Insulin is a very important hormone in our body, as it regulates the amount of sugar in the blood and tissues so that they can perform their different functions perfectly. However, when we find a high level of insulin in the blood, we may be dealing with hyperinsulinemia.
Normally, the effect of insulin deficiency on our body, or hypoinsulinemia, is known because it occurs in people with type 1 diabetes. However, there is a lack of knowledge regarding hyperinsulinemia, which makes its diagnosis difficult. Therefore, in this article we will explain what hyperinsulinemia is and what causes it.
What is insulin?
Before explaining what hyperinsulinemia is, let’s look at the function of insulin. Insulin is a hormone synthesized and stored by the beta cells of the pancreas.
After we eat, food is broken down into tiny substances capable of passing through the intestine and reaching the blood. One of these substances is glucose, the fundamental sugar that our bodies use to produce energy and perform its functions.
When glucose reaches the blood, it passes through the pancreas, activating beta cells that release stored insulin. This insulin passes into the blood and directs the glucose to the tissues for use. In other words, insulin is responsible for maintaining the correct levels of glucose.
Blood glucose or blood glucose levels
Normal fasting blood glucose levels are between 70-110 mg/dl. If your blood glucose is too high or too low, it can cause serious health problems. Abnormal glucose levels are known as:
- Hyperglycemia: abnormally high blood glucose values.
- Hypoglycemia: low blood glucose values.
What is hyperinsulinemia?
There is no specific definition of hyperinsulinemia. It is often described as having more insulin than normal in the blood. The causes are diverse, as we will explain below:
Insulin resistance is a condition that has gained strength in recent years, given the increase in the number of people with type 2 diabetes.
When there is not good control of sugar over the years, insulin rises to carry this excess sugar into the tissues and keep blood levels stable. However, in that case, our bodies will get used to using large amounts of insulin. Therefore, they will not respond to smaller amounts, which will create resistance.
To compensate for the resistance, the body will generate more insulin, which will be circulating in the blood. So we have hyperinsulinemia with hyperglycemia.
A less common cause of hyperinsulinemia is insulin-producing tumors, also called insulinomas. Insulinomas are difficult tumors to diagnose, as they are small and difficult to see on imaging exams. Approximately 10% of insulinomas are malignant.
They are tumors derived from the beta cells of the pancreas that produce and release a lot of insulin into the blood. This hyperinsulinemia causes all the glucose to be transported to the tissues and there is no more glucose left in the blood, that is, hypoglycemia occurs.
Hypoglycemia is a serious condition. It can cause many symptoms, such as:
If hypoglycemia is very marked, it can affect the brain, which is a large consumer of glucose, and cause changes such as:
- headache or headache
- Blurred vision
- Paresthesias: tingling, usually in the extremities
- behavioral disorders
- Mental confusion
- Memory loss
- Eat and, at worst, death
Therefore, we see that this is a type of tumor that must be removed to avoid these symptoms. Also, insulin is a growth hormone factor that can cause a person to gain weight.
An insulinoma is usually located in the pancreas, but some people may have parts of the pancreas that are not in their usual position, which is known as the ectopic pancreas; this makes diagnosis difficult. Fortunately, insulinomas are rare.
Another cause of hyperinsulinemia may be due to an external injection of insulin. This can happen in two cases:
- A person with diabetes who incorrectly injects more insulin than they should. This causes her to have hypoglycemia, which, as we explained earlier, is very serious.
- Factual hypoglycemia: the person self-injects insulin without having diabetes. This occurs in the well-known Munchausen syndrome, in which a person self-medicates or hurts themselves to look ill.
In both cases, we would find low levels of glucose in the blood with high levels of insulin, but this insulin is not produced by the body, being from an external source.
Important concepts related to hyperinsulinemia
If you have hyperinsulinemia, most commonly you are experiencing insulin resistance, which implies having too much sugar in your blood. This hyperglycemia is dangerous because it causes diabetes and damage to the cardiovascular system. Also, as we’ve said before, insulin is a growth hormone factor and conducive to causing tumors to develop.
Therefore, you must control your sugar levels and live a healthy life. If you don’t have good sugar control, your doctor will recommend certain treatments to help you. On the other hand, if you have symptoms of hypoglycemia, you should also see a doctor because of the seriousness of the condition.