Insulin resistance is a prevalent condition affecting about 15.5 to 46.5% of adults globally. It occurs when the body struggles to utilize insulin efficiently, resulting in an inability to use glucose for energy effectively. This can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and other complications.

"Insulin resistance is simply a situation where receptors for insulin are not taking up insulin... they're resisting it... and then the feedback loop goes back to the pancreas and tells it to make more insulin," says Dr. Eric Berg DC, a chiropractor who specializes in weight loss through nutritional and natural methods. "So you have a situation where you have high levels of insulin, but it's not effective... It doesn't work, and what's wrong with that is that there are a lot of side effects with high insulin: Prediabetes, diabetes, belly fat, artery problems, eye problems, kidney problems... and the list goes on and on," he added.

A well-balanced diet and regular physical activities may improve insulin sensitivity, manage blood sugar levels, and prevent type 2 diabetes-related complications. However, even the best dietary intentions and lifestyle adjustments are sometimes insufficient to address insulin resistance. Studies have shown that people with impaired insulin function often have lower levels of certain vitamins than those without. That's where supplements can come in handy in managing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

However, it's important to note that not every supplement is healthy. In this article, we'll recommend some of the best supplements for individuals with insulin resistance and explore the key factors to determine the best option.

Key Supplements for Insulin Resistance

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a natural antioxidant the body produces and is present in every cell. It plays a vital role in converting glucose into energy.

Antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid combat "free radical" wastes formed during the body's energy production from food. These free radicals can initiate harmful chemical reactions, potentially damaging cells, weakening the immune system, and harming organs and tissues. However, research suggests that taking alpha-lipoic acid supplements may prevent such damage by enhancing blood sugar control, decreasing insulin resistance, and reducing inflammation. Additionally, ALA may offer benefits for peripheral neuropathy, a common diabetes-related condition.

My favorite natural medicine for diabetic neuropathy is alpha-lipoic acid...," begins Dr. Meredith Warner, an Orthopedic Surgeon. "ALA also actually helps you control your glycemic load, and remember, hyperglycemia is one of the core reasons we have all these problems... And ALA helps reduce that," she added.

The suggested daily dose of ALA to address insulin resistance typically ranges from 300 to 1200 milligrams (mg). The supplement is generally considered safe; however, it might interact with certain medications and lead to minor gastrointestinal side effects. Your doctor may recommend a smaller starting dose and gradually increase it to determine your tolerance level.

Chromium

Chromium is an important mineral that helps insulin control blood sugar levels in the body. Insulin is like a helper hormone that turns food (glucose) into energy for daily activities.

Chromium has a tremendous role when it comes to metabolizing sugars working along with insulin so sugar can get in cells properly," says Dr. Alan Mandell.

When chromium levels are low, you may experience raised blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Studies have shown that chromium supplementation may also assist those with insulin resistance to achieve better glycemic control.

The recommended daily dosage of chromium supplements depends on an individual's unique demands or medical conditions. However, adults usually take doses ranging from 200 to 1000 micrograms (mcg) daily.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have been well-researched and found to have enormous anti-inflammatory properties. They are naturally abundant in fish oil and counteract systemic inflammation associated with insulin resistance and metabolic diseases.

"DHA and EPA are the two omega-3 fatty acids, and these two have the capacity to improve insulin sensitivity as well as diabetes type 2," says Dr. Eric Berg, DC. "The question is, why do they work? Number one: They have very powerful anti-inflammatory properties. And anytime you have inflammation, you are going to have insulin resistance because that's one of the triggers. So anything that can reduce inflammation will also help reduce insulin resistance," he added.

The recommended fish oil dosage varies based on individual needs and health conditions. For general health benefits, a daily dose of 1000–2000 mg of combined EPA and DHA is often suggested. If dealing with specific issues like insulin resistance, it's advisable to consult a healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

Also, note that some fish oil brands may be polluted with heavy metals and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Hence, choose fish oil supplements that are molecularly distilled to eliminate any traces of such pollutants.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a crucial nutrient for the body and brain, with a critical role in regulating blood sugar. People with diabetes often experience magnesium deficiencies, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, due to associated insulin resistance.

As we already emphasized, insulin resistance occurs when the body produces insulin, but cells don't respond effectively. This condition leads to the loss of magnesium in urine, contributing to lower magnesium levels. Even some individuals with type 1 diabetes, who may develop insulin resistance, are at risk of magnesium deficiency.

A magnesium supplement can raise magnesium levels in the blood, potentially improving diabetes control. This supplementation might also benefit those with pre-diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels and possibly preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.

However, it's essential to note that not all magnesium supplements are equally helpful for blood sugar management. Magnesium types have different absorption rates and are more suitable for certain health conditions. For instance, magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, and magnesium chloride are great options for managing insulin resistance but may not work at the same level for other related medical problems.

While supplementation can address low magnesium levels, your diet can boost your levels naturally. Foods rich in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, peanut butter, breakfast cereals, avocados, chicken breast, ground beef, broccoli, oatmeal, and yogurt.

According to the NIH, adult females who opt for magnesium supplements should consume 320 to 360 mg, while adult males should aim for 410 mg to 420 mg daily.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin crucial for immune system control, bone health, and cell development. Its deficiency has been associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes risk, according to research.

