If you struggle with inflammation, gut imbalances, and/or physical inactivity, you may be at a higher risk for insulin resistance. But what is it, and are there ways to treat (or prevent) it? Here’s everything you need to know about impaired insulin sensitivity. 

Did you know that 1/3 of the US population is affected with insulin resistance [1]? Even though it’s quite common, many people are unaware that they even have it. But what is insulin resistance, how does it affect health, and what are some ways you can prevent and treat it? Keep reading to learn more.

What is insulin resistance?

Otherwise known as impaired insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance is when your body’s cells stop responding to insulin due to increased blood glucose levels. As these levels increase your pancreas will produce excess insulin to counteract it, and if this process continues for a prolonged period of time, it can cause elevated blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia), which, over time, leads to pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, impaired insulin sensitivity has been associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) [1].

While this condition can wreak havoc on your health, you can prevent it with certain diet and lifestyle changes.

Common causes

There are numerous reasons that you could develop insulin resistance, but here are some of the most common causes.

  • Excess fat intake. Studies show that the accumulation of fat in the blood causes cells to stop responding correctly to insulin [2]. Elevated levels of fat can be present in the blood due to eating excess calories, which then leads to increases in body fat. Research also shows that overeating, weight gain and obesity all can be strongly associated with those who have insulin resistance [3]. However, this isn’t just for people who are obese or overweight, as it can even occur in those who are underweight.
  • Inflammation. Inflammation increases the amount of oxidative stress that the body undergoes, and has been found to be a leading cause of developing insulin resistance [4].
  • Gut imbalances. Research has shown that people with insulin resistance have different proportions of beneficial and harmful gut flora compared to those who do not have insulin resistance [5]. Furthermore, the higher amount of harmful bacteria causes inflammation within the gut, and can lead to the development of insulin resistance.
  • Physical inactivity. Studies indicate that physical inactivity is correlated to developing impaired insulin sensitivity [6].

Determining insulin resistance

Even though this condition is common, you may not even know you have it. As such, it’s recommended to work with your healthcare provider to do one of the following tests and evaluate the results.

  • Fasting insulin levels in blood. A strong indicator of insulin resistance is high levels of insulin in the blood when fasted.
  • Glucose tolerance test. This test measures your glucose and insulin levels over a long period of time through bloodwork to see how your body responds to a glucose drink.
  • HOMA-IR test. Homeostatic Model Assessment of Insulin Resistance test (HOMA-IR) uses fasting blood glucose and fasting insulin levels to determine how much insulin your body requires to control blood sugar levels.
  • Testing HDL and triglycerides. Low blood levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and high triglycerides blood levels are strongly associated with impaired insulin sensitivity. You can determine these numbers with a simple blood test.

8 ways to treat and/or prevent insulin resistance

Treating and preventing this condition isn’t as daunting as it may seem–through a few diet and lifestyle changes, you can improve overall health and see positive changes in your insulin levels. Here are 8 ways to treat and/or prevent insulin resistance.

1. Reduce your added sugar intake. Added sugars can greatly increase your risk of insulin resistance, so research suggests that by reducing the amount you consume (especially from beverages), you can improve insulin levels and see a positive difference in your health [7]. Instead of reaching for processed, sugar-laden foods, choose foods that contain natural sugars (like fruits) to satisfy your sweet tooth.

2. Consume omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that a high consumption of omega-3’s can reduce impaired insulin sensitivity and lower triglyceride levels in the blood [8]. Foods such as avocados, salmon, olive oil, and chia seeds are rich in omega-3’s, so don’t be shy about including them in your diet.

3. Have a healthy diet. Consuming a diet that’s rich in whole foods and low in processed foods is a surefire way to reduce your risk of insulin resistance. Try including fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, and lean-proteins in your diet, while being mindful to have diversity and variety in your dietary intake.

4. Quit unhealthy habits. Studies show that smoking and alcohol contribute to impaired insulin sensitivity, so it’s recommended to stop or severely limit these unhealthy habits to improve health and insulin levels [9].

5. Regulate your sleep habits. Research suggests that poor sleep habits are correlated with impaired insulin sensitivity [10]. As such, getting enough sleep and regulating your sleep schedule can enhance the quality of your sleep, help with weight management, reduce stress levels, lower inflammation, and improve insulin levels.

6. Increase physical activity. Low levels of physical activity can increase your risk of insulin resistance, so increasing the amount of physical activity can help reverse it [6].

7. Reduce your stress levels. Chronic stress levels can alter the way your body metabolizes glucose and uses insulin [11]. As such, reducing stress levels via yoga, meditation, journaling, walking, or  medication is a great way to decrease your risk.

8. Try supplementation. Magnesium supplements have been associated with improved sleep quality, whereas L-theanine and ashwagandha may have a positive impact on stress levels [12].

If you suffer from impaired insulin sensitivity, it’s recommended to work with your healthcare provider on ways to manage and reduce your levels.


Impaired insulin sensitivity can wreak havoc on your health, but it can be prevented and treated with certain diet and lifestyle changes. If you have this condition, it’s recommended to work with a healthcare provider to manage or reduce your insulin levels and improve overall health.


  1. Kocełak, P., Chudek, J., & Olszanecka-Glinianowicz, M. (2012). Prevalence of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance in overweight and obese women according to the different diagnostic criteria. Minerva endocrinologica, 37(3), 247–254. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22766891/
  2. Guo Z. K. (2007). Intramyocellular lipid kinetics and insulin resistance. Lipids in health and disease, 6, 18. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-6-18
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  8. Flachs, P., Rossmeisl, M., & Kopecky, J. (2014). The effect of n-3 fatty acids on glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity. Physiological research, 63(Suppl 1), S93–S118. https://doi.org/10.33549/physiolres.932715
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  10. Donga, E., van Dijk, M., van Dijk, J. G., Biermasz, N. R., Lammers, G. J., van Kralingen, K. W., Corssmit, E. P., & Romijn, J. A. (2010). A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 95(6), 2963–2968. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2009-2430
  11. Li, L., Li, X., Zhou, W., & Messina, J. L. (2013). Acute psychological stress results in the rapid development of insulin resistance. The Journal of endocrinology, 217(2), 175–184. https://doi.org/10.1530/JOE-12-0559
  12. Baba, Y., Inagaki, S., Nakagawa, S., Kaneko, T., Kobayashi, M., & Takihara, T. (2021). Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study. Journal of medicinal food, 24(4), 333–341. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2020.4803