Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels. High insulin, or hyperinsulinemia, is when insulin levels remain elevated as opposed to the normal fluctuations of insulin necessary to lower blood sugar in relation to eating. It is often associated with type 2 diabetes, which is diet-related, as opposed to type 1 diabetes, which is not, and is considered a pre-diabetic condition.
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Food provides proteins, carbohydrates and fats, the macronutrients, which are broken down during digestion into the amino acids, simple sugars and triglycerides your cells need. Of these three major nutrients, carbohydrates have by far the greatest effect on blood sugar levels. Simple carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed, while complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly because of their more complex structure. Under normal circumstances, your pancreas secretes insulin in response to the elevation in blood sugar levels caused by the foods you eat.
High insulin is due primarily to a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. When you eat carbohydrates, your body uses insulin to transport the resulting glucose into your cells for conversion into energy. When you are not eating, your pancreas releases enough insulin to prevent low blood sugar. When your cells stop responding to insulin, your body produces more of it to provoke the necessary response, which leads to high insulin levels in your blood.
High insulin levels can affect your weight and body composition. In addition, the heavier a person gets, the more insulin is needed, which further complicates the situation. Elevated insulin can cause salt and water retention. Over a prolonged period of time, high insulin levels can raise cholesterol and increase the risk for heart disease, such as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke.
Symptoms of high insulin include weight gain, sugar cravings, weakness, intense hunger and a need for frequent meals. Other symptoms include fatigue, memory loss and lack of focus. High insulin levels can also lead to low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, with symptoms including weakness and confusion. Treatment of hyperinsulinemia is directed at the underlying problem. If diet is the cause, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet.