Higher unacylated ghrelin and insulin sensitivity following dietary restriction and weight loss in obese humans

Clin Nutr. 2021 Feb;40(2):638-644. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2020.06.014. Epub 2020 Jun 25.


Background & aims: Unacylated ghrelin (UnAG) modulates insulin sensitivity. Low plasma UnAG occurs in obesity and potentially contributes to obesity-associated insulin resistance. We hypothesized that improvements in insulin sensitivity in obese people induced by moderate caloric restriction (CR) may be paralleled and at least in part explained by concurrent increases in UnAG levels.

Methods: 20 general community obese people were randomly assigned to 16-week CR (n = 11) or control diet (n = 9). We investigated the impact of CR on the interaction between insulin sensitivity changes [area under the curve (AUCg) of glucose infusion to maintain euglycemia during hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp] and plasma total (TotalG), acylated (AG) and Unacylated ghrelin (UnAG). Plasma pro-inflammatory tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and anti-inflammatory interleukin-10 (IL-10) were also measured since changes in inflammation may contribute to UnAG activities.

Results: CR reduced BMI and increased insulin sensitivity (p < 0.05). TotalG and UnAG but not AG increased in CR but not in Control (p < 0.05). Il-10 and IL-10/TNFα ratio also increased in CR (p < 0.05). Changes in UnAG were positively associated with changes in AUCg in all subjects (n = 20; p < 0.01) also after adjustment for treatment and changes in BMI and cytokines.

Conclusions: Caloric restriction modifies circulating ghrelin profile with selective increase in unacylated hormone in obese individuals. The current study supports the hypothesis that higher unacylated ghrelin contributes to improvements in insulin sensitivity following diet-induced weight loss in human obesity.

Keywords: Insulin resistance; Obesity; Unacylated ghrelin.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Body Mass Index
  • Caloric Restriction / methods*
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Female
  • Ghrelin / blood*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Interleukin-10 / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / blood
  • Weight Loss


  • Blood Glucose
  • Ghrelin
  • IL10 protein, human
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interleukin-10