Hyperinsulinemia is when the body contains too much insulin. It is linked to insulin resistance and diabetes.

Hyperinsulinemia has links with type 2 diabetes. However, it is not the same condition. It usually results from insulin resistance.

This article provides an overview of hyperinsulinemia, including its causes, links between insulin resistance and diabetes, treatment, and complications.

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Hyperinsulinemia is a condition where the amount of insulin in the blood is higher than is usual.

Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. The pancreas makes insulin. Insulin allows the body to use and absorb sugar, or glucose, from the blood.

The body’s cells use glucose for energy. The body needs insulin to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.

The pancreas will create enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels when functioning properly. Typically, this means it will increase production following a meal, particularly if the meal is high in sugar or simple carbohydrates.

Hyperinsulinemia usually results from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that the body’s cells do not use insulin as effectively. This resistance leads to higher levels of blood glucose.

As a result of the elevated blood glucose levels, the pancreas produces more insulin to keep up with the blood sugar processing. This is hyperinsulinemia.

Hyperinsulinemia is different from hyperglycemia, where a person has unusually high blood sugar levels.

By itself, hyperinsulinemia is not diabetes. However, insulin resistance can cause both conditions and often links the two conditions.

Insulin resistance predisposes a person to develop type 2 diabetes as the pancreas starts to shut down and no longer creates enough insulin to control blood sugar levels.

Hyperinsulinemia typically does not cause any noticeable symptoms.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that most people they tested showed no symptoms of hyperinsulinemia. For this reason, they referred to it as a “silent disease” because of the lack of symptoms.

If symptoms occur, they may include:

  • weight gain
  • cravings for sugary foods
  • feeling hungrier than usual
  • difficulty focusing
  • anxiety
  • lacking motivation
  • fatigue

The most common cause of hyperinsulinemia is insulin resistance. When the body does not use insulin correctly, the pancreas produces more insulin as it tries to compensate for the rise in blood sugar levels.

Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. Over a long time, as the need for insulin increases, the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand. When this shortfall happens, type 2 diabetes can result.

In rare cases, hyperinsulinemia may result from a tumor known as an insulinoma. An insulinoma appears on pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Low blood sugar, which doctors call hypoglycemia, characterizes the condition. Insulinoma is the opposite of diabetes, where the body experiences elevated blood sugar levels.

Another rare cause of hyperinsulinemia is nesidioblastosis. Nesidioblastosis occurs when the pancreas produces too many cells that make insulin. The condition also leads to low blood sugar.

It can also occur after gastric surgery.

People may be more susceptible to developing hyperinsulinemia from insulin resistance if they have a family history or genetic predisposition.

A person is more likely to develop hyperinsulinemia if they have:

  • high levels of triglycerides
  • high levels of uric acid
  • atherosclerosis
  • an increase in body weight
  • high blood pressure
  • type 2 diabetes
  • having a family history of insulin resistance

Hyperinsulinemia may be a sign of prediabetes or an early sign of type 2 diabetes. Having a diagnosis can help a person access treatment for diabetes in the early stages when it is easier to manage.

Hyperinsulinemia may not produce symptoms. However, if a person has symptoms or a doctor believes they may be at risk of this condition, they may recommend blood tests.

Tests that can help detect hyperinsulinemia will measure:

  • insulin levels
  • glucose levels
  • how the body’s glucose levels respond to glucagon
  • possibly other factors, such as triglycerides

Treating hyperinsulinemia depends on what the underlying cause may be. In the rare case of a tumor or nesidioblastosis, surgery or other treatment may be necessary. For the most part, however, treatment typically focuses on diet, exercise and weight loss to reduce insulin resistance.

A balanced diet can help a person maintain a healthy weight and boost overall health. Specific dietary choices can help prevent blood sugar spikes and allow a person to regulate their glucose and insulin levels.

A diet that is low in simple or processed carbohydrates can benefit those with hyperinsulinemia.

Diets that help manage glucose levels often contain the following types of food:

A healthcare team can work with the individual to identify dietary options to help manage glucose and insulin.

Regular exercise also plays a key role in treating insulinemia. Exercise may improve the body’s tolerance of insulin and help a person maintain a healthy weight.

Some scientists note that high intensity interval training may be particularly beneficial. However, a person should discuss their exercise plans with their doctor.

Beneficial activities can include:

  • jogging
  • resistance training, focusing on low reps for a single muscle group at a time
  • walking
  • biking
  • light hiking

If exercise and diet are not enough to help regulate the condition, a doctor may recommend medication to help treat hyperinsulinemia. In most cases, doctors use the same drugs to treat diabetes.

Some medicines can aggravate hyperinsulinemia, so a person should discuss the best options with their doctor. This discussion should also cover any other medications the individual is taking.

If hyperinsulinemia results from a tumor, they may need surgery.

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People often ask the following questions about hyperinsulinemia.

What are the symptoms of hyperinsulinemia?

Often, there are no symptoms. If symptoms occur, they can include feeling hungry and tired, gaining weight, craving sugar, anxiety, and difficulty focusing on tasks.

What is the treatment for hyperinsulinemia?

In most cases, a doctor will recommend a combination of dietary changes, exercise, and weight management. If these do not help, a person may need medication. If hyperinsulinemia results from an insulinoma, they will likely need surgery.

How is hyperinsulinemia diagnosed?

Blood tests can show if a person has hyperinsulinemia. They will measure glucose and insulin levels, how glucose levels respond to glucagon, and other factors.

Hyperinsulinemia is when there is too much insulin in a person’s body. It usually results from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

For most cases of hyperinsulinemia, key treatment options are exercise, dietary changes, and weight management. If these do not help, a doctor may prescribe medication.

A person should talk with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to their diet or starting a new exercise program.