Insulin surge post meal could indicate good health

Increased insulin levels lead to better beta-cell function, thereby lowering diabetes risk

Representative Image of an Insulin pen / Dennis Klicker

A rise in insulin after meals could be an indicator of good health, a recent study has found.

The study, led by Ravi Retnakaran, a clinician-scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, a part of Sinai Health and the University of Toronto, aimed to analyze the relationship between insulin levels before and after eating, along with long-term heart and metabolic health.

It explored how insulin levels after meals impact cardiometabolic health. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, in reaction to food eaten with carbohydrate content. It moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells.

Notably, diabetics are known to be insulin resistant, which means while the insulin is produced, cells don’t respond to it as expected.

Earlier, studies found that frequent blood sugar spikes after meals could exacerbate the onset of kidney disease. Type 2 diabetics may also experience cardiovascular problems when there are frequent post-meal blood sugar spikes.

With the study, Sinai Health and UToronto researchers aimed to provide a clear picture of the effects of increased insulin in the body post meals over an extended period.

Retnakaran explained he often encounters patients who have adopted the notion from internet research that insulin peaks cause weight gain, and that they can’t have their insulin levels go too high.

“The science is just not conclusive enough to support this notion. Most studies on this topic were either conducted over a short period or were based on inadequate insulin measurements in isolation that are inadequate and can be misleading, “ said Retnakaran.

His team looked at cardiometabolic implications of insulin response (corrected insulin response (CIR)) over the long term, in a way that accounts for baseline blood sugar levels, Each person’s insulin response varied depending on how much sugar is in their blood, leading to keeping baseline levels as key for research.

The study revealed surprising trends. As the corrected insulin response increased, waist circumference worsened, and so did HDL (good cholesterol) and insulin resistance. However, these trends were accompanied by better beta-cell function. Beta cells produce insulin, and the better the beta function, the lower the risk of diabetes.

“Not only does a robust post-challenge insulin secretory response not indicate adverse cardiometabolic health, but rather it predicts favorable metabolic function in the years to come,” the scientist added.

It was also discovered that women with the highest CIR had a significantly reduced risk of developing pre-diabetes or diabetes in the future.

Retnakaran hopes that the study’s findings will reshape how medical professionals view insulin’s role in metabolism and weight management.