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Learn to Think Like your Pancreas

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Learn to Think Like your Pancreas: Understandig How Insulin Works

By Nina Nazor

Why do you need insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and its function is to help metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats. When insulin is not produced in the right amounts or when it cannot function properly by letting glucose and other nutrients enter the cells of your body, you are in trouble.

To understand how insulin works and the important role it has to keep your blood glucose levels under control, you must learn to think like your pancreas.

Normal insulin release

Normal insulin production in the pancreas is released in two different ways, basal and meal-stimulated. Let's see what it means.

Basal insulin secretion means that a constant amount of insulin is released by the pancreas, usually between 0.5 to 1.0 units per hour. This helps your body get the fuel needed for different activities you perform every day. Basal insulin is a constant production of very small amounts of insulin.

Pulsatile insulin secretion (usually 1 unit of insulin per 10 g of carbohydrates) is released after a meal and helps you body metabolize or use the food you eat. This allows glucose and other nutrients to reach the cells to be used to produce energy or to be stored as fat. Every time blood glucose concentrations are over 100 mg per dL, pulsatile insulin is released.

Normal insulin metabolism in people without diabetes works by balancing glucose levels every time a meal is eaten, or whenever the liver or muscles release glucose to the bloodstream. Insulin production usually reaches the highest levels one hour after having a meal, which makes blood glucose concentrations get back to normal within 2 hours. This does not happen in people with diabetes.

Insulin balance in diabetes

The base of diabetes treatment is imitating this normal balance of insulin and glucose in order to keep blood glucose levels as near as normal as possible. That's why the most common regimens of insulin mix short acting and intermediate or long acting insulin, trying to mimic normal insulin production to have you covered through the day and at the highest glucose peaks after eating a meal.

In case you have type 2 diabetes and you take pills, the treatment prescribed by the doctor will also try to imitate insulin production with one pill, a combination of them, or a combination of insulin and pills.

So, no matter what medication you take, you must understand how they work by learning to think like your pancreas.

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