The fact that hyperinsulinemia occurs in simple obesity and mild glucose intolerance has been well established. Altered hepatic insulin extraction may influence the levels of circulating hormone. The simultaneous measurement of insulin and C-peptide concentrations in peripheral blood enables an in vivo estimation of hepatic insulin removal. To evaluate hepatic insulin extraction, insulin and C-peptide responses to oral glucose were studied in 176 obese and nonobese subjects with normal, impaired, or diabetic glucose tolerance. Insulin levels as well as insulin incremental areas in glucose intolerant subjects were significantly higher than in weight-matched controls. The levels of C-peptide as well as C-peptide incremental areas were only slightly enhanced in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance, whereas they were reduced in subjects with diabetic tolerance. The molar ratios of C-peptide to insulin, both in the fasting state and after ingestion of glucose, as well as the relationship between the incremental areas of the two peptides were used as measures of hepatic insulin extraction. They were significantly reduced in glucose intolerant subjects and, to a lesser extent, in nondiabetic obese subjects. These results indicate that peripheral hyperinsulinemia in subjects with simple obesity or impaired glucose tolerance is a result of both pancreatic hypersecretion and diminished hepatic insulin extraction. In subjects with a more severe degree of glucose intolerance, decreased hepatic insulin removal is the primary cause of hyperinsulinemia.