Insulin is probably a word that you’ve heard before and possibly associate it with a medication people with diabetes take. In part, this is true; however, it is important to understand that every body produces insulin to regulate the amount of glucose in the body.

What is the pancreas and insulin?

As part of the digestive system, the pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen behind the stomach. Its main responsibility is to produce enzymes and hormones such as insulin to help break down foods and control sugar levels. Through its endocrine function, the pancreas releases juices into the bloodstream. Through its exocrine function, it excretes enzymes to breakdown the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in the food.

One of the hormones the pancreas produces is insulin, which plays a critical role in the regulation of blood glucose levels. After being produced, the hormone is secreted into the bloodstream with the goal of regulating the way your body stores and uses glucose and fat.

How does insulin control glucose?

Insulin signals the liver, fat, and muscle cells to take in glucose. It acts as a key that unlocks the cell wall and mediates the amount of glucose entering the cell. In turn, the glucose is used for energy to help you carry out daily activities. Too much glucose will cause insulin to notify the liver to store the extra blood sugar; consequently, when there is a glucose need, the insulin hormone will ask the liver to release some of the previously stored glucose.

What is insulin’s role in diabetes?

It is believed that the immune system of people with type 1 diabetes mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells (also known as beta-cells) and eventually destroys them. People with type 1 diabetes tend to lose the ability to produce insulin on their own.

Those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are not producing enough insulin to match the body’s needs. In other words, there is too much glucose in your bloodstream and cells are not able to absorb the energy and use it efficiently. During the earlier stages of type 2 diabetes, the beta-cells produce more insulin to match the extra demands. Over time, the beta-cells may wear out from the production of extra insulin and ultimately decrease its production. Eventually, some patients with type 2 diabetes may build a resistance to insulin.

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