Cutaneous Manifestations of Nutritional Excess: Pathophysiologic Effects of Hyperglycemia and Hyperinsulinemia on the Skin

Steven A. Svoboda, BS; Bridget E. Shields, MD


Cutis. 2021;107(2):74-78. 

In This Article


Hyperglycemia is defined by excess blood glucose and, when persistent, may lead to prediabetic and diabetic states. Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas in response to elevated blood glucose. Dysregulated insulin secretion or clearance results in hyperinsulinemia, which also is closely associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and metabolic disturbances. Hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia are endemic within the United States and impart considerable morbidity and mortality. Cutaneous manifestations of chronic hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia include acanthosis nigricans (AN), diabetic dermopathy (DD), scleredema diabeticorum (SD), ichthyosiform skin changes, acrochordons, and keratosis pilaris (KP). Necrobiosis lipoidica (NL), bullosis diabeticorum (BD), and generalized granuloma annulare (GA) are more rarely reported in association with hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia; however, the strength of these associations remains unclear. It is crucial for dermatologists to recognize these cutaneous manifestations, as they may be the first signs of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Early identification and management of these conditions is key to improving patient health outcomes and reducing health care costs. Herein, we review the clinical presentations of these conditions and their underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms.


Nutritional dermatoses are classically associated with dietary nutrient deficiencies; however, cutaneous disease as a consequence of nutrient excess often is overlooked. Chronic hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia resulting from excess carbohydrate intake may be implicated in a number of cutaneous pathologies, of which every dermatologist should be aware.[1,2,3]

Although diabetic patients exhibit many cutaneous manifestations of excess carbohydrate consumption, the absence of a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) does not necessarily preclude them.[4,5,6] Emerging evidence now highlights the development of insulin resistance well before a patient ever meets the diagnostic criteria for T2DM.[7,8] Cutaneous disease can provide early insight into a patient’s glucose tolerance and may be the first sign of metabolic derangement. Prompt recognition of these cutaneous alterations and management of the patient’s underlying systemic disease can improve their quality of life and help prevent severe systemic complications associated with insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance.

The aim of this review is to highlight both common and rare cutaneous manifestations associated with the persistent consumption of high glycemic load diets, resultant hyperglycemic and hyperinsulinemic states, and the pathophysiologic mechanisms that underlie them.