These words are cropping up more and more these days, and if they have caused you a little anxiety or concern, you are not alone. On the other hand, many people think they know the full meaning and context of what these words imply, while desperately trying to remember your High School biology to help figure out what it actually means. In general, most people think “diabetes” when they hear the word Insulin. Well, today is the day to clear things up.
A definition of Glucose would be, simply put, the sugar that is in your bloodstream. It gets into your bloodstream through the food you eat. Food that is digested and broken up into nutritional components, one of which is sugar, enters the bloodstream so that it can be transported throughout the body to where it is needed for the manufacturing of energy. That means we all have Glucose in our system – not just diabetics – and that glucose is actually a necessary element