This article provides an overview of hyperinsulinemia, including its causes, links between insulin resistance and diabetes, treatment, and complications.
What is hyperinsulinemia?
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 to complete their normal functions.
The body needs insulin to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range. When functioning properly, the pancreas will create enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. Typically, this means it will increase production following a meal, particularly if the meal is high in sugar or simple carbohydrates.
Insulin resistance is the chief cause of hyperinsulinemia. 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.
Hyperinsulinemia is different from hyperglycemia, which is where a person has abnormally high blood sugar levels.
Hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, and diabetes
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 create 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.
Another study from 2016 also mentions how, in the early stages of the condition, it is asymptomatic.
The most common cause of hyperinsulinemia is insulin resistance. When the body does not use insulin correctly, the pancreas produces more insulin to try 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, a tumor known as an insulinoma may be the cause of hyperinsulinemia.
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 sugars levels.
Another rare cause of hyperinsulinemia is nesidioblastosis.
Nesidioblastosis occurs when the pancreas has an excessive number of cells that make insulin. The condition also leads to low blood sugars.
People may be more susceptible to developing hyperinsulinemia from insulin resistance due to a family history or genetic predisposition.
Treatment and diet
Including vegetables in the diet can help to control glucose levels.
To treat hyperinsulinemia, a healthcare provider will recommend a comprehensive treatment plan. This plan will likely focus on making lifestyle changes that include diet, exercise, and weight loss. Treatment may include medication if these methods are not effective.
A person’s diet can have a significant impact on treating hyperinsulinemia due to insulin resistance.
A healthful, balanced diet can help a person maintain a healthy weight and can improve bodily functions overall. Specific diets can also prevent blood sugar spikes and allow a person to regulate their insulin levels and needs better.
Diets that focus on glycemic control are beneficial when treating hyperinsulinemia. A diet low in simple carbohydrates can help people regulate glucose levels.
Diets that help control glucose levels contain the following types of food:
- fruits, though many are high in sugars, so no more than 2–3 servings per day
- lean meats
- whole grains
A person should check with their healthcare provider to find the best way to manage their glucose with a healthful diet.
In addition to dietary changes, a person with hyperinsulinemia will benefit from increasing their exercise. Exercise may improve the body’s tolerance of insulin and help a person maintain a healthy weight.
Aerobic and resistance training are beneficial exercises for hyperinsulinemia. However, a person should discuss their exercise plans with their doctor.
Beneficial activities can include:
- resistance, focusing on low reps for a single muscle group at a time
- 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.
Hyperinsulinemia is when there is too much insulin in a person’s body. It is most often the result of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.
Typically, a person’s best treatment options include exercise and diet changes. If these are not effective, a doctor may prescribe medication. A person should talk to their doctor or another healthcare provider before drastically changing their diet or starting a new exercise program.