Insulin and Glucagon: Essential Hormones for Normal Blood Sugar
When it comes to regulating blood glucose levels there is an important interplay between two hormones in your body, insulin and glucagon. These two hormones counterbalance each other and allow for normal blood sugar balancing. When they are not working correctly people can develop insulin resistance and diabetes. Here are the major players.
What is Glucose
Glucose is a simple form of sugar that is used by our cells as fuel. When you eat a meal your food is broken down in your digestive system into its building blocks and ultimately converted into glucose.
Glucose is then released into your blood stream so that your cells can use it for fuel to do their jobs in your body. When there is extra glucose in the blood stream it is taken up into the liver and muscle cells to be stored as glycogen for in between meals.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is released from your pancreas in response to high amounts of glucose circulating in your blood. The purpose of insulin is to help the high glucose levels leave your bloodstream and enter your cells.
Insulin acts as a key to open the cell membranes of the cells so glucose can enter. This causes the blood glucose levels in the blood to drop and become lower.
What is Glucagon?
Glucagon is a hormone that is also released from your pancreas but this time in response to low levels of glucose in your blood. It causes the stored glycogen to be broken down back into glucose.
It's then released into the bloodstream to raise blood glucose levels during times when you are not eating. For example when you are sleeping or in-between meals.
When insulin levels are high, glucagon is not released. When glucagon levels are high then insulin levels are not released. The interplay between insulin and glucagon keeps your blood glucose constant between 90-100ml/dl throughout the day.
When someone’s cells become insulin resistant it causes the blood glucose levels to become high even during fasting times. When the cells are not receiving glucose they think they are starving and request the pancreas to release glucagon, causing glucose to be released from the liver and muscles.
This abnormality causes the classic symptoms of diabetes.
The glucose in the bloodstream increases. This can be found with a fasting blood glucose.
High blood glucose levels spill out into the urine and can be found with urinalysis. High glucose levels also cause frequent urination which also causes thirst because the body wants to replenish the water lost from urination.
The last symptom of constant hunger may be stimulating the brain hunger center due to the hormone levels of insulin and glucagon.
I hope this helps to understand how your cells are changed by insulin resistance and diabetes. The great news is that exercise, proper diet, stress management and proper nutritional supplementation or pharmaceutical interventions can reverse this process.