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The Causes of Insulin Resistance and Hyperinsulinism

The main reason for hyperinsulinism or excessive release of insulin is insulin resistance.  Most of the time people get insulin resistance as a result of eating too much and being overweight.  Even if you are overweight, they’re ways to increase insulin sensitivity.  Usually, if people lose weight their insulin resistance will go down.

One should realize that insulin resistance is a broad term and that you could be insulin sensitive in one way and resistant in another.  Fat, muscle and the liver store glucose.

You could be insulin sensitive in your muscles and resistant in your fat cells, in which case you’ll be muscular and lean. This isn’t always optimally healthy.

For example, if you have elevated levels of the inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha it will cause insulin resistance in fat cells but not muscle cells.  This isn’t a good situation even though aesthetically you’ll look good.

Sometimes thin people can also have insulin resistance.  PCOS is a relatively common disorder among women, affecting up to 10% of women 12-45.

Thin women with PCOS also have insulin resistance.  There is also research that suggests that there is a male version of PCOS experienced by a certain percentage of men.  PCOS and its associated IR is much easier to detect in women because of overt androgenic signs like facial hair growth, alopecia (balding) and fertility issues, but males can have a similar kind of issue and wouldn’t be noticeable because men all healthy men have facial hair, etc… However, the symptoms can manifest itself as premature balding.

In thin people, IR can in part be caused by an inefficient conversion of Inositol to D-Chiro-Inositol and because of excess inflammation and oxidative stress.

In overweight people who initially were never tired after eating carbs, being overweight is the significantly more likely cause of IR.

Read: What may be the markers of the male equivalent of polycystic ovary syndrome?

About one third of the premature balding men showed the combination of hormonal shifts and higher insulin resistance. This frequency corresponds to the prevalence of PCOS in women.

A significant percentage of people have some level of glucose intolerance and turn to low-carb and other diets.

Carb intolerance can produce negative cognitive effects.

Insulin spikes or hyperinsulinism from insulin resistance can contribute to fatigue, weight gain, and hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is very damaging to the body and contributes to all kinds of cognitive issues.

Below is a list of reasons why insulin would spike. This list is pretty comprehensive, so go through it one by one until you get to the cause.

Everything on this list is from scientific literature, but I just didn’t have time to link out to everything.

Unfortunately, not even a fraction of this information is coherently put together elsewhere (I’m not sure why).

If the reader finds a cause that is unrelated to the ones given below, please do share.

Reasons for insulin resistance



  • Eating too much,
  • Not exercising,
  • Obesity,
  • Psychological stress,
  • Sleep deprivation,
  • Circadian disruption,
  • Hypoglycemia(from refined carbs).

These are the main causes among relatively healthy Americans who mostly eat the SAD diet and are sedentary.

Nutrient Deficiencies

It’s easy to jump to the idea that we are probably deficient in something, but don’t forget that the most common explanation is that we just eat too much.

Hormones/Proteins Associated With Insulin Resistance




Supplements That May Contribute to Insulin Resistance


Additives that cause insulin resistance

  • BPA (in canned food)
  • Carrageenan (in almond milk and other fake milks)
  • Tolylfluanid (fungicide used for crops)

Hyperinsulinism Not Related to Insulin Resistance

  • Problems with the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis that may be a result of other causes besides oxidative stress-induced insulin resistance.
  • Increased GLP-1 levels as a result of low levels of the DPP-4 enzyme, because of the gut malfunctioning. Hyperinsulinism, in this case, is not because of insulin resistance.
  • Other less common causes: cancer -insulinoma, an insulin-secreting tumor of the pancreas.  Congenital hyperinsulinism – caused by some genetic mutation.

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  • Emily Porter

    What is the deal with the rumor of low carb/high fat diets supposedly causing insulin resistance? I am a skinny female. My fasting insulin is 7.1 on this type of diet, with many sources saying under 5 is more optimal. Fasting blood sugar is 80 (and 80-120 all day long). Ha1c is 5.4.

    1. Nattha Wannissorn

      It differs for everyone.

  • Eddie

    Hi Cate, did you resolve you issues?

  • Kate

    Very confused. Trying to find a reason for my insulin resistance is a losing battle :/ have all the symptoms of IR and it was confirmed by 4 hour blood test last year. For years, I have been extremely active. I run at least 5X week and hit the gym at least 4X a week. I’m 22, 5’6 and usually weigh 125-130 lbs. my diet was pretty good – usually no breakfast unless I had a morning workout. I know that’s not great, but I doubt it could be a cause for IR. Lunch was mostly salad with minimal dressing and dinner was usually grilled chicken. I got up to 140 lbs and absolutely could not lose weight, which was when I was diagnosed. I now weigh 160 lbs and I am miserable. I’m on a diet that my doc and I discussed and take metformin twice a day. I’d sure love to know the cause. This website has been very helpful and informative!

    1. Joe

      Thanks! 🙂

    2. Hans

      Sounds like you were trying to kill yourself by overexercising and undereating. How many calories do you get from a salad with minimal dressing and some grilled chicken? 500kcal? You need carbs and lots of them if you exercise a lot.

  • Sam

    This site is amazing. Thank you for taking the time to document the amazing amounts of info you have researched.

    1. Joe

      Thank you

  • Sidney Phillips

    What is your take on the Kitavan diet, which is carb heavy from tubers and fat heavy from whole coconuts (43 g of fat per day), yet they do not get CVD?

    Also, I saw this recent study done with people that shows a high fat diet is bad for cognitive performance:

    1. Selfhacked

      The kitavan diet is good because the fat comes from WHOLE coconuts. Very hard to overdo fats from whole foods. Also the rs diet is in favor of tubers (potatoes).

      The results of the study echo my experiences.

  • PC

    Well, I have problems with carbs and likely lots of the problems on your list (sleep problems especially). How did you come up with this list by the way?

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