Living with diabetes series
Insulin, Blood Glucose, and Diabetes
The role of insulin and insulin therapy for diabetes
When insulin is mentioned, most people naturally assume that it is medication for diabetes. Did you know insulin is a natural hormone produced by our body in the pancreas? Let’s look at its role in diabetes since understanding how it affects blood sugar can help manage the condition better and prevent the complications of diabetes.
The role of insulin
When we eat, our body breaks down the food, producing glucose (sugar), which is the source of energy for all our activities. To get into our cells, glucose needs the help of insulin. Insulin monitors the entry of blood sugar into our cells.
Think of insulin as the key that unlocks our cells, so that glucose can get in. Insulin tells the cells to absorb glucose through their walls so they can receive energy.
Now, to stay healthy, blood glucose levels must stay on target — neither too high nor too low. When blood sugar rises after we eat, insulin production is also triggered to maintain this balance.
While some of the glucose is used by cells as energy, the remaining sugar is converted into glycogen or fat — stored energy in the liver. Between meals, our blood glucose levels fall, along with the level of insulin. When this happens, the stored energy in the liver is converted back into glucose and released by the cells into our bloodstream to keep our energy levels up.
In non-diabetics, the amount of insulin produced relies on the amount of glucose or starchy foods eaten, the energy used, and the energy they need.
So without insulin, the glucose stays in the bloodstream and we do not get the energy we need. This means that if the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the level of blood glucose that stays in the bloodstream rises.
Gradually, over a period of time, they rise so high that they exit the bloodstream, through the kidneys into the urine. High blood sugar also removes water from the bloodstream, making the individual pass more urine, and making them thirsty.
Since the glucose in the blood is not being used for energy, the body must now find an alternate. It starts to use the fat stored in the body, which in turn results in the formation of “ketones”. High blood sugar plus ketones = sickness.
To summarize, insulin
- Regulates blood sugar
- Facilitates the storage of excess glucose for energy
When the pancreas produces little or no insulin, leading to a condition called Type 1 diabetes, or when the body won’t produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to the action of insulin (Type 2 diabetes), blood sugar levels rise as they are unable to enter the cells. Ignoring high blood sugar leads to the complications of diabetes like nerve damage, kidney damage, heart disease, and blindness.
Those with Type 1 diabetes may require insulin therapy to replace the insulin deficiency. Sometimes, those with type 2 diabetes may also need insulin when diet, exercise, and oral medication are unable to control blood sugar.
There is also a possibility of insulin resistance, where even though the insulin is available, it is unable to unlock the cells so they can allow glucose to get in.
Is insulin therapy safe?
As with any treatment, there are side effects with insulin therapy and these include allergic reactions to the injection in the form of skin rashes and itching.
There is also a chance of low blood sugar accompanied by sweating, rapid pulse rate, blurred vision, and shaking. Monitoring these reactions, checking blood sugar on a regular basis, and being in touch with your doctor can help manage it better. Your doctor will also advise exactly how to use the insulin.
The fact is, controlling blood sugar reduces the risk of long-term health problems.
In a majority of people diagnosed with diabetes, the main problem is the lack of diabetes education. The Living with Type-2 Diabetes series will cover various aspects of the condition with tips and suggestions to manage it better.
In this series so far:
The ABCs of Diabetes
Blood Pressure and Living with Diabetes
Does Dessert Have a Place in the Diabetes Diet
The Cholesterol-Diabetes Connection
The Diabetes Diet and Living with Type 2 Diabetes
Let’s Bust 10 Diabetes Diet Myths!
Why is Exercise Important in Diabetes?
Why Footcare Plays A Crucial Role in Managing Diabetes
What is the Glycemic Index?
Diabetic Neuropathy — What You Should Know
Oral Health and Diabetes
Why It Is Important To Understand Ketones In Diabetes
Vision, Eye Care, and Diabetes
Disclaimer: The information in this post is purely for educational purposes only and does not substitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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