We systematically investigated the bidirectional causality among HDL cholesterol (HDL-C), LDL cholesterol (LDL-C), triglycerides (TGs), fasting insulin (FI), and glycated hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) based on genome-wide association summary statistics of Europeans (n = 1,320,016 for lipids, 151,013 for FI, and 344,182 for HbA1c). We applied multivariable Mendelian randomization (MR) to account for the correlation among different traits and constructed a causal graph with 13 significant causal effects after adjusting for multiple testing (P < 0.0025). Remarkably, we found that the effects of lipids on glycemic traits were through FI from TGs (β = 0.06 [95% CI 0.03, 0.08] in units of 1 SD for each trait) and HDL-C (β = −0.02 [−0.03, −0.01]). On the other hand, FI had a strong negative effect on HDL-C (β = −0.15 [−0.21, −0.09]) and positive effects on TGs (β = 0.22 [0.14, 0.31]) and HbA1c (β = 0.15 [0.12, 0.19]), while HbA1c could raise LDL-C (β = 0.06 [0.03, 0.08]) and TGs (β = 0.08 [0.06, 0.10]). These estimates derived from inverse-variance weighting were robust when using different MR methods. Our results suggest that elevated FI was a strong causal factor of high TGs and low HDL-C, which in turn would further increase FI. Therefore, early control of insulin resistance is critical to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, and cardiovascular complications.

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