What is insulin and how does it work

How Insulin Works

  • Insulin is a hormone made by one of the body's organs called the pancreas. Insulin helps your body turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy. It also helps your body store it in your muscles, fat cells, and liver to use later, when your body needs it.
  • After you eat, your blood sugar (glucose) rises. This rise in glucose triggers your pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin travels through the blood to your body's cells. It tells the cells to open up and let the glucose in. Once inside, the cells convert glucose into energy or store it to use later.
  • Without insulin, your body can't use or store glucose for energy. Instead, the glucose stays in your blood.

How Does Insulin Regulate Energy and Brain Function?

  • After a person eats, blood glucose increases—this rise in blood sugar triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin into the bloodstream.
Insulin travels through the circulatory system to the body’s cells—it tells the cells to open up and let the glucose inside. Once within, the cells turn glucose into energy or store it for later use. The body cannot utilize or store glucose without insulin—instead, the glucose stays circulating in the blood.

The pancreas is about about 12 to 18 centimeters long and weighs roughly 100 grams—about the weight of one medium sized banana. It is made up of a head, a body, and a pointy tail. The position of the pancreas is behind the stomach in the upper abdomen.

The two main functions of the pancreas are:

  • To produce the enzymes that break down foods in the intestine
  • To produce and secrete the hormones that regulate blood sugar levels

Insulin and glucagon are the two essential hormones that orchestrate energy storage and utilization—they are produced by the islet cells in the pancreas. Islet cells are in clusters throughout the pancreas. Insulin and glucagon are a part of a feedback system that keeps blood sugar levels stable. The pancreas releases insulin when blood glucose levels are high; on the other hand, glucagon is released when the concentration of blood glucose falls too low. Glucagon causes the stored glycogen in the liver to convert to glucose, which is then released for use in the bloodstream.

Types of Diabetes

The most common types of diabetes are:

  • Type 1
  • Type 2
  • Gestational Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

  • In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is not making the needed insulin. The immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin—this is known as autoimmunity. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can arise at any age.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • In type 2 diabetes the pancreas does not make enough insulin or use insulin efficiently. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood; however, this type of diabetes most often occurs in adults. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

  • Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy in some women. Most of the time, this type of diabetes will go away after the infant is born. If a woman has gestational diabetes, they have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Sometimes the diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy is type 2 diabetes.

Treatment of Type 1 diabetes

  • People with type 1 diabetes make little to no insulin because the beta cells in their pancreas are damaged or destroyed. Therefore, these individuals will need insulin injections to allow their body to process glucose and avoid complications from hyperglycemia.

Treatment of Type 2 diabetes

  • People with type 2 diabetes do not respond well to the insulin produced by the pancreas, or they are insulin resistant. Type 2 diabetes is oftentimes managed with oral medication and lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. Sometimes supplemental insulin injections are needed to process the sugar adequately.