There is no shortage of charlatans claiming that if you take their supplement you can magically improve insulin resistance and other associated health conditions. However, improving a complex metabolic condition like insulin resistance takes more than a daily pill or potion to effect change. The supplement industry is also unregulated, and supplement companies might make sweeping claims that may or may not be backed by science. We spoke to dietitians and nutrition experts to find out exactly which supplements they caution against when it comes to insulin resistance and your metabolic health.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is an umbrella term used to describe the phenomenon that happens when folks are producing too much insulin and their cells become accustomed to having it around, and thus, stop responding. “Your pancreas is responsible for producing insulin from the beta cells. When there is too much sugar in the bloodstream, your pancreas struggles with meeting the demands of extra insulin, and then the insulin that is produced is not efficiently used by the body,” shares Letal Yerganjiev, M.S., RDN, CDCES, RYT

If insulin was a solicitor, always knocking at your door, you would eventually learn to ignore them. Similarly, our cells begin to ignore insulin knocking at the door to let it in. We often see insulin resistance associated with obesity, diabetes and prediabetes, heart disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

It’s important to know that insulin resistance can be improved over time. With healthy lifestyle changes, you can increase how sensitive your body is to insulin knocking at the door, and allow your cells to let it in more effectively.

The 4 Supplements You Shouldn’t Be Taking If You Have Insulin Resistance

Most supplements are not carefully regulated and can make certain issues such as insulin resistance worse, Yerganjiev offers. Here are four common supplements that experts recommend against taking if you have insulin resistance. 

1. Bitter Melon

Trending on social media, you may have seen influencers telling you that bitter melon supplements will improve insulin resistance. However, there is a significant amount of conflicting research, and experts agree that we can’t make such a conclusive claim at this time.

Bitter melon is a supplement you should be concerned about taking if you are insulin-resistant, Amy Beney, M.S., RD, CDCES, tells us. Research into bitter melon has had conflicting results. It is believed to help prevent glucose absorption in the small intestine and decrease how the body forms blood sugar, also known as hepatic gluconeogenesis, according to a 2021 study in Diabetes Spectrum, Beney continues. 

That said, bitter melon may interfere with other medications and might lead to unpleasant symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and intestinal problems. Needless to say, more research is needed to clarify the long-term effects and safety of bitter melon for those with insulin resistance. 

2. BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), often popularized for pre-and post-workout muscle growth, seem to have some associated risks for folks who have insulin resistance. Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., RD, LD, explains more about the current research: “Individuals with insulin resistance may want to avoid taking branched-chain amino acids. High levels of BCAAs have been linked with exacerbation of insulin resistance and risk for diabetes, from a 2019 study published in Diabetes.” 

3. Apple-Cider Vinegar Gummies

Although commonly cited as a blood-sugar-lowering supplement, there is very little research that shows this supplement is effective for managing blood sugar or insulin resistance. Instead, you’re better off focusing on lifestyle changes that help manage blood sugar, like a balanced diet that is low in added sugar, increasing physical activity and managing your stress levels. 

While there is some research to show that apple-cider vinegar itself may improve blood sugar response and blood cholesterol levels, we don’t have much evidence to support gummies having the same effect. In fact, logistically, it would likely be difficult to consume in gummy form the effective dose of apple-cider vinegar needed to improve insulin resistance.

4. Caffeine Pills 

If you consistently rely on caffeine to keep your energy levels up throughout the day, you might be increasing your blood sugar while you’re at it. Caffeine can cause a cascade effect of stress reactions, like elevating cortisol levels which in turn can cause short spikes in blood sugar. Elevated cortisol also seems to be associated with worsened insulin resistance, according to a 2023 paper in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Similarly, elevated blood sugar levels are associated with insulin resistance, especially if you have an increased risk of prediabetes or diabetes.

However, coffee itself seems to have a long-term net positive effect on blood sugar levels. You might consider getting your caffeine fix in coffee-cup form rather than supplementing with caffeine pills. 

Tips for Healthy Eating If You Have Insulin Resistance

“Focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods like nonstarchy vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and foods that are high in added sugar and saturated fat,” shares dietitian Victoria Whittington, RDN.

Instead of looking for a magic-bullet supplement to improve insulin resistance, consider making some lifestyle changes first. Changing your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, high-fiber grains, healthy fats and lean proteins will all help improve insulin sensitivity. In addition to nutrition changes, improving your activity levels is another hugely impactful habit you can focus on to improve insulin sensitivity. When we exercise, our muscles take up blood sugar more effectively and can reduce insulin resistance over time.

It’s not just what you’re eating, but also paying attention to not going too long without eating and staying hydrated: “Eat on a regular schedule, don’t skip meals, prioritize protein and stay hydrated to help with insulin resistance,” Yerganjiev adds.

Blood-Sugar-Friendly Recipes to Try: 

The Bottom Line

There is not one singular supplement that can improve insulin resistance. While insulin resistance is a very real health condition with risks associated with it, you can have control over improving it by adjusting your lifestyle to improve your health. Focus on making simple swaps to include more lean proteins, high-fiber foods, fruits and vegetables for better insulin sensitivity. Don’t forget about exercise and hydration levels to improve insulin resistance, too. 

Before you spend your hard-earned dollars on supplements that might be harmful, consider making lifestyle changes first.

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