How does saturated fat (palmitate) affect insulin sensitivity? Part 2.

“From these short term human studies, it seems to follow the same trend as when we went over the isolated cell research; this research indicates that the saturated fat palmitate does impede insulin sensitivity. Both studies show strong signs that when the body is exposed to a large amount of saturated fat, there is a drop in the body’s ability to dispose blood sugar into the cells, per unit of insulin (a classic definition for reduced insulin sensitivity). Beyond that, the same effects are not found with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – again, this is consistent with other data from isolated cell research, also indicating no detriment to insulin sensitivity from unsaturated fats.” As I continue my investigations into insulin sensitivity and the role fats have, I’ve run across a set of studies – both in humans, unlike some of the muscle research we’ve looked into – that have some unique designs to them that allow us to garner some answers. These two studies [Figure 1], recruited people to the lab and then fed them one meal (if you can call it that) of either mostly saturated fat (palmitate) or unsaturated fat (oleate), and then measured the overall insulin sensitivity in the body.


One study took things a step further by exposing participants to each fat every hour over a 24 hour period, and then measuring insulin sensitivity – some pretty radical designs, but fascinating answers ensue. Let’s look at some of that data.

1. What is insulin sensitivity?


Insulin sensitivity is the level of reaction your cells experience when they interact with insulin. So, insulin flows through the blood, then binds your cells, and when it does, there is a reaction that occurs within your cells that allow blood sugar into the cells. The less insulin needed to produce that outcome (clearing blood sugar into the cells, thereby lowering blood sugar), the more insulin sensitive you are. 2. How does saturated fat (palmitate) affect insulin sensitivity?


Now that we have a basis for how insulin sensitivity is defined and how it functions, how do saturated fats (with a focus on palmitate) affect insulin sensitivity? Well, in the data provided [Figure 2], we see that the disposal of blood sugar (glucose) per unit of insulin with a control condition (VCL), safflower oil (monounsaturated fat focused), and palm oil (saturated fat focused). The data shows that at a similar insulin level, the palm oil (saturated fat) “meal” consumption led to a reduced blood sugar clearance; meaning, less blood sugar was removed from circulation for the same amount of insulin, thereby indicating reduced insulin sensitivity.


Now, interestingly, the same results were also found when looking at not only one exposure to saturated fat, but when exposed continuously over a 24 hour period, as evidenced by the other study looking at relatively short term exposure.


Conclusion

From these short term human studies, it seems to follow the same trend as when we went over the isolated cell research; this research indicates that the saturated fat palmitate does impede insulin sensitivity. Both studies show strong signs that when the body is exposed to a large amount of saturated fat, there is a drop in the body’s ability to dispose blood sugar into the cells, per unit of insulin (a classic definition for reduced insulin sensitivity). Beyond that, the same effects are not found with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – again, this is consistent with other data from isolated cell research, also indicating no detriment to insulin sensitivity from unsaturated fats.

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