Written on July 17, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Table of contents
If you have diabetes or know someone with the condition, you have probably heard of insulin. Insulin therapy is an integral treatment option for many people with diabetes. Over 37 million Americans are estimated to have diabetes, and one in five people do not know that they have the condition. Diabetes is reported as the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.
As the American population ages and become more overweight or obese, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has increased. Understanding insulin, how it works, and whether insulin makes you gain weight is essential in managing your diabetes. To address the question, “Does insulin make you gain weight?” let’s first review more about diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that results in elevated sugar in your blood. If you have diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin or can’t adequately use it. Diabetes can affect how your body breaks down food into sugar and how the sugar is released into your bloodstream. There are three main types of diabetes :
Over time, unmanaged diabetes with increased sugar levels in the blood can lead to severe health conditions like heart disease, stroke, vision loss, and kidney disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputation, and blindness in adults.
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by your pancreas, and it helps regulate your blood sugar levels. Insulin helps transport the sugar in your bloodstream into your body cells to use for energy. If you are not able to make enough insulin needed by your body or your body cannot respond appropriately to insulin, then your blood sugar levels can get out of control, leading to diabetes.
Insulin can be made in the lab as therapy for diabetic patients. The different types of insulin depend on when it reaches the bloodstream, the time it reaches maximum strength (peaks) in the blood, and how long it lasts in the body. Insulin is mainly administered as an injection, but an inhaled formulation is also available on the market in the United States. Insulin can also be given in an insulin pump that can be attached to your body.
The main types of insulin include[4,5]:
If you’re on insulin therapy, you probably wonder if insulin can make you gain weight. A reported 3 kg to 9 kg of insulin-associated weight gain, predominately fat tissue, occurs in the first year of initiating insulin therapy in type 2 diabetic patients. The potential causes for the additional weight with insulin therapy in these patients include an increase in food intake because of the fear of low blood sugar levels, a reduction in eliminating sugar in the urine, and effects on weight and appetite control. Additionally, excess calorie intake that exceeds what your body needs can lead to extra sugar being transported into cells by insulin and stored as fat.
Although you can get weight gain with insulin therapy, there are ways you can lessen or prevent the additional weight gain. You can choose to eat a healthy diet filled with nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Routine and regular exercise during most days of the week can also contribute to helping keep the weight off. Other tips to prevent weight gain with insulin therapy include:
Weight gain is not the only side effect of insulin therapy. Other possible side effects involve injection site reactions such as lumps or pits, swelling, redness, or itching. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels is also a potential side effect of insulin therapy. Contact your healthcare provider or seek medical help if you experience a serious side effect from insulin.
If you are concerned about gaining weight, Everlywell offers a telehealth program for weight loss help online. The program gives you access to regular one-on-one visits with a licensed clinician and lifestyle content and support for related health conditions. You can partner with a healthcare provider to discuss your weight goals and determine if GLP-1 medication is appropriate for you.
Everlywell also has an HbA1c at-home lab test that can help you monitor your A1c (an indicator of blood sugar levels over the past three months) to better understand your body’s glycemic control. The at-home lab test allows you to easily collect your sample in the comfort of your own home and mail it to a certified lab.