Hyperinsulinema (High Insulin Levels)

Hyperinsulinemia occurs when you have abnormally high insulin levels in the blood. The main cause of hyperinsulinemia is believed to be insulin resistance, when your body doesn't respond well to the insulin it produces. 

Hyperinsulinemia is associated with type 2 diabetes but is not technically a form of diabetes. It is also a factor in obesity and metabolic syndrome.

It can be difficult to diagnose hyperinsulinemia, as symptoms are often unnoticeable. It's usually diagnosed through a blood test when checking for other conditions, such as diabetes. It can usually be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. 

This article discusses hyperinsulinemia and its symptoms, causes, and diagnosis. It also explores treatment options for people with this condition.

Close up of syringe at Hospital.
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What Causes High Insulin Levels?

Insulin is a hormone that helps transport glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for energy. In some people, insulin is ineffective at removing glucose from the bloodstream. This happens when cell receptors develop a resistance to insulin, called insulin resistance.

When you have insulin resistance, glucose builds up in your bloodstream. Your body tries to compensate by releasing even more insulin, causing both high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels. 

Some of the causes of hyperinsulinemia include:

  • Insulin resistance: Some experts think hyperinsulinemia is caused by insulin resistance, while others believe insulin resistance causes hyperinsulinemia. Regardless, the two states are closely intertwined.
  • A tumor or overgrowth of beta cells: In rare cases, hyperinsulinemia may be caused by a tumor of the beta cells of the pancreas (insulinoma) or by excessive growth of the beta cells, a condition called nesidioblastosis.
  • Bypass surgery: Hyperinsulinemia may also occur as a side effect of Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, possibly because of altered nutrient transit due to the newly created stomach pouch and bypassed gastrointestinal tract. However, this may be temporary. Researchers have found this effect may be reversible with the placement of a gastronomy tube in the original stomach.
  • Lifestyle factors: The way insulin is metabolized in your body may depend on your diet and activity level, as well as environmental factors. All of these may be tied to your insulin sensitivity, but more research is needed to fully understand everything involved.
  • Race, sex, and age: Factors that you can't control such as your race, sex, and age can also play a role in how your body responds to insulin.
  • Hyperinsulinemia in newborns: 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.

Hyperinsulinemia Symptoms

Hyperinsulinemia generally does not cause symptoms. You may have symptoms if your hyperinsulinemia occurs as a result of certain conditions:


In some circumstances, such as when a tumor (insulinoma) causes low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, symptoms may include:

  • Increased cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Frequent hunger or extreme hunger

Hyperinsulinemia in Infants

Infants and young children with hyperinsulinemia may experience:

  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Extreme fussiness or irritability


Several complications may arise as a result of hyperinsulinemia. In fact, hyperinsulinemia is considered an early indicator of a larger metabolic dysfunction and has been linked to the following complications:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Hyperglycemia or high blood sugar from insulin resistance
  • Some types of cancer, due to the stimulation of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)

Risk Factors

You may be more likely to develop hyperinsulinemia if you have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Age 45+
  • A parent or sibling with diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • History of stroke
  • Sleep apnea


Because hyperinsulinemia often has no symptoms, diagnosis may happen as a result of testing your healthcare provider orders for another condition, such as diabetes. Your healthcare provider may also want to test you for hyperinsulinemia if you are obese.

Hyperinsulinemia may be diagnosed by testing your blood insulin and glucose levels. It may also be diagnosed by routine blood tests when undergoing testing for diabetes or other conditions, such as high cholesterol.

The primary test for assessing insulin levels is an insulin blood test, which is a fasting test that involves taking a small sample of blood from a vein in your arm and assessing your insulin levels.

Your healthcare provider will likely also request a fasting blood glucose test and possibly a hemoglobin A1C.

Your insulin levels are considered normal if they're under 25 mIU/L during a fasting test. One hour after glucose administration, they may increase anywhere from 18 to 276 mIU/L. If your insulin levels are consistently this high or even more elevated, even when fasting, you could be diagnosed with hyperinsulinemia.

How to Treat High Insulin Levels

The ideal treatment for hyperinsulinemia will depend on first identifying the root cause. Treatment options primarily include medication and lifestyle changes similar to those for type 2 diabetes, although the latter are usually tried first.

Diet and Nutrition

Healthy eating, especially a diet that is lower in carbohydrates, may be especially helpful in improving insulin sensitivity, reducing blood glucose levels, and keeping weight in check.

