Reducing insulin production in the body could lower the risk of pancreatic cancer developing in people with type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

Canadian scientists from the University of British Columbia say the relationship between insulin and cancer is still unclear, but stress that making lifestyle changes to reduce fasting insulin levels could be useful in cancer prevention.

The study involved five years of experiments to understand more about high levels of insulin production (hyperinsulinemia) – a feature of obesity and type 2 diabetes – and cancer risk.

In mice with reduced insulin gene dosage, a modest reduction in fasting insulin was associated with a 50% reduced pancreatic cancer risk. The findings occurred in the absence of changes in fasting glucose levels.

“While this work is focused on pancreatic cancer, where the known association between hyperinsulinemia and cancer is highest, we believe it might be applicable to other cancers associated with hyperinsulinemia,” said study author James D. Johnson from the University of British Columbia, who is also part of the Institute for Personalized Therapeutic Nutrition.

The researchers concluded: “Collectively, our data indicate that endogenous [produced by the body] insulin hypersecretion contributes causally to pancreatic cancer development.”

The findings indicate that taking steps to lower insulin production could help people with obesity and type 2 diabetes reduce cancer risks. This can be done through making positive lifestyle changes such as eating less carbohydrate, sugar and processed foods.

“Nevertheless, the cause and effect relationship between hyperinsulinemia and cancer remains to be determined directly,” added the researchers.

The review has been published online in Cell Metabolism.

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