How does my body control my blood sugar levels?

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Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
When high sugar, or low fiber, starchy foods are eaten in excess, blood sugar levels rise quickly, producing a strain on blood sugar control. The body responds to the rise in blood glucose levels after meals by secreting insulin, a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas (a small gland that resides at the base of the stomach). Insulin lowers blood glucose by increasing the rate that glucose is taken up by cells throughout the body. Declines in blood glucose, as occur during fasting or exercise, cause the release of glucagon, another hormone produced by the pancreas. Glucagon stimulates the release of glucose stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. If blood sugar levels fall sharply or if a person is angry or frightened, it may result in the release of epinephrine (Adrenalin) and corticosteroids (cortisol) by the adrenal glands. These hormones provide quicker breakdown of stored glucose for extra energy during a crisis or increased need.
Ideally, these mechanisms are effective in keeping blood sugar levels within a very narrow range. Unfortunately, a great deal of Americans stress these control mechanisms through diet and lifestyle. As a result, obesity, diabetes, and other disorders of blood sugar regulation are among the most common diseases of modern society.
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Blood glucose levels naturally vary. They rise after a meal, then go down as the body uses up the glucose provided by the food. Here's how it normally works:
  • As your blood glucose starts to rise after a meal, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin. The insulin moves the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells to be used for energy. This prevents blood glucose from getting too high.
  • When your blood glucose gets low -- as can happen when you don't eat for a while -- the liver responds by releasing extra glucose into your bloodstream.
With insulin helping glucose get into the cells, and the liver preventing blood glucose from dropping too low, blood glucose levels can stay within a healthy range.

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Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.