Post-meal insulin surge not as harmful as thought, study finds

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A new study by researchers at Sinai Health could change how we think about insulin levels after eating.

Dr. Ravi Retnakaran, a renowned scientist from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, part of Sinai Health, led the study investigating how insulin levels after meals affect long-term heart and metabolic health.

The study’s pretty surprising findings have been published in the online journal eClinicalMedicine by the Lancet group.

For a long time, many believed that a quick rise in insulin levels after eating, especially after consuming carbohydrates, was harmful.

It was thought that this spike in insulin could lead to weight gain and insulin resistance – a condition where the body doesn’t respond well to insulin, making it harder to control blood sugar levels. This condition increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Retnakaran, an Endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital and a Professor at the University of Toronto, noticed that many patients believed high insulin levels after eating were terrible for their health.

However, the evidence supporting this idea was not very strong. Most studies either didn’t last very long or only looked at insulin levels without considering other important factors like blood sugar levels.

Dr. Retnakaran’s team conducted a study that followed 306 new mothers over several years to address this gap. The researchers chose new mothers because pregnancy-related insulin resistance can help predict future diabetes risk.

From 2003 to 2014, these women underwent detailed tests for heart and metabolic health one, three, and five years after giving birth. The tests included glucose challenge tests, which measure glucose and insulin levels after drinking a sugary solution.

A key part of this study was looking at the corrected insulin response (CIR), a measure that considers baseline blood sugar levels. This approach is important because everyone’s insulin response differs and depends on how much sugar is already in the blood.

The findings were unexpected. While higher insulin responses initially seemed to be linked with worse health measures like larger waist sizes and higher levels of bad cholesterol and inflammation, these trends were accompanied by better functioning of beta cells – the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Good beta cell function is crucial for lowering the risk of diabetes.

Dr. Retnakaran explains that their results do not support the idea that carbs and insulin spikes lead to obesity. In fact, after adjusting for glucose levels, a strong insulin response after eating was associated with good metabolic health in the future.

This study challenges the widely held belief that high insulin levels after meals are inherently harmful.

In the long term, higher CIR levels are associated with better beta-cell function and lower glucose levels, without negatively impacting body mass index (BMI), waist size, cholesterol levels, inflammation, or insulin sensitivity.

The significance of this research lies in its potential to reshape our understanding of insulin’s role in metabolism and weight management.

Dr. Retnakaran hopes these findings will encourage medical professionals and the public to rethink how they view insulin fluctuations after meals.

This study suggests that a strong insulin response following a meal might not be a cause for concern. Instead, it could be a sign of good metabolic health and a lower risk of developing conditions like pre-diabetes or diabetes in the future.

This research represents a significant shift in our understanding of insulin and its impact on long-term health.

If you care about diabetes, please read studies about new way to achieve type 2 diabetes remission, and one avocado a day keeps diabetes at bay.

For more information about diabetes, please see recent studies about 5 dangerous signs you have diabetes-related eye disease, and results showing why pomegranate is super fruit for people with diabetes.

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