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Study: Insulin resistance increases the risk of colon cancer
German metabolic researchers recently deciphered the connection between insulin resistance and colon cancer, thereby explaining why obesity can trigger cancer. During their study work, the team discovered a previously unknown mode of action of insulin. Apparently, the insulin signaling pathways in the intestinal mucosa are responsible for maintaining the intestinal barrier. Insulin thus forms a natural protective function against colon cancer.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research identified a new function of insulin on the gut. The team was able to prove that the insulin signaling pathway in the intestinal epithelium, i.e. the outermost cell layer in the intestine, ensures the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. This intestinal barrier significantly protects the intestine from the penetration of inflammation-promoting bacteria that promote colon cancer. The study results were recently presented in the renowned journal “Nature metabolism”.
Our intestines protect themselves from intruders like a Velcro fastener
As the research team reports, insulin is important to maintain the natural protective function of the intestine against pathogens. Because insulin activates certain genes in the intestinal mucosa, which are responsible for the formation of so-called desmosomes. These cell structures link the cells of the outermost intestinal layer like a Velcro fastener and ensure that no pathogens can penetrate.
Why the intestinal mucosa is so important
"Not only nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal mucosa, but pathogens and germs also get into the intestines through eating," the researchers write. Therefore, the outermost cell layer of the intestinal mucosa acts as a barrier to prevent the entry of pathogens. The cells of the intestinal epithelium are so closely connected with the help of the desmosomes that no germs can penetrate.
Insulin resistance leaks the gut
If this intestinal barrier is destroyed, pathogens have a free path and can trigger severe inflammation that promotes the development of colon cancer. "We can observe the so-called 'leaky gut' in overweight mice," explains Anna Lena Ostermann from the research team in a press release on the study results. Mice with a broken intestinal barrier developed colon cancer more often than their thinner counterparts, according to the doctoral student.
That is why obesity can lead to colon cancer
"Being overweight promotes the development of insulin resistance and the incidence of colon cancer," warns the Max Planck research team. The reason: One consequence of being overweight is insulin resistance. If there is resistance, the insulin receptors can no longer react to insulin. The intestinal epithelium also has these insulin receptors. If these intestinal receptors no longer react to the insulin, protective desmosomes are no longer formed as a result and the intestinal mucosa becomes permeable to germs.
Insulin has a more extensive function than previously thought
"The hormone insulin is released by the pancreas when the blood sugar rises as a result of food intake in order to signal the cells to take it up," the Max Planck researchers explain the already known function of insulin. But why does insulin also affect the intestinal mucosa, although it is not of great relevance for food intake?
"The body cannot live without the insulin signal pathway because the cells cannot absorb the sugar that is necessary for energy production," explains research director Thomas Wunderlich. Maintaining the intestinal barrier is also vital for survival. Wunderlich suspects that these two vital processes are linked to the same insulin signaling pathway. (vb)