Can diabetes cause excessive hunger?

William Lee Dubois
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Yes. No. Sort of. Well, ok, here’s the deal. The shinbone’s connected to the thighbone, the thighbone’s connected to the…. Diabetes can cause high blood sugar, and high blood sugar can give you the munchies. So diabetes doesn’t, by itself, make you hungry. It’s the high blood sugar that can come from out-of-control diabetes that does.

Which is crazy, if you think about it. For the most part, the human body does a really great job of maintaining a stable state using a process of small adjustments and counter-adjustments called homeostasis. In the case of blood sugar, the body normally keeps the sugar level just right by balancing little squirts of insulin from the pancreas with little squirts of sugar from the liver. If the liver is running low on its sugar stores your body will give you an advanced head’s up that you need to refuel by sending out hunger signals.

Where things get weird is that if your blood sugar is already high, the last thing you need is more sugar (in the form of food), right? But in fact, high blood sugar does cause hunger, even though you do not need more food. This is caused largely by a miss-communication within the body’s sugar homeostasis system.

Every cell in your body relies on sugar from the blood for food, but they need insulin to get to the sugar. It’s insulin that moves sugar from the blood to the cells. If there is not enough insulin, or if it isn’t working very well, sugar piles up in the blood while at the same time, it’s not getting into the cells where it’s needed.

Being in a state of high blood sugar is sort of like starving to death in the Chef Boyardee warehouse because you don’t have a can opener.

The cells don’t really realize that there is a ton of sugar just beyond their membranes; all they know is that they are not getting any and so they send out the message: let’s eat!

The body doesn’t really know there is a ton of sugar in the blood either, so it sends the cells signals to the brain: let's eat! Perversely, the higher the blood sugar goes, the louder the signal can become. High blood sugar gives you the munchies, so you eat, which causes your blood sugar to go even higher, which causes more munchies, which


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