Vascular function, insulin resistance and fatty acids
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Over the past 10 years it has become clear that intact vascular function, especially at the level of the endothelium, is paramount in the prevention or delay of cardiovascular disease. It has also become clear that insulin itself, in addition to its metabolic actions, directly effects vascular endothelium and smooth muscle. Insulin, at normal physiologic concentrations, causes changes in skeletal muscle blood flow in healthy, insulin-sensitive subjects. Insulin's effect on the endothelium is mediated through its own receptor and insulin signalling pathways, resulting in the increased release of nitric oxide. Insulin's vascular actions are impaired in insulin-resistant conditions such as obesity, Type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus and hypertension, which could contribute to the excessive rates of cardiovascular disease in these groups. Insulin-resistant states of obesity and Type II diabetes show a multitude of metabolic abnormalities that could cause vascular dysfunction. Non-esterified fatty acid levels increase long before hyperglycaemia becomes present. Raised non-esterified fatty acids impair insulin's effect on glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and the vascular endothelium and thus could have detrimental effects on the vasculature, leading to premature cardiovascular disease.