Diabetes is the result of either a lack of, or resistance to, insulin. When the body can’t produce or effectively use it, glucose (sugar) levels in the blood rise to dangerous levels. If you don’t treat it, this leads to serious health problems and even death.
What Is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use the glucose from food to produce energy. It is produced in the pancreas and released into the bloodstream whenever blood sugar levels rise. The hormone works like a key that allows glucose to enter cells and be absorbed. Without it, cells become starved for energy, causing adverse effects in all parts of the body.
Diabetes occurs in two forms. With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough of the hormone. With type 2 diabetes, the body develops a resistance to it. This means the body produces the hormone, but cells are immune to its effects. Both types leave cells lacking energy and cause problems throughout the body.
What Does It Do?
Insulin regulates the level of sugar in the bloodstream. If it is not produced in the right amount or used effectively by the body, the result will be too much or too little sugar in the bloodstream. Both conditions are dangerous.
When you eat and blood sugar levels rise, beta cells in your pancreas signal the release of insulin. The hormone then attaches to cells, telling them to absorb the sugar from the bloodstream. The higher blood sugar levels are, the more the pancreas produces.
Insulin also helps the body store excess sugar in the liver. Later, when levels become low, it signals a release of that sugar back into the bloodstream.
Both blood sugar and insulin levels must be carefully monitored in someone with diabetes. Too little insulin leads to high blood sugar levels. On the other hand, too much can lower blood sugar to dangerous levels, resulting in insulin shock. This can cause weakness, fainting, convulsions and even coma.
The most common form of diabetes is type 2, which signifies an insulin resistance. This means that the body produces the hormone, but cells do not properly respond, creating a demand higher than what the pancreas can produce. This resistance can be improved, and even reversed, with proper treatment.
With most cases of type 2 diabetes, treatment involves lifestyle changes to help control blood sugar levels and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Treatment options may include:
- Dietary changes
- Regular exercise
- Weight loss
- Reducing or avoiding alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
If you are diabetic, it is extremely important to self-monitor your blood sugar and insulin levels and visit your doctor regularly. Incorrect dosage of the hormone or irregular blood sugar levels can cause permanent damage to your health.