How Does Insulin and Glucagon Work

Glucose, or blood sugar, provides energy for cellular function and fuels all bodily processes. It’s supplied by food, namely carbohydrates that have been digested and synthesized into glucose molecules. Its levels vary naturally throughout the day depending on factors such as meals, exercise, or certain medications. However, glucose must remain within a certain range to be healthy, which is where insulin and glucagon come in. In a healthy body, these two hormones work in tandem to maintain optimal glucose levels.

How Insulin Works

Insulin is produced by the pancreas and attaches to specialized cell receptors, triggering glucose absorption from the bloodstream. The insulin itself is secreted when the pancreas detects blood sugar spikes, such as the duration immediately following a meal, and will stop once glucose levels fall back down.

How Glucagon Works

Glucagon is another hormone produced by the pancreas that counteracts the effects of insulin. When blood sugar levels fall below the normal range, the pancreas secretes glucagon. In turn, glucagon signals to liver and muscle cells to release their glucose stores, known as glycogen, back into the bloodstream. This process allows the body to have a healthy supply of energy between meals and during sleep.

Healthy Blood Sugar

Complications of high blood sugar include an increased risk of infection, cognitive issues, and unexplained weight loss. On the other hand, low blood sugar can cause dizziness, tingling, and fainting. Fortunately, the body automatically uses insulin and glucagon to keep blood sugar balanced in the healthy range.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. This makes it difficult for cells to absorb glucose, putting the individual at risk of high blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age but is typically diagnosed during childhood, which is why it used to be known as juvenile diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

When cells begin to lose their ability to respond to insulin, they are unable to absorb glucose from the bloodstream to mitigate a spike in blood sugar. When this condition becomes chronic, it’s diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. Over time, the body may stop producing insulin entirely, which can further increase glucose levels. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is affected by genetic and lifestyle factors.

Insulin and Diabetes

So how does insulin work for controlling diabetes? According to the medical experts at Tandem Diabetes, insulin is like a key to a locked door that allows glucose absorption to take place. For people with diabetes, the key simply doesn’t exist. Since the body’s natural ability to produce the hormone has been impaired, the synthetic version must be administered to make up the difference.

Following a healthy diet and exercise regime is the easiest way to keep glucose levels stable. If you are concerned about your diabetes risk, ask a healthcare professional to have your blood glucose evaluated.


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