Hyperinsulinemia is the state of having increased fasting insulin level in the blood that is beyond normal level. Although it is often associated with type 2 diabetes, hyperinsulinemia does not necessarily mean that one is diabetic.
What is Hyperinsulinemia?
Hyperinsulinemia is a condition when the body produces too much insulin than what it usually needs.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, an endocrine organ located in the upper portion of the abdomen. Its function is to regulate the entry of sugar (glucose) into the cells, which use it to produce energy, and to store excess sugar in the liver for later use. The body detects an increase in sugar in the blood when food is ingested, which signals the pancreas to produce insulin. An increase in insulin allows sugar to enter the cells to be converted to energy. The reduction of sugar levels in the blood triggers the pancreas to stop producing insulin, until more food is ingested. Insulin therefore regulates blood sugar levels, thus preventing a condition known as hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels), which is often associated with type 2 diabetes. However, some people tend to produce too much insulin compared to other people, even when they are in a fasting state, signalling hyperinsulinemia. This condition is strongly linked to an underlying condition, which could lead to other health problems.
What Causes Hyperinsulinemia?
The most common cause of hyperinsulinemia is insulin resistance, a condition where the cells are resistant to insulin effects, and are thereby unable to utilize glucose. To compensate, the pancreas compensates by producing more insulin.
Insulin resistance is a condition that covers a wide clinical spectrum, including obesity, glucose intolerance (prediabetes), diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. These disorders, in turn are linked with various genetic, metabolic, endocrine, and immunologic conditions. Other factors that can lead to insulin resistance include poor diet, lack of physical activity, medications, and aging. Obesity is the most common cause of insulin resistance.
In rare cases, hyperinsulinemia may be caused by a tumor in the pancreas called insulinoma, which produces abnormal amounts of the hormone. It may also be caused by an excessive number of pancreatic cells that produce insulin, another rare condition called nesidioblastosis.
Symptoms of Hyperinsulinemia
Hyperinsulinemia itself does not produce any symptoms, except if it leads to low sugar levels or hypoglycemia. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Temporary weakness
- “Brain fog”
- Inability to concentrate
- Blurring of vision
- Double vision
Chronic hyperinsulinemia has also been associated with symptoms such as:
- Sugar craving
- Weight gain
- Intense hunger
- Frequent feelings of hunger
Risks Associated with Hyperinsulinemia
Studies show that hyperinsulinemia increases the risk for other conditions such as:
- High uric acid
- High triglyceride levels
- Atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic complications (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia)
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Eye complications
Treatment of Hyperinsulinemia
Since hyperinsulinemia is often linked to insulin resistance and obesity, weight reduction is the best way to improve insulin sensitivity. Health experts recommend restricting calorie intake, as well as reducing cholesterol and salt (sodium) consumption. Alcohol intake should also be limited.
Lifestyle changes should include smoking cessation and increasing physical activity. Health experts recommend doing at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercises most days of the week to lose weight.
Patients who develop diabetes mellitus may need medications to reduce insulin resistance such as metformin, a biguanide that promotes sugar uptake into the cells. Other medications include thiazolidinediones such as Actos and Avandia.
In people with severe obesity who are unable to reduce weight through medications and lifestyle modifications, bariatric surgery can help improve insulin resistance.
When to See a Doctor
People often do not experience symptoms related to hyperinsulinemia itself, but to conditions that are related to it. If you are obese and are not able to lose weight through diet and exercise, consult a doctor who may recommend weight loss medications or other means of losing weight more effectively.
Your doctor may also recommend further clinical evaluation, which may include laboratory tests such as blood tests to measure blood sugar and blood insulin levels. Treatments may vary according to the cause of hyperinsulinemia or insulin resistance.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Mayo Clinic. Is hyperinsulinemia a form of diabetes?
News Medical. Hyperinsulinemia – What is Hyperinsulinemia?
AHA. Hyperinsulinemia and Cardiovascular Disease in Elderly Men.
Medscape. Insulin Resistance.