Nutrition

4 Supplements to Help You Manage Insulin Resistance

4 minutes read

Insulin resistance is a complex condition that can't be resolved with a single supplement. If left unchecked, insulin resistance may progress to type 2 diabetes and heighten your risk of other chronic conditions. 

Diet plays a crucial role in managing this condition. A poor diet high in processed foods and refined carbohydrates worsens insulin resistance, while a metabolically healthy diet, along with exercise, good sleep, and stress management, can help control and even reverse it.

Food goes beyond fuel, providing essential vitamins and micronutrients crucial for bodily functions.

While the body can produce some nutrients itself, many must be obtained from the diet. If you have a diverse, balanced diet and no health issues, supplements may not be necessary.

A diet consisting of mainly whole foods can offer a synergistic blend of nutrients including fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, that when consumed together as part of a food matrix, improve the absorption and utilization of these health-promoting nutrients [1]. This balance is challenging for supplements to replicate.

However, industrial farming and nutrient-depleted soil have led to a decline in micronutrient content in our whole foods [2]. Other factors such as chronic inflammation and frequent antibiotic use further hinder nutrient absorption [3]. Finally, micronutrient and vitamin deficiencies are associated with conditions like type 2 diabetes, therefore, together making a case for supplement use [4]. 

Recognizing the chronic disease epidemic and the need to democratize healthcare while empowering patients grappling with insulin resistance is clear. Certain supplements can play a significant role in rebalancing insulin-sensitizing pathways and, when paired with a healthy lifestyle, enhance and optimize metabolic health. 

Here are our 4 top evidence-based supplement recommendations to consider if you’re battling insulin resistance, are struggling to access healthy whole foods, or are looking for a metabolic “insurance policy” alongside a healthy diet.

1. Coenzyme Q10 

Mitochondrial dysfunction, a determining factor of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, results in ineffective handling of nutritional fuel sources, triggering a cascade of reactions leading to oxidative stress, inflammation, and impaired insulin signaling [5]. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which chemically resembles a fat-soluble vitamin, plays a vital role in the energy-generating process of respiration inside mitochondria [6]. 

Also functioning as an antioxidant, CoQ10 protects cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. CoQ10 supplementation has been explored for the treatment of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and studies have yielded promising conclusions [7]. 

In women with type 2 diabetes, a randomized controlled trial involving CoQ10 showed improvements, including reductions in fasting blood glucose and LDL cholesterol, along with increased levels of HDL cholesterol [8]. A comprehensive meta-analysis and systematic review, encompassing 40 studies and 2,424 participants, explored the optimal CoQ10 dose for glycemic control [9]. The findings revealed that CoQ10 significantly reduced fasting glucose, fasting insulin, HbA1c, and circulating insulin levels, with a more pronounced effect observed in diabetic individuals. The study concluded that a daily dose of 100-200 mg of CoQ10 could yield the most substantial benefits.

The takeaway

CoQ10 is naturally found in foods like spinach, broccoli, nuts, and meats. However, the body can only absorb a small amount of this micronutrient from food, about 2–5 mg/day, due to its particular chemical properties. For individuals with insulin resistance and diabetes, supplementation with CoQ10 may be beneficial. 

While there are no strict recommendations on dose, 100-200 mg per day seems to be optimal to improve markers of metabolic health [9]. 

2. Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids, widely studied and recommended for various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and dementia, are also investigated for their potential in addressing insulin resistance due to their powerful anti-inflammatory properties [10, 11]. 

The main omega-3s in question – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – are essential fatty acids, meaning they have to be consumed through dietary intake or via supplementation since the body cannot produce them itself.

A 12-week study involving 60 diabetic patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) demonstrated improvements in the fatty liver index, lipid storage, and visceral belly fat following omega-3 supplementation [12]. Additionally, a meta-analysis involving women with gestational diabetes revealed that omega-3 supplementation decreased levels of fasting plasma glucose and inflammatory factors, improved blood lipid metabolism, and reduced insulin resistance [13].

The takeaway

EPA and DHA have direct health benefits and are found in fatty fish and algae. While ALA, found in certain plants, can be converted to EPA and DHA, its low conversion rate makes direct intake crucial [14]. Be sure to opt for high-quality, purified fish or algae oil supplements to avoid pollutants and to meet omega-3 needs, as Americans are not consuming enough of these foods in their diet. 

