A high plasma insulin concentration in the presence of a normal or high plasma glucose level appears to be a common feature of glucose intolerance, obesity, and hypertension. Hyperinsulinemia has been recognized as a major risk factor for the development of coronary artery disease independent of blood pressure and plasma lipid levels. All these conditions are frequently associated, particularly in aging, a state itself characterized by hyperinsulinemia. This common association has prompted the hypothesis that hyperinsulinemia may be a causative factor rather than the consequence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. If that is the case, defining the nature and mechanisms of hyperinsulinemia becomes of primary interest. Insulin resistance is also a striking feature of all of the above mentioned pathologic states. In the presence of a preserved B-cell function, hyperinsulinemia can represent the mechanism designed to overcome the defect in the biological action of the hormone. For instance, there is a clear-cut age-related decline in the body's sensitivity to insulin. In order to compensate for this defect in insulin-mediated glucose metabolism, the B-cell must increase its secretion. On the other hand, a certain degree of insulin resistance can be induced both in animals and man by prolonged euglycemic hyperinsulinemia. Little is known regarding possible primary defects of the B-cell leading to uncontrolled oversecretion of insulin and subsequent insulin resistance. The primary defect, more probably, resides in an alteration of one or more of the steps whereby insulin exerts it own action. In favor of this hypothesis are the observations that insulin resistance segregates in familial clusters and that the first defect found in normoglycemic relatives of insulin-resistant diabetic patients is a reduced transformation of glucose into glycogen. Whatever is the primary defect, it is likely that a correction of insulin resistance might reduce the circulating levels of plasma insulin, possibly playing a beneficial effect on glucose tolerance, body weight, blood pressure and plasma lipid concentration.
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