Diabetes 101: Pancreas, insulin and glucose

I will be posting a guest post tomorrow on diabetes and exercise, but it is important to give a little physiology lesson on what diabetes is and what happens in the body of someone with diabetes. Here goes, in bullet form…

  •  The pancreas is an organ situated deep on the left side of the body by the stomach.
  •  When the pancreas senses glucose ( food you eat) in the bloodstream it will release the chemical enzyme, insulin.
  •  Insulin will attach to the glucose and acts as a key to release glucose into your body’s cells to be used for immediate energy or to be stored in the liver.
  •  Glucose can not get into the body’s cells with out the help of insulin. Once glucose and insulin meet and bind, the pancreas will sense a decrease in blood sugar and will not release anymore insulin – great communicative feedback loop!

If this system is in a healthy balance ( just enough insulin to meet glucose levels) everything is great. Below are a few problems that occur when there is an imbalance:

Type 1 diabetes
This is an autoimmune response in which the pancreas will begin destroying pancreatic cells that secret insulin.  People who have type 1 diabetes need daily injections of insulin to allow their glucose to be balanced. This type of diabetes is discovered in childhood or early adolescence and is mostly due to genetics versus lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas does not secret enough insulin or the body’s cells ignore insulin glucose complex.

  • There are 2 basic reasons for people developing type 2 diabetes: an over indulging of a high sugar diet, and sedentary lifestyle. Once known as adult onset diabetes, it now affects all people, including children. A precursor to this, is insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is often referred to as pre-diabetic ( type 2 ) state.

  •   The pancreas will release insulin into the blood but the body’s cells will not allow properly respond to the glucose insulin complex. The pancreas will keep producing insulin to help get the glucose into the cells. Eventually the pancreas can not keep up and excess glucose builds up in the body. This is insulin resistance.

( It is ideal to have a fasting blood sugar level  between 80 and 100 mg per deciliters).

So where will the excess sugar go?
Glucose may settle anywhere ( the eyes= cataracts) but it will predominately end up in fat cells, stored as fat.

Tomorrow we will post a great article on the benefits of exercise and diabetes… it is good!

Be well,



A little bit about dr. heather:
Dr. Heather Manley, who in 2001 received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, is a practicing physician whose primary interest is preventative healthcare for families. She is the author of the award winning Human Body Detectives, her children’s educational series of story-telling books, eBooks, and iPhone/iPad apps.  She also promotes wellness and naturopathic healthcare on her website drheathernd.com. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on the next Human Body Detectives adventure.

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