Type 2 diabetes: Acanthosis nigricans is caused by high blood sugar – what is it?

Most people with acanthosis nigricans have an insulin level that is higher than that of people of the same weight who don’t have the condition. Eating too much of the wrong foods, especially starches and sugars, can raise insulin levels creating this appearance.


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What is acanthosis nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans is a skin disorder which leaves the skin looking velvety and having light brown to black markings in areas of the body including the neck, armpits, groin and under the breasts.

The condition can affect otherwise healthy people, or it could be associated with certain medications.

Sometimes acanthosis nigricans is congenital but it is more common in those with type 2 diabetes, are obese or have an endocrine disorder.

Diabetes.co.uk said: “Acanthosis nigricans is a relatively common skin condition that is one of the symptoms of diabetes.

“Acanthosis nigricans is characterised by darkening of the skin at particular areas such as the neck and armpits.

“It is not a dangerous condition in itself but is typically a sign of the presence of a problematic condition such as type 2 diabetes and sometimes cancer.

“The signs of acanthosis nigricans are quite distinctive and result in a darkening of the skin around folds of skin.

“As well as being darker, the skin may take on a leathery or velvety feel and the skin may itch or smell.”

Why is the skin affected due to blood sugar levels

When a person eats, their body converts carbohydrates into sugar molecules such as glucose.

Some of this glucose is used for energy in the cells while the rest is stored.

The hormone insulin must allow glucose to enter cells so that the cells can use glucose for energy.

For those people who are overweight, a tendency to resist insulin begins to develop over time.

Although the pancreas is making insulin, the body can’t use it properly.


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This then creates a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream which results in high levels of both blood glucose and insulin in the bloodstream.

When a person has excess insulin, it causes normal skin cells to reproduce at a rapid rate and those with dark skin, these new cells have more melanin.

An increase in melanin produces a patch of skin which is darker than the skin surrounding it.

Thus, the presence of acanthosis nigricans is a strong predictor of early type 2 diabetes.

Diagnosing acanthosis nigricans

Fortunately, the condition is relatively easy to spot and a GP will be able to check for diabetes or insulin resistance once recognising the dark patches.

Tests may include blood glucose tests or fasting insulin tests.

A GP may also review the medications being used to check they are not the contributing factor for this new change in skin appearance.

With the right lifestyle changes including diet and exercise, it is possible to reverse type 2 diabetes. 

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