Extra dose of insulin after eating could reduce risk of heart disease for type 1 diabetics

by Barbara Hewitt on June 7, 2017

An injection of insulin three hours after eating has been shown to protect people with type 1 diabetes from cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death among people with the condition.

The simple treatment allows people with type 1 diabetes to regulate their blood sugar levels better and also reduces fat and inflammatory markers in the blood that can damage blood vessels and cause heart disease.

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Scientists from Leeds Beckett University in the UK began a small preliminary clinical trial and found the results were so promising that they are now looking to continue with a larger trial over a longer period to look at blood vessel health and diabetes control.

It is important research as people with type 1 diabetes are up to 10 times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than the general population, and the condition accounts for more than half of all deaths in those with the condition. However, the researchers point out that people should seek medical advice before altering their insulin injection regime.

Most people with type 1 diabetes regulate their blood sugar levels by injecting insulin throughout the day. The dose after mealtimes is usually calculated from the amount of carbohydrate in the meal. But this doesn’t account for how much fat is in the food, which is broken down by the body at a slower rate than carbohydrate.

‘Many people with type 1 diabetes struggle to regulate their blood sugar levels around mealtimes, because the fat content in their food is metabolised after their standard insulin injection has lost its potency or has left their blood,’ said co-author of the study, Dr Matthew Campbell.

‘Most meals in a typical UK diet have a high fat content, and slower metabolism of this fat can lead to raised blood sugar levels with the risk of hyperglycaemia and also higher levels of fat and inflammatory markers in the blood, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease,’ he explained.

The small trial held at the NIHR Newcastle Clinical Research Facility involved 10 men with type 1 diabetes who were given three meals with identical carbohydrate and protein content. One of the meals had a low fat content and two had a high fat content. With the low fat meal, the volunteers administered their insulin dose as normal, calculated by the carbohydrate levels in the food.

The volunteers did the same after one high fat meal, but with the other, they also administered a further insulin injection of one third of the original dose, three hours after eating. Blood samples were taken for analysis every half hour, until six hours after eating.

The research team found that after the high fat meal and the standard insulin injection, sugar, fat and inflammatory markers in the blood were significantly elevated six hours after eating. However, when the extra insulin shot was taken, the blood analysis showed normal levels of sugar, fat and inflammatory markers, similar to after the low fat meal.

‘Improving the sugar and fat levels in the blood after eating is important for the long-term health of the heart and blood vessels. But calculating insulin injection dose based on carbohydrates alone is clearly too simplistic, as most people eat meals that include fat and protein too,’ said co-author Dr Daniel West of Newcastle University.

‘Our findings show that, after a high fat meal, an extra dose of insulin provides a very simple way of both regulating blood sugar levels for short term health and protecting against the long term risks of cardiovascular disease. We feel strongly that the advice given to people with type 1 diabetes needs to be updated to take this new information into account,’ he added.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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