Another study showed that adequate vitamin D levels enhanced insulin sensitivity and decreased fasting plasma glucose (FPG) in patients with type 2 diabetes.

However, while Vitamin D deficiency is associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, there are still controversies as to whether this deficiency solely and directly causes the disease. Taking Vitamin D supplements for insulin resistance is only recommended where it is clinically determined that low vitamin D levels are the direct cause of the condition and not the other way around. Where insulin resistance is caused by excessive and chronic carb intake, lack of physical activity, and weight gain, Vitamin D deficiency, in this case, might be a symptom of insulin resistance and not a cause. Hence, supplementation may be secondary or outrightly unnecessary. Instead, adopting a healthy diet, an active lifestyle, and losing weight might be the primary solution.

"If Vitamin D deficiency is directly causing the problem, then supplementation will fix it," says Dr. Robert Cywes. "However, if it's just associated with it, in other words, if your vitamin D levels are caused by the disease process rather than (Vitamin D deficiency) causing the disease process... if your vitamin D drops because of the disease, then fixing the vitamin D levels doesn't fix the problem. However, if low vitamin D levels caused the disease, fixing it will fix the problem," he concluded.

Sunlight exposure and foods like fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks are natural vitamin D sources. However, factors like limited sunlight or dietary restrictions may lead to vitamin D insufficiency, and supplementation might be advised in such cases.

Berberine

Berberine is a compound derived from specific plants and traditionally used in Chinese medicine. It has shown consistent evidence of lowering blood glucose levels and HbA1c in people with Type 2 Diabetes. While more research is required, preliminary results are promising. For instance, one study reported a 28.1% reduction in fasting insulin levels and a 44.7% improvement in insulin sensitivity.

For managing insulin resistance, the recommended daily dosage of berberine typically ranges from 500 to 1500 milligrams (mg), divided into multiple doses. It is advisable to start with a lower dosage and gradually increase it under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.

Berberine is recognized as a weak inhibitor of certain cytochrome P450 enzymes, including 2D6, 3A4, and 2C9, found in the liver. These enzymes may cause drug interactions with other prescription or over-the-counter medicines or supplements. Hence, we advise you to seek guidance from a doctor or pharmacist when combining berberine with other medications to avoid potential interactions.

How to Select the Right Supplement for Insulin Resistance

Selecting the right supplement for insulin resistance requires careful consideration to ensure effectiveness and safety. Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision:

  • Check for Third-Party Testing: Look for supplements that have undergone third-party testing for quality and purity. This ensures that the product meets the specifications and is free from contaminants.
  • Avoid Added Sugars and Fillers: Some supplements may contain added sugars or unnecessary fillers that can negatively impact blood sugar levels. Choose a supplement with minimal additives.
  • Consider Individual Needs: Every person is different, and nutritional requirements can vary. Consider factors such as age, gender, and specific health concerns when choosing a supplement.
  • Consult a Healthcare Provider: Consult your doctor before starting any supplement regimen. They will assess your specific health needs, review potential interactions with medications, and provide personalized recommendations.

Other Considerations 

  • Potential Interactions with Medications: Some supplements may interact with other medications. You must consider such possible drug interactions, especially where you are not consulting any pharmacist or doctor.
  • Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels While Taking Supplements: Regularly monitor your progress by tracking relevant health markers such as blood sugar and HBA1c levels. Your doctor will help you adjust your supplement regimen based on your response and changing health conditions.
  • Individual Variation in Supplement Effectiveness: While most of the supplements discussed on this page are proven effective, it is noteworthy that different people respond to treatment differently. So it shouldn't be a surprise if a supplement doesn't work as well or as fast as it did for your neighbor.

Conclusion

Choosing the right supplement for insulin resistance is a proactive step toward supporting overall health and well-being. However, it's crucial to remember that supplements should complement, not replace, a balanced diet, healthy lifestyle, and prescribed medications for insulin resistance. We recommend consulting your doctor before adding new supplements to your routine to ensure they align with your health needs and goals.

Sources

To ensure that we give you correct, accurate, and relevant information, all articles on Diabetic & Me are backed by verified information from academic research papers, well-known organizations, research institutions, and medical associations.

  1. BMC Endocrine Disorders Evaluation of risk factors for insulin resistance: a cross sectional study among employees at a private university in Lebanon
  2. National Library of Medicine Molecular Mechanisms of Chromium in Alleviating Insulin Resistance
  3. National Library of Medicine The Effects of Oral Magnesium Supplementation on Glycemic Response among Type 2 Diabetes Patients
  4. National Library of Medicine Magnesium
  5. American Diabetes Association Low Vitamin D May Contribute to Insulin Resistance
  6. BMC - Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome The effect of vitamin D on insulin resistance in patients with type 2 diabetes
  7. LinkedIn Robert Cywes - Pediatric Surgeon with a special interest in Keto/LCHF Metabolic Management and Bariatric Surgery
  8. LinkedIn Meredith Warner, MD, MBA - Orthopedic Surgeon at Warner Orthopedics and Wellness

About the Author

Ely Fornoville

Hi, I'm Ely Fornoville, and I am the founder of Diabetic Me. Being a type 1 diabetic since 1996, I developed a passion to help people learn more about diabetes. I write about diabetes and share stories from other diabetics around the world. I currently use a Medtronic Guardian 4 CGM and a MiniMed 780G insulin pump with Humalog insulin.

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