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Insulin: Why it Matters

Written by Noelle

March 1, 2020

What’s happening in your body when you have type 2 diabetes? We know it has to do with insulin and blood sugar, there is a lot of confusing information out there. 

– Wait…insulin is a hormone? I thought it was something people inject.

– Insulin and blood sugar…aren’t those the same thing and aren’t they both bad?

– Hang on…diabetes actually isn’t caused by eating sugar?

You might be asking some of these questions, so let’s break it down.

Diabetes, on a biological level, is rather complicated. And because it’s complicated, most people with diabetes don’t know what’s going on inside their bodies that makes their blood sugar levels dangerous.

Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed based on your ability to metabolize glucose.

Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes means that your body has a resistance to insulin. In other words, your body isn’t responding to insulin. 

Insulin is a hormone your body produces naturally. 

When you eat a meal, particularly one full of carbohydrates, or glucose, your blood sugar increases.

Here’s a picture to show the difference between a post-meal blood sugar spike of a person with type 2 diabetes vs a person without. 

Why is the spike so much higher in the person with type 2 diabetes, or even prediabetes?

Basically, as soon as you eat carbohydrates, the glucose (sugar) from those carbohydrates flood into your blood. Your body responds by releasing insulin (a hormone) from the pancreas. 

Insulin regulates the amount of glucose in blood by attaching to receptors on targeted cells. Alone, glucose is too big to pass through the cell membrane.

But when insulin attaches to the receptors, the cells allow glucose to pass the membrane, like a key in a gate. The glucose can pass through the “gate” and be metabolized by the cell. All cells need energy, and glucose is essential for survival. So glucose and insulin are both good things.

BUT…Without that key (the insulin) the glucose can’t get in. And that means the glucose is trapped in the blood, causing both: high levels of blood sugar and longer periods of time where the blood sugar is elevated.

Type 2 diabetes means that the receptors on the targeted cells aren’t working properly, so the cells can’t take in the glucose. This causes the blood sugar levels to spike and stay higher than normal.. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, where the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, type 2 diabetes makes the same amount of insulin but can’t absorb it.

The good thing is that you can work toward getting your blood sugar curve back to the “normal” range by eating meals that don’t cause dramatic blood sugar spikes, losing weight, and exercising more. It is possible to improve your insulin resistance.

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