The Link Between Insulin, Metabolic Syndrome and Cancer

The Link Between Insulin, Metabolic Syndrome and Cancer
The Link Between Insulin, Metabolic Syndrome and Cancer

For years, scientists have been trying to solve the mystery as to why those who are overweight have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.

A possible explanation may be linked to insulin, a hormone which when high for long periods of time, can cause a host of cancer-causing metabolic changes the body.

High insulin levels (or insulin resistance) underpin metabolic syndrome1, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome is linked to being overweight.

High insulin levels due to metabolic syndrome have also been linked to breast cancer,2 endometrial cancer,3 and thyroid cancer.4

And in post-menopausal women, high insulin levels are associated with higher risk of dying from cancer.5

Here’s how scientists think that high insulin levels for long periods of time may increase our cancer risk:

  • Uncontrolled high insulin levels play a direct role in tumour growth and development.6 

  • Those with high insulin levels are at a higher risk of being overweight. The trouble is that being overweight increases our risk of inflammation.Inflammation can overstimulate the body’s immune system which causes unnecessary damage to otherwise healthy cells.

  • When overweight, fatty tissue produces a lot of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines (partly due to insulin resistance).Cytokines made by fatty tissue create a chronic inflammatory environment that favours tumour growth.7

  • It is possible that our DNA sustains more damage and gets is fixed less when blood sugar levels are high, thereby increasing cancer risk. An increased risk of cancer in those with high insulin can be due to overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS),6 molecules that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer.

  • An enzyme called xanthine oxidoreductase, produced when insulin levels are high, also produce ROS which cause cellular damage and increase cancer risk.

The FitChef Difference

The good news is that it is possible to lower insulin levels and thus cancer risk through various lifestyle changes.

We’re all for cancer fighting at FitChef.

Here’s how our meals and snacks can help you manage your cancer risk from high insulin levels:

It’s also known that being active may lower inflammatory markers18 in the body which in turn helps with weight loss and ultimately cancer risk.

This is why we’re all about a healthy and balanced lifestyle, food and activity included.


  1. Yaribeyhi H et al. Insulin resistance: Review of the underlying molecular mechanisms. Journal of Cellular Physiology. 2018.
  2. Engin A. Obesity-associated Breast Cancer: Analysis of risk factors. In: Engin A., Engin A. (eds) Obesity and Lipotoxicity. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 960. 2017. Springer, Cham.
  3. Lai Y, Sun C. Association of abnormal glucose metabolism and insulin resistance in patients with atypical and typical endometrial cancer. Oncology Letters. 2018;15(2).
  4. Malaguarnera R et al. Insulin Resistance: Any Role in the Changing Epidemiology of Thyroid Cancer? Front. Endocrinology. 2017;14.
  5. Pan K et al. Insulin Resistance and Cancer-Specific and All-Cause Mortality in Postmenopausal Women: The Women’s Health Initiative. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2020;112(2):170-8.
  6. Arcidiacono B et al. Insulin Resistance and Cancer Risk: An Overview of the Pathogenetic Mechanisms. Journal of Diabetes Research. 2012.
  7. Amin NM et al. How the association between obesity and inflammation may lead to insulin resistance and cancer. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews. 2019;13(2):1213-24.
  8. Batelli MG et al. Metabolic syndrome and cancer risk: The role of xanthine oxidoreductase. Redox Biology. 2019;21.
  9. Chen JP et al. Dietary Fiber and Metabolic Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Related Mechanisms. Nutrients. 2018;10(1): 24.
  10. Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Body Fatness and Weight Gain and the Risk of Cancer. Available at
  11. Zhu F et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of phytochemicals from fruits, vegetables, and food legumes: A review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017;58(1):1-11. DOI:10.1080/10408398.2016.1251390.
  12. Mashadi NS et al. Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. International Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2013;4(S1):S36-S42.
  13. Manjunath NS et al. Evaluation of Nigella sativa (Black cumin) for anticancer and anti-inflammatory activities. International Journal of Herbal Medicine. 2020;8(5):1-9.
  14. Santangello C et al. Anti-inflammatory Activity of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Polyphenols: Which Role in the Prevention and Treatment of Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Diseases? Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders – Drug Targets, 2018, 18, 36-50
  15. Fritsche KL. The Science of Fatty Acids and Inflammation. Advances in Nutrition. 2015;6(3):293-301S.
  16. Delta Corte KW et al. Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies. Nutrients;2018:10(5):606.
  17. Huffman KM et al. Dietary carbohydrate intake and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein in at-risk women and men. American Heart Journal. 2007;154(5):962-968. DOI: 10.1016/j.ahj.2007.07.009
  18. Ihalainen JK et al. Combined aerobic and resistance training decreases inflammation markers in healthy men. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2017;28(1):40-7.
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