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Flaxseed & Flaxseed Oil
Regardless of Flax seeds or oils effects on insulin sensitivity, I would recommend supplementing with both, but that's an article for another time. For now, let's stick to the topic at hand.
Flax (meaning both seeds and oil) is a good source of -linolenic acids and is the precursor of the n-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid docosahexaenoic acid, found in fish.
Researchers know that total fat content of the diet can affect insulin sensitivity. As we know, all fats aren't created equal so wondering about the total fat content of the diet merely scratches the surface. Therefore, researchers have recently began delving into whether specific types of fat also affect insulin sensitivity. This is where flax seed comes into play.
One study that was presented about a decade ago at the 55th Conference of the Flax Institute of the United States (yes, there actually is such a thing) demonstrated that the addition of flaxseed to a rat's diet actually re-sensitized "insulin resistant" receptor's in the animals cells.
Another study demonstrated that supplementing with flaxseed oil improved insulin sensitivity in overweight, postmenopausal women. But even if I am off with this data extrapolation, flaxseed oil is still a darn good investment.
Ground flaxseed (1-2 TBS/day). (you must grind the flax seeds to obtain the benefits; otherwise, they will pass right through undigested)
Flax seed oil (dependent on other types of fat in the diet. Shoot for a 3 or 4:1 ratio between n-3's and other fats in the diet)
The seed of this plant is commonly used in other countries and evidence has shown it may exert a hypoglycemic effect. Its mechanism appears to be due to a compound known as 4-hydroxyisoleucine (4-OH-Ile), which is a constituent that makes up about 80% of the total content of free amino acids extracted from the fenugreek seeds.
4-Oh-Ile is an amino acid present only in plants and recent research discovered that 4-OH-Ile actually stimulates glucose-induced insulin stimulation from the -cells in the pancreas. What's interesting (well, to me at least) is that this glucose-dependent insulin-stimulating effect occurs only in the presence of moderate-high glucose concentrations. This may translate to helping lower the normal meal-induced rise blood glucose.
Now, be forewarned, fenugreek may come with some side effects very similar to what I described earlier with bitter melon. Don't say I didn't tell you. Also, there is some concern that fenugreek might have additive effects to antiocoagulant or antiplatelet drugs so use caution and speak with your physician if you are taking any of those medications.
While some believe that the popularity of chromium died in the early 90's, it's somehow been able to hold on to its over-hyped claims to enhance weight loss. Chromium is the second most popular mineral sold, second only to calcium! Nevertheless, there may be some benefit from chromium supplementation if you have impaired glucose tolerance.
Chromium is an essential nutrient involved in normal carbohydrate metabolism. Chromium levels may decrease with age and from exercise. Chromium requirements are increased with glucose intolerance and diabetes. Therefore, it is sometimes recommended as a conjunctive therapy for those with type II diabetes to enhance glucose disposal and insulin variables, but not all studies support that belief.
A 2002 meta-analysis (review which compares a number of studies with like-characteristics) reviewed the literature on glucose and insulin responses in healthy, non-diabetic subjects.
After scrutinizing 20 different randomized, clinical trials assessing the effect of chromium on glucose, insulin, and glycated hemoglobin (a measure of blood glucose over the past 3-months), the authors concluded that "data from randomized clinical trials show no effect of chromium on glucose or insulin concentrations in nondiabetic subjects."
They did note that the studies reviewed had too few subjects with glucose intolerance (but not diabetic); however, the one study that did measure this found no effect from chromium.
This isn't to say that meta-analyses are the gold-standard by any means, but at this point chromium doesn't have much efficacy for healthy subjects. I guess the over-hyped ads promoting its use will remain just that; over hyped junk.
Anyhow, if you're still supplementing with chromium and wondering why you haven't lost any body fat, let me introduce you to my friend Betty who has been in the same step aerobics class for 10 years; she's wondering the same thing.
There are actually 100's more supplements, herbs, and even spices that may in fact positively affect insulin sensitivity. Some, like cinnamon and clove, are a little too new to report on; others, like quei fu di huang wan (no joke) I left out because I wanted to save you from the embarrassment of asking for that at your local supplement store.
If you plan to give any of these a whirl, I would recommend introducing them one at a time and not combining them with any prescription medications, such as insulin or metformin which are prescribed with the same intention as these supplements.
Finally, speak with your physician to ensure there are no additive effects that could be harmful if you are on other medications.
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