Background: Reduced insulin sensitivity has been proposed as an important risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis. However, insulin sensitivity is related to many other cardiovascular risk factors, including plasma insulin levels, and it is unclear whether an independent role of insulin sensitivity exists. Large epidemiological studies that measure insulin sensitivity directly have not been conducted.
Methods and results: The Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study (IRAS) evaluated insulin sensitivity (SI) by the frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test with analysis by the minimal model of Bergman. IRAS measured intimal-medial thickness (IMT) of the carotid artery as an index of atherosclerosis by use of noninvasive B-mode ultrasonography. These measures, as well as factors that may potentially confound or mediate the relationship between insulin sensitivity and atherosclerosis, were available in relation to 398 black, 457 Hispanic, and 542 non-Hispanic white IRAS participants. There was a significant negative association between SI and the IMT of the carotid artery both in Hispanics and in non-Hispanic whites. This effect was reduced but not totally explained by adjustment for traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors, glucose tolerance, measures of adiposity, and fasting insulin levels. There was no association between SI and the IMT of the carotid artery in blacks. The association between SI and the IMT was stronger for the internal carotid artery than for the common carotid artery in all ethnic groups.
Conclusions: Higher levels of insulin sensitivity are associated with less atherosclerosis in Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites but not in blacks. This effect is partially mediated by traditional cardiovascular risk factors.