white bread, white pasta etc.) and concentrate on fresh, unprocessed foods, wholegrains and protein.
• Many people do not eat enough protein – that’s eggs, meat, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds and beans. Aim to have protein with at least two meals a day. If you have blood sugar issues then really protein at all three is desirable, as it really helps slow down the release of sugar.
• If you have a sweet tooth and don’t know how you will cope, then try xylitol instead of sugar. Xylitol is a natural substance which provides sweetness without any blood sugar problems.
• Alcohol, caffeine and smoking all play havoc with your blood sugar levels, so should all really be kept to a minimum.
• Exercise could also help to get rid of some of that visceral fat.
There are certain supplements which may help to support healthy blood glucose levels and improve the response to insulin. The ones I have previously suggested to clients include magnesium, chromium and cinnamon.
MAGNESIUM: Magnesium and insulin are intricately linked, and studies have shown that people with low magnesium levels have an increased risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Additional research has also shown that magnesium could help to reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control. Magnesium is depleted by tea, coffee, cola and high sugar diets – so many people will have low levels. Therefore, anyone who is suffering from the symptoms of insulin resistance could find using magnesium supplements helpful. (1, 2)
CHROMIUM: Chromium helps to support healthy blood glucose levels and helps to regulate insulin. Research into the benefits of chromium have shown that diets which are deficient in it are linked to blood sugar imbalance, which can be corrected by taking chromium supplements. (3)
CINNAMON: Several studies have linked cinnamon to better blood sugar levels, indicating that it could help to reduce insulin resistance. Cinnamon could be added to foods or drink, or even utilized as a supplement. (4)
** IMPORTANT NOTE: Although we mention diabetes in this blog, we are not talking about measures to deal with diabetes. The suggestions laid out in this post are aimed at those who would like to prevent the development of diabetes. Anyone who does have diabetes should consult their healthcare practitioner before embarking on any of the changes or supplements mentioned in this article. **
Written by Jenny Logan DN Med. (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years.)
1. G. Paolisso et al; Magnesium and glucose homeostasis; Diabetologia; September 1990, Volume 33, Issue 9, pp 511–514
2. Martha Rodríguez-Morán et al; Oral Magnesium Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Control in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects; Diabetes Care 2003 Apr; 26(4): 1147-1152.
3. R A Anderson et al; Supplemental-chromium effects on glucose, insulin, glucagon, and urinary chromium losses in subjects consuming controlled low-chromium diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 54, Issue 5, 1 Nov 1991, 909–916,
4. Agricultural Research Magazine; Cinnamon Extracts Boost Insulin Sensitivity; Anderson, R. et al.; July 2000.