How Does the Body Control Blood Sugar Levels?

Your body depends on stable blood sugar levels to function properly. When we eat sugar or carbohydrates, the body converts them into glucose. Our body uses glucose for energy to perform all of its functions from the neurons or nerve cells in the brain all the way down to a cellular level. If the blood sugar gets too high, it can cause damage to organs, tissue and cells in the body. In order to maintain control of the blood sugar, the pancreas produces two different hormones that helps keep the levels just right—insulin and glucagon. The article helps you understand how the body controls blood sugar levels and how the two hormones work in balance.

How does the Body Control Blood Sugar Levels?

It is very important that the body keep the blood sugar levels under control. There cannot be too little or too much, if it falls out of normal range there can be adverse effects on the body such as:

  • Not enough blood sugar and you can experience confusion, pass out and possibly even go into a coma.
  • If your blood sugar is too high, your eyesight will get blurry and you may feel very tired.

In order for the body to keep a normal blood sugar level, your body needs the hormones insulin and glucagon to help blood sugar do its job.

General Regulation

Glucose Level

Effect On Pancreas

Effect On Liver

Effect On Glucose Level

High

High blood sugar signals the pancreas to release insulin.

The liver converts any excess glucose into glycogen.

The blood sugar levels drop.

Low

Low blood sugar signals the pancreas to stop insulin production until needed. At the same time, it releases glucagon.

The liver stops converting excess glucose into glycogen due to the release of glucagon from the pancreas.

The blood sugar levels go up.

Normal

When you eat, glucose goes into your bloodstream and signals the pancreas to release insulin. This helps the glucose move into the cells and gives them needed energy.

The liver does nothing for blood sugar levels when they are normal.

The blood sugar remains stable.

Watch video for elaboration on how insulin and glucagon control blood sugar levels to achieve homeostasis:

Insulin

The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreatic islet cells then secreted into the bloodstream in response to glucose. Insulin is a hormone that most of the cells in the body including; fat cells, muscle cells and liver cells need to get their energy. It is a protein that has a chain of 51 different amino acids and performs these functions:

  • Tells the cells in the muscles and liver to store converted glucose in the form of glycogen
  • Helps fat cells make fat by converting glycerol and fatty acids
  • Inhibits kidneys and liver to make their own glucose from metabolic pathway compounds (gluconeogenesis)
  • Stimulates muscle cells and liver to make protein from amino acids

In summary, insulin helps the body store nutrients after you eat by lowering glucose, amino acids and fatty acids that circulate in your blood

Glucagon

Glucagon is a protein that the alpha cells make and secret directly from the pancreatic islets. It has a similar effect on the cells in regards to blood sugar levels, but does exactly the opposite:

  • When the blood sugar is too low, glucagon encourages the muscles and liver to use the glycogen they stored to raise glucose in the blood also known as glycogenolysis
  • Encourages kidneys and liver to make their own glucose from metabolic pathway compounds (gluconeogenesis)

In summary, glucagon finds glucose from all the different resources inside the body to raise the glucose in the blood keeping it stable. If this didn’t happen, your blood sugar could become seriously low.

How does The Body Know When to Secrete Insulin or Glucagon?

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There is a normal daily balance between insulin and glucagon in your blood. One example is right after you eat. Your body takes in amino acids, fatty acids and glucose from foods. As you body digests them, it triggers the beta cells in your pancreas to give off insulin out into your bloodstream. This process tells the pancreas not to secrete any glucagon to encourage the body to use the glucose for energy. Insulin rises with the blood sugar levels and directs it into the cells of the muscle and liver to use for energy. This keeps glucose, amino and fatty acids from getting to high in the blood and helps keep blood sugar levels stable in the body.

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On the other hand, if you have not taken in a recent meal or during the night your body needs to use resources to maintain blood sugar levels until the next meal. When you are not eating, the cells in your body need constant energy from glucose to continue to function. When your blood sugar drops from lack of food, the alpha cells in the pancreas secrete glucagon to stop insulin production and communicate to the liver and kidneys to make glucose out of stored glycogen or through metabolic pathways. This will keep the blood sugar stable enough to prevent complications.

Alcohol Reduces the Body’s Ability to Control Blood Sugar Levels

When you drink alcohol, your body may not be able to control your blood sugar as well as it should. When you drink your liver, pancreas and kidneys are inhibited from processing blood sugar properly. Your body thinks that the sugars in alcohol is a type of food, but it doesn’t have the same composition as real food and your blood sugar may go too high or too low. This is especially true if you are a heavy drinker or drink on a regular basis every day.

Watch a video for detailed information on how alcohol affects glucose regulation and its effects on diabetes:

 
 
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