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How Insulin Functions in a Normal Body

Aug 18, 2007
Insulin is a self-correcting hormone which ebbs and flows as the body needs it. Insulin is part of an exquisitely-controlled system that signals the cells when to use energy, the liver when to produce it, the hunger centers when we need to refill, and the nerves to insure that we stay calm and collected.

The insulin that diabetics have to take is a replacement for this smoothly-operating natural system. Although insulin-dependent diabetics must take insulin or they will die from their disease, the spikes in their insulin injections don't correspond well to how their insulin system would work in a normal body. As a result, even diabetics who measure their blood glucose often during the day and assiduously take their insulin shots are at much higher danger of organ failure, circulatory disease and other diseases that are common to diabetics.

In order to understand why diabetes can be so problematic, it's best to understand how the insulin cycle works in a healthy body.

The pancreas produces insulin, and it detects the amount of glucose and insulin circulating in the body. The two parts of the pancreas - glucose-sensors and insulin producers - work hand-in-hand to insure that the levels of insulin and glucose are in balance at all times.

What does the pancreas really measure when it measures circulating glucose? It's primarily monitoring the amount of sugar uptake by the cells. When we are working hard on a math problem, for example, the brain's cells require a good deal more energy in the form of glucose than when our brains are relaxed. The brain is the most sensitive of our organs to glucose levels - that's why we can achieve a 'sugar high' after we eat a piece of candy, and a 'sugar low' when our blood sugar level falls. The symptoms of too much sugar are excitability (particularly amongst children), while the symptoms of too-low glucose in the blood are lowered temperature, thirst, shivering and bad temper.

Other organs also depend on the right glucose level in order to assure that they function properly. When you run, for example, your leg and other muscles use a good deal of the glucose circulating freely in the blood. If this glucose weren't replenished quickly, you could end up hypoglycemic, which means with low blood sugar. The muscles would soon lose their ability to work at their top level, and you would slow down.

Fortunately, the pancreas detects this lowering of the blood sugar levels and responds immediately with insulin secretions. These secretions tell the muscles "request more glucose," and tell the liver "produce more glucose." The elegant system therefore relies on this feedback loop in order to assure that cells have exactly the right amount of sugar available to fuel their activity.

The insulin-dependent diabetic cannot rely on this fine-tuning method. He or she is forced to 'spike' their insulin by injecting it two to five times a day. Although they try to time their insulin injections around mealtimes, they are not able to duplicate the fine controls of insulin secretion in response to cellular needs.
About the Author
Scott Meyers is a staff writer for Its Entirely Natural, a resource for helping you achieve a naturally healthy body, mind, and spirit. You may contact our writers through the web site. Follow this link for more information on Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.
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