Three diets have been well-studied for their benefits on glycemic control and hyperinsulinemia:

  • The Mediterranean diet focuses on lean protein, low amounts of red meat, plenty of vegetables and fiber from whole grains, and plant-based fats, such as olive oil and olives.
  • A low-fat diet focuses on keeping fat low (around 20% to 35% of total calories), carbs relatively high (around 45% to 65% of total calories), and protein moderate (10% to 35% of total calories).
  • A low-carb diet focuses on keeping carb counts very low (anywhere from 10% to 40% of total calories) while increasing fat intake but keeping protein moderate.

No matter which diet you choose or how you ultimately balance your ratio of carbs/protein/fat, aim to eat primarily whole, unrefined foods. Include plenty of vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, whole grains, and fiber-rich starches, while limiting processed foods and foods with added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Additionally, a diet that's very high in protein may cause insulin to increase, so excess amounts of protein should be avoided.

Work with a nutritionist, your healthcare provider, or a certified diabetes educator to create a diet plan that works with your lifestyle, needs, and budget.


As exercise has been shown to improve insulin resistance, engaging in physical activity may be helpful as a treatment for hyperinsulinemia. Talk to your healthcare provider before undertaking a new exercise program.

There are three types of exercise that may be useful in improving insulin sensitivity:

  • Resistance exercise: This incorporates weight lifting or exercises that utilize your own body weight to work one set of muscles at a time, usually with lots of repetition and long rest periods in between sets. Resistance training may increase muscle mass, which can help with glucose absorption and reduce the reliance on insulin.
  • Aerobic exercise: This type of exercise conditions the cardiovascular system and works for multiple muscle groups at a time. Low- to mid-intensity aerobic workouts may include walking, jogging, swimming, biking, or dancing. Aerobic exercise (cardio) may be similarly helpful in increasing glucose uptake and decreasing insulin.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): This type of exercise incorporates short bursts of vigorous activity followed by periods of lower intensity to help with endurance and quick recovery. HIIT has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, and some HIIT training sessions can be completed in just seven minutes.


When these lifestyle changes don't yield adequate results, the addition of medication may be considered.

The medications used to treat hyperinsulinemia are generally the same as those used to treat type 2 diabetes. Some diabetes medications enhance insulin's action while working to lower blood sugar levels. Metformin is one such drug that does this successfully.

In addition to metformin, other medication classes approved as an adjunct to diet and exercise to improve glycemic control in people with diabetes include:

  • Sulfonylureas
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • DPP-4 inhibitors
  • SGLT2 inhibitors
  • GLP-1 RA
  • Basal insulin

Work with your healthcare provider to find a diabetes medication that will lower glucose levels while also lowering insulin levels—not increasing them, as some do.


Hyperinsulinemia refers to abnormally high blood insulin levels. It is thought to be caused by insulin resistance, though there can also be other causes such as insulinoma and bypass surgery.

Hyperinsulinemia usually doesn't have symptoms. It may be diagnosed during routine testing for other conditions, such as diabetes.

Lifestyle changes are the preferred treatment for hyperinsulinemia. Certain medications may also be helpful.  

A Word From Verywell

With the help of your care provider, hyperinsulinemia can be well-managed and controlled thanks to both medication and lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and incorporating more exercise.

However, there has been an increase in research on the connection between hyperinsulinemia, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, which could progress further if the condition is left unchecked. Keep up with yearly blood tests through your healthcare provider and watch any new symptoms that may arise.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes hyperinsulinemia?

    Hyperinsulinemia is typically caused by insulin resistance (IR). IR occurs when your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, leading to high blood sugar. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to try to bring blood sugar down. 

    Though rare, hyperinsulinemia can also be caused by a specific type of tumor known as insulinoma or an excessive number of beta cells in the pancreas, known as nesidioblastosis.

  • Can hyperinsulimia be reversed?

    Possibly. If hyperinsulinemia is caused by insulin resistance, then diet, exercise, and weight loss may reverse it. Research shows moderate exercise can improve insulin sensitivity. In addition, following a Mediterranean-style diet or a diet that is either low in fat or low in carbohydrates can help to stabilize blood sugar and manage hyperinsulinemia.

  • How is hyperinsulinemia diagnosed?

    Hyperinsulinemia is diagnosed through the following blood tests:

    • Insulin in a blood test measures insulin levels.
    • Fasting blood glucose measures blood sugar levels.
    • Hemoglobin A1c measures the average blood sugar level over three months.
    • C-peptide measures the amount of insulin being produced by the pancreas.

    These tests are usually done after a period of overnight fasting and can help to differentiate hyperinsulinemia from type 2 diabetes.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Woolley
Elizabeth Woolley is a patient advocate and writer who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.