Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone manufactured by the beta cells in your pancreas. Its function is to help your body use glucose (sugar) for energy. If your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or if your body doesn’t respond to insulin’s effects properly, you end up with high levels of blood glucose, a sign of diabetes.
At Primecare Family Practice, our board-certified family practitioners Maryline Ongangi, APRN, FNP-C and Lewis Nyantika, APRN, FNP-C diagnose and treat diabetes at our Arlington, Texas, office. While most people have at least heard about diabetes, they’re not as familiar with the important role insulin plays in your overall health, so we’re taking this opportunity to get you in the know.
Insulin has many effects, but primarily it controls how the body uses complex carbohydrates from food. Carbohydrates are broken into their component parts, one of which is the sugar glucose, the main energy source of all the body’s cells. Insulin allows the muscle, liver, and fat cells to absorb the glucose and use it to power their functions. Any glucose not used by the cells is stored as fat, which the body draws on when glucose levels are too low.
Insulin plays a key role in diabetes development. People who have type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes), produce little-to-no insulin because their immune systems mistakenly attack the beta cells that produce it. This is known as an autoimmune condition.
Without enough insulin, the body can’t move glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, leading to high blood glucose levels. If the level is high enough, glucose ends up in the urine, which pulls in additional water to dilute it. This leads to more frequent urination, thirst, and dehydration that can lead to confusion, classic symptoms of diabetes.
In addition, with too little insulin in the bloodstream, the cells can’t obtain the glucose needed to live, so they look to other sources, such as muscle and fat, which produce acidic waste products. This leaves you chronically fatigued and may lead to weight loss. People with type 1 diabetes therefore need regular injections of insulin for their bodies to work normally.
People with type 2 diabetes may also have problems with their beta cells, which don’t produce enough hormone to supply the body. But more importantly, what insulin is available doesn’t work properly because the receptors where the insulin docks with the cell stop responding to the hormone’s signals. This is known as insulin resistance. It’s commonly caused by lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise, and being overweight or obese. This makes it more preventable than other forms of diabetes.
Some patients with type 2 diabetes can improve their condition by losing weight, eating a healthier diet, and getting enough exercise. Others may need oral medications or regular insulin injections to improve their glucose levels.
There is some hope for type 2 diabetics in how the gut and pancreas interact. When glucose passes through the gut as opposed to being injected into a vein, the pancreas responds by producing more insulin. This happens because the gut sends the pancreas a message in the form of a peptide (short protein chain) that tells it to make more insulin. The best-known gut peptide controlling insulin is called GLP1 (glucagon-like peptide 1). Researchers now know that in type 2 diabetes, GLP1 levels are too low, which is, in part, why blood glucose levels rise so high after a meal. A number of medications have been formulated to control this postprandial hyperglycemia, thereby helping type 2 diabetics manage their disease.
If you’re a diabetic, or if you’re at risk for developing diabetes, Primecare Family Practice can help with diagnosis and treatment. Call us at 817-873-3710 to schedule a consultation with one of our practitioners, or book online with us today.