A daily intake of 1,100 mg ALA for women and 1,600 mg for men is recommended, with at least 250 mg combined DHA/EPA per day [15]. Although some health experts suggest up to 2,000 mg EPA/DHA daily can help achieve optimal results, particularly for addressing inflammation, and associated cardiometabolic issues.

3. Alpha-lipoic acid

Separate from the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) mentioned above, alpha-lipoic acid is a vitamin-like organic compound that acts as an antioxidant and is synthesized naturally in the mitochondria. The two are often confused because of their shared abbreviation but are very different compounds with different effects on the body. 

Alpha-lipoic acid works by reducing oxidative stress, combating harmful free radicals, and preventing the development of chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and associated complications such as neuropathies [16].

A systematic review and meta-analysis revealed that supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid in individuals with various metabolic conditions significantly improved key markers such as fasting glucose, insulin, HbA1c, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels [17]. Furthermore, an analysis of 11 relevant studies revealed that alpha-lipoic acid significantly lowered levels of inflammatory markers [18].

The takeaway

Alpha-lipoic acid occurs naturally in various foods such as red meats, organ meats, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and green peas, however, individuals with clinical conditions such as insulin resistance or diabetes may benefit from an additional boost via a supplement [19]. While there's no specific recommended dosage, most evidence supports a range of 300–600 mg per day as both effective and safe [20].

4. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral, and activates enzymes crucial for vital biochemical reactions such as regulating vitamin D levels and thyroid function, and acting as an antioxidant to quell oxidative stress. Zinc is also necessary for the synthesis, storage, and release of insulin from pancreatic beta cells, making its deficiency a factor in insulin resistance [21].

A recent meta-analysis, including approximately 650 overweight patients, investigated the impact of zinc supplementation on blood sugar control [22]. The results indicated a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose and other metabolic markers compared to control groups. In diabetic patients, another meta-analysis and systematic review found that zinc supplementation significantly improved lipid profiles, especially in zinc-deficient individuals [23]. 

The takeaway

Obtaining sufficient zinc is feasible through a well-balanced diet rich in meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy. For those with conditions like insulin resistance, supplements can ensure the recommended daily intake of elemental zinc (around 15-30 mg) [24]. Be aware that it’s important not to exceed 40 mg daily, as this may result in adverse effects like nausea, vomiting, and chronic copper deficiency.

Key takeaways

It’s key to remember that optimal health outcomes are often achieved through regular dietary intake of minerals, especially when consumed in their natural whole food matrix. Furthermore, the body is more adept at regulating the absorption of micronutrients from food, minimizing the risk of overconsumption and potential toxicity.

But in some cases, supplements may be a good idea. Supplements offer benefits, particularly in addressing deficiencies linked to health conditions like insulin resistance, and trying some of these evidence-based vitamins and minerals may help to improve the efficacy of diet-based health interventions to address metabolic disease. 

  • Whole foods provide essential vitamins and micronutrients crucial for bodily functions, however, factors like nutrient-depleted soil and chronic inflammation may lead to nutrient deficiencies, increasing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. 
  • Managing insulin resistance involves a metabolically healthy diet, exercise, good sleep, and stress management, however, evidence suggests supplementing with CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-lipoic acid, and zinc can be beneficial for those with insulin resistance. 
  • Strategic supplementation of specific micronutrients can significantly improve metabolic health, but proper dosages are crucial; consult healthcare professionals to avoid adverse effects.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2731586/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8801175/
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/all.15972
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2314808X.2021.1945395
  5. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.107.165472
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235238591830032X
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4939545/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29365333/
  9. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(22)00332-7/fulltext
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262608/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37028557/
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2405457721002266
  13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1056872723000491#preview-section-references
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564314/
  15. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-omega-3#health-conditions
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25949771/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29990473/
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0939475318301248
  19. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1734114011706004
  20. https://examine.com/supplements/alpha-lipoic-acid/
  21. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/poor-zinc-status-is-associated-with-increased-risk-of-insulin-resistance-in-spanish-children/3D8B1C9142DBFCE812F88A4F252AE405
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37385909/
  23. https://advances.nutrition.org/article/S2161-8313(23)01356-X/fulltext
  24. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc-supplements#dosage 

Written by: Natalie Falshaw
Reviewed by: Emily Johnson, MSc RD

Table of Contents

  • 1. Coenzyme Q10
  • 2. Omega-3s
  • 3. Alpha-lipoic acid
  • 4. Zinc
  • Key takeaways

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