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Hyperinsulinemia and Diabetes

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Updated January 28, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Hyperinsulinemia literally means high insulin levels and it is a condition associated with type 2 diabetes. This condition is a factor in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Insulin is a hormone that has many functions. One function important for diabetes is to remove blood sugar from the bloodstream and then send it into cells to be burned for energy. In some people, insulin does not work properly and cell receptors are desensitized to insulin. This condition is called insulin resistance. As a consequence, sugar builds up in the bloodstream. The body attempts to lower blood sugar levels by releasing even more insulin. The body ends up with both high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels.

Insulin has other functions besides escorting blood sugar into cells. Increased levels of insulin and starving cells fool the body into craving carbohydrates and refined sugars to remedy the situation. In addition, insulin sends out messages to resist burning body fat for energy. This can make diet adherence and weight loss a little more challenging, but it can be overcome. Hyperinsulinemia can sometimes be mistaken for low motivation.

Hyperinsulinemia in Infants Due to Maternal Diabetes

In pregnant women with uncontrolled blood sugar levels, the fetus is exposed to high levels of sugar. In response, the fetal pancreas undergoes changes to produce more insulin. After birth, the baby will continue to experience excess levels of insulin or hyperinsulinemia and will experience a sudden drop in blood sugar levels. The baby is treated with glucose after delivery and insulin levels usually return to normal within two days.

Risks of Hyperinsulinemia

  • Hypoglycemia, insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression, anxiety, and insomnia

Effects of Hyperinsulinemia

  • High blood sugar levels as diabetes progresses.
  • Poor blood fat levels, particularly high LDL (bad cholesterol), low HDL (good cholesterol), and increased triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Increased appetite with strong cravings for carbohydrates and refined sugar
  • Difficulty losing body fat.

Symptoms of Hyperinsulinemia

This condition usually has no symptoms. Hypoglycemia may be an indicator to its presence as can high blood fat levels, fatigue, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, and increased carbohydrate cravings.

Treatment

As this condition is a feature of type 2 diabetes, treatment measures are the same. Lifestyle changes are recommended along with diet and exercise.

There has been an increase in research into the causes and treatment of hyperinsulinemia as well as its role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Some diabetes drugs increase insulin levels while lowering blood sugar levels. One drug that lowers both blood sugar and insulin levels is metformin and this is the only drug that is approved by the FDA for diabetes prevention and is used in patients with metabolic syndrome or prediabetes.




Sources:

Franz MS RD LD CDE, Marion J. The Dilemma of Weight Loss in Diabetes. Diabetes Spectrum July 2007 20(3):133-136

Li MD PHD, Chaoyang; Ford MD MPH, Earl; Zhao MD PHD, Guixiang; Mokdad PHD, Ali H. Prevalence of Pre-Diabetes and Its Association with Clutering of Cardiometabolic Risk Factors and Hyperinsulinemia Among U.S. Adolescents. Diabetes Care Feb 2008 3(2):342-347

Insulin Resistance Syndrome. American Family Physician. Accessed: January 12, 2010 http://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0315/p1159.html

Sigal MD MPH, Ronald; Kenny PHD, Glen; Wasserman PHD, David H; Castaneda-Sceppa MD PHD; White MD, Russell. Physical Activity/Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care June 2006 29(6):1433-1438

Shanik MD, Michael H; Xu MD, Yuping; Skrha MD DSC, Jan; Dankner MD MPH, Rachel; Zick PHD, Yehiel; Roth MD, Jesse. Insulin Resistance and Hyperinsulinemia. Diabetes Care Feb 2008 31(2):5262-5268.

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