Hyperinsulinemia is when you have abnormally high levels of insulin in your body. This can affect blood sugar levels and has strong links with type 2 diabetes.

Hyperinsulinemia can lead to hypoglycemia — abnormally low blood sugar. It is a strong sign of diabetes but is still a separate condition.

If you have hyperinsulinemia, your pancreas creates too much of the hormone insulin. This hormone helps maintain proper blood sugar levels.

Hyperinsulinemia occurs due to insulin resistance. This is when the body does not respond to the effects of insulin as it should, so your pancreas creates more insulin to compensate.

Learn more about insulin and insulin resistance here.

Hyperinsulinemia does not have any noticeable symptoms. However, if it leads to hypoglycemia, it may cause:

Symptoms in infants and young children may include:

  • difficulty feeding
  • extreme irritability
  • lethargy or no energy

The typical cause of hyperinsulinemia is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is what happens when your body doesn’t respond correctly to insulin. This incorrect response causes your pancreas to produce more insulin.

As your pancreas makes more insulin, your body continues to resist and respond incorrectly to the higher insulin levels. Your pancreas will continually need to make more to compensate. Eventually, your pancreas won’t be able to keep up with the amount of insulin your body needs to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level.

Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

However, 2021 research suggests that hyperinsulinemia may actually cause insulin resistance and not the other way around.

Less common causes

Less common causes of this condition are insulinoma and nesidioblastosis:

  • Insulinoma is a rare tumor of the pancreas cells that produce insulin.
  • Nesidioblastosis is when the pancreas produces too many cells that make insulin.

Hyperinsulinemia may also develop after having gastric bypass surgery. The theory is that the cells have become too large and active for the body, but the body has changed significantly after the bypass. Doctors aren’t fully sure why this happens.

Risk factors

Risk factors for hyperinsulinemia include:

Environmental, genetic, and socioeconomic factors can also affect someone’s chances of developing hyperinsulinemia. A 2019 research review found that racial differences in insulin secretion and clearance rates meant that Black and Hispanic children had a higher likelihood of developing hyperinsulinemia than white children.

Differences in dietary habits, economic status, and exposure to pollutants are also risk factors that vary between social and racial groups.

Doctors typically diagnose hyperinsulinemia with a fasting blood test. With the results, they will measure your insulin and blood glucose levels.

If your levels are above the typical ranges for your health status, a doctor may diagnose hyperinsulinemia.

Treatment for hyperinsulinemia begins by treating its underlying cause, such as insulin resistance, insulinoma, or nesidioblastosis.

The main methods of treating hyperinsulinemia include:

  • increasing insulin clearance
  • maximizing insulin sensitivity
  • reducing calorie intake, if applicable to you

Your treatment may include a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and possibly surgery. Some lifestyle changes include diet and exercise.

Diet to treat insulin resistance

A well-balanced diet can help better regulate your body’s overall functioning and reduce excess weight. It may also help regulate your glucose and insulin levels.

Any diet that helps people reach and maintain a moderate weight can be beneficial in managing insulin levels. Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is typically the best means of reducing and maintaining weight.

Diet to manage blood sugar

As hyperinsulinemia affects your blood sugar levels, it can be beneficial to follow a plan that also helps manage these levels.

One way to help with blood sugar management is to prioritize eating foods that are low on the glycemic index. There are currently three preferred diets for glycemic control and treating hyperinsulinemia:

Each diet consists primarily of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, fiber, healthy fats, and lean meats. Be sure to discuss any diet changes with your doctor before beginning a new eating plan.

Following one of these diet plans may help with your glycemic control, which can improve your body’s insulin response.

Exercise to treat insulin resistance

Any physical activity can improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin. This reduces insulin resistance, the most common cause of hyperinsulinemia. Exercise can also reduce obesity, which may be an underlying cause of this condition for some people.

There are many forms of exercise, each with different benefits. But all activities can help in reducing visceral fat, reaching a moderate weight, and regulating insulin sensitivity.

  • Resistance: Resistance exercise aims to increase strength and endurance. This often involves lifting weights, but you can use bodyweight exercises instead.
  • Aerobic: Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases cardiovascular exertion. People often refer to this as ‘cardio.’ It includes walking, jogging, or swimming.
  • HIIT: High intensity interval training (HIIT) involves cycling between short periods of high intensity activity and short periods of low intensity rest. This is a specific form of aerobic exercise.

You should discuss what type of exercise is best for you with a doctor. This is because some exercises or the intensity of some exercises may not be suitable for everyone.

Medications for diabetes and low blood sugar

Doctors do not typically recommend medications for hyperinsulinemia. Lifestyle modifications are the primary treatment course. However, doctors may recommend medications to treat associated type 2 diabetes or prevent hypoglycemia.

The most common drug for managing type 2 diabetes is metformin. This drug reduces the amount of glucose the body produces, preventing hyperglycemia.

Some medications can make this condition worse. It’s important that all your doctors are aware of every medication you take and all your medical conditions.

Learn more about the medications for diabetes here.

Hyperinsulinemia can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Low blood sugar can lead to several serious complications, such as:

  • seizures
  • coma
  • cognitive function issues (especially in young children)

Hypoglycemia is more common in insulinoma and nesidioblastosis than the other causes of hyperinsulinemia.

Hyperinsulinemia can be managed, but it’s important to have regular checkups with your doctor. These checkups will allow for a timely diagnosis.

The earlier hyperinsulinemia is diagnosed and treated, the less likely you will develop serious complications.