OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the relationship between levels of serum insulin, the homeostasis model assessment (HOMA) and IGF-binding protein-1 (IGFBP-1) as factors related to myocardial infarction (MI) risk, and their interaction with lifestyle-related risk factors. DESIGN: The Stockholm epidemiology programme (SHEEP), a case-control study, consisting of 749 first-time MI cases (510 men, 239 women) and 1101 healthy controls (705 men, 396 women) was used. METHODS: The risk of developing MI was assessed by calculating odds ratios (OR) and synergistic interactions (SI) between serum insulin, IGFBP-1, HOMA and other variables related to MI risk (including smoking) in men and women. RESULTS: Subjects with elevated levels of insulin and HOMA (>75th percentile) had increased MI risks when compared with individuals with low levels. ORs for elevated insulin and HOMA (adjusted for age and residential area) for men: insulin 1.6 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.3-2.1) and HOMA 1.5 (95% CI 1.1-1.9) and for women: insulin 2.1 (95% CI 1.5-2.9) and HOMA 1.9 (95% CI 1.3-2.8). Women with low levels of IGFBP-1 (<10th percentile) showed a tendency towards elevated MI risk even if this was not statistically significant (OR 1.5 (95% CI 0.9-2.6)). Smokers with high levels of serum insulin had greatly increased MI risk (OR for men: 4.7 (95% CI 3.0-7.2) and OR for women: 8.1 (95% CI 4.5-14.8)). SI scores based upon these interactions were statistically significant. CONCLUSIONS: These results might have preventive cardiovascular implications as they clearly suggest that subjects with insulin resistance are particularly susceptible to the hazards of smoking.