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What is Blood Sugar Regulation?

By T. Broderick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Blood sugar regulation is a self-regulating process in the human body that maintains optimal blood glucose levels. The pancreas is the main organ responsible for this regulation as it produces the hormones insulin and glucagon. Type 1 and 2 diabetes are conditions that no longer allow the pancreas to work correctly, leading to wild swings in blood glucose levels. As this imbalance can have detrimental effects on many parts of the human body, diabetics become responsible for actively monitoring their blood glucose levels and adjusting their lifestyles accordingly.

For healthy adults, the range of normal blood glucose is between 65 and 104 mg/dL at any point throughout the day. Blood sugar regulation is the process by which this range is maintained. As one might expect, lower blood glucose indicates that an individual is fasting or is just about to begin a meal. Higher blood glucose occurs right after consuming food, but gradually falls over the next few hours. This balancing act is performed by the pancreas and the two hormones it produces: insulin and glucagon.

The pancreas is a gland located just below the stomach. When a person eats, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream to convert the glucose from food into glycogen. Glycogen is easily stored by the body to be used for energy in the future. Glucagon, the second hormone created by the pancreas, converts the stored glycogen back into glucose when blood glucose levels start to fall too low. An example would be the long period of time each night during sleeping when a person consumes no food at all.

The body's natural blood sugar regulation system breaks down at the onset of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune response destroys the pancreas' beta cells, those responsible for creating insulin. As the body can no longer lower blood glucose levels, glucose is expelled through frequent urination. At night, the body converts more glycogen back into glucose to keep blood sugar from falling too low. For this reason type 1 diabetics experience rapid weight loss.

Though the pancreas still produces insulin in type 2 diabetics, the body has become insulin resistant, meaning that insulin no longer has the ability to convert glucose into glycogen. Though a different cause, this blood sugar regulation disorder creates the same higher blood glucose levels as in type 1 diabetes. For both types, patients regularly check their blood glucose levels throughout the day. Type 2 diabetics also take prescription medication to treat their insulin resistance, while type 1 diabetics must administer insulin for their rest of their lives.

Treating a blood sugar regulation disorder such as diabetes requires lifestyle changes outside of checking blood glucose levels and taking medication/insulin. Staying healthy and not suffering from the side effects of diabetes requires strict diet and exercise. As this transition may be difficult for some, a diabetes specialist can help a patient create an individualized lifestyle plan.

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