Insulin explained

When you are first diagnosed with diabetes you will hear your healthcare team using medical terminology that you may not have heard before or find difficult to understand. One of the words that is often mentioned is "insulin". Lots of people know that diabetes has something to do with insulin, but most of them probably couldn't explain what insulin is or its link with diabetes.

In basic terms, insulin is made in the pancreas to help control your blood glucose levels.

When you eat, your body breaks down the sugar and starches in your food and turns them into blood glucose. It then uses the glucose as fuel for its cells. Insulin is a type of hormone. Hormones are chemical messengers that act like keys, "opening the doors" to your body's different functions. Insulin is the key to unlock the doors that glucose travels through to get into your body's cells.

The pancreas is a gland behind your stomach. The pancreas has cells that contain an "inbuilt blood glucose meter". In people who don't have diabetes, this meter knows the right amount of insulin the body needs to help the glucose's journey into the cells. It registers when the level of glucose in the blood goes up and responds by sending the correct amount of insulin into the blood stream that is needed to help transport the glucose into the cells.

Some people with Type 2 diabetes don't create enough insulin, while in others the cells in their body "ignore" the insulin and do not use it properly. This is called "insulin resistance". If your insulin production is low or you have insulin resistance, your cells will not be getting enough fuel and the glucose is left behind in your blood to build up. This is why people with Type 2 diabetes have a high blood glucose level. If the high blood glucose level is not controlled or left untreated, it can cause serious long-term health complications.

In the early stages of diabetes, the best way to improve your blood glucose levels is through changes to your diet and the amount you exercise. However, Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, so you may have to start taking tablets to control your blood glucose level and eventually have insulin therapy. This involves replacing your body's natural insulin with insulin injections.

Learning how your body works is the first step towards managing your diabetes. Speak to your diabetes healthcare team if you want to know more about how insulin works in your body and the role it plays in your diabetes.

 

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