A study suggests women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have high insulin levels have a greater risk of dying from the cancer than women who don't have high insulin levels. This is probably because insulin acts like a growth hormone, promoting the growth of cells, including cancer cells.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body get glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and into cells to give the cells energy to grow and multiply. Getting glucose out of blood also keeps the body healthy. Over time, having too much blood glucose can damage the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. People that have diabetes have glucose levels that are too high. Diabetics either don't make insulin or don't use insulin well.
The amount of insulin each person needs depends on a number of factors. In general though, the more carbohydrates and fat a person eats, the more insulin will be produced. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, cause insulin levels to spike as the body works to get the glucose out of the bloodstream. Insulin levels also depend on how efficiently our bodies process the nutrients in the food we eat. People who exercise regularly usually have less fat and more muscle mass and so process nutrients more efficiently and have lower insulin levels.
It's likely that the association between insulin and breast cancer in this study helps explain, in part, the links between a healthy diet and exercise and a good breast cancer prognosis. If you're being treated or have been treated for breast cancer, try to make exercise and a healthy diet part of your daily routine. Think of eating well and working out as another important part of your treatment plan.
If you're not sure what a healthy diet is, talk to your doctor. You also may want to talk to a dietitian or a nutritionist. You also can talk to your doctor about how much and how often you should exercise. Develop a plan that works for YOU and then do your best to stick with it. To learn more about healthy eating, visit the breastcancer.org Nutrition section.