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

Final Thoughts

Mechanistic links between common cutaneous conditions and persistent hyperglycemic and hyperinsulinemic states are slowly emerging. Hyperglycemia promotes nonenzymatic glycation of the vascular endothelium as well as formation of AGEs that impair cross-linking of collagen in the skin. The consequent microangiopathic damage may lead to cutaneous conditions such as DD, NL, and BD. In addition to microvascular compromise, impaired collagen cross-linking may result in ichthyosiform skin changes and SD. Hyperinsulinemia causes increased circulating levels of IGF-1, which leads to the overactivation of IGF-1 receptors present on fibroblasts and keratinocytes. This aberrant IGF-1 signaling drives cellular hyperproliferation and differentiation, which may be responsible for cutaneous findings such as AN, KP, and/or acrochordons. An insulin-dependent increase in IGF-1 and androgenic signaling may have implications for hormonally driven inflammatory skin disorders such as acne vulgaris and hidradenitis suppurativa, warranting further investigation.

Physicians should be aware of these dermatologic manifestations and their proposed underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms related to impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. A diagnosis of T2DM is not a prerequisite for metabolic disturbance, and the skin may serve as the first clue to underlying systemic disease. Early identification of these cutaneous conditions may lead to timely patient counseling, lifestyle modification, and/or medical management, preventing the long-term sequelae associated with metabolic disorders.