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Insulin boosts type 2 diabetes heart and cancer risk: Fact or myth?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Insulin no risk for heart disease or cancer, finds 6 year study.

Previous studies raise concern that taking insulin might increase heart risks for people living with type 2 diabetes. A new study however, puts those concerns to rest and debunks the myth that long-term insulin use will lead to heart disease or cancer.

Taking insulin for pre-diabetes no heart risk

Dr. Hertzel Gerstein, principal investigator of the study, professor of medicine at McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and deputy director of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences said in a press release:

"People have been debating the question of whether there are adverse consequences to long-term insulin use for years," he said. "This study provides the clearest answer yet to that question: No, there are not."

Patients studied who were given insulin for pre-diabetes experienced the benefit of a 28% lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes, even after daily insulin injections stopped.

The ORIGIN study (Outcome Reduction with an Initial Glargine Intervention study) included 12,500 people at 537 sites in 40 countries, with an average age of 64.

Participants who either had type 2 diabetes or were at high risk received standard treatment or a daily dose of glargine – marketed as Lantus insulin - over a six-year period.

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There were no differences in cardiovascular outcomes or cancer incidence in either of the two groups, suggesting that there is no harm in taking insulin glargine over a long period of time.

Health risks of taking insulin that were confirmed in the study included low blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia and weight gain, both of which were modest.

We now know what the risks are of taking insulin on a long-term basis, and they are low," Gerstein said in a news release.

Another finding from the study was that omega-3 fish oil neither harmed nor prevented deaths from heart disease for patients with diabetes.

The study puts to rest the myth that insulin increases the risk of heart disease or cancer for patients with type 2 diabetes and also shows taking daily injections for pre-diabetes can help prevent the disease, even after insulin is discontinued. The researchers did not study heart or cancer risks for type 1 diabetes that may be different due to different insulin requirements. The finding should help patients with diabetes adhere to their insulin regimen.

American Diabetes Association 72nd Scientific Sessions
June 11, 2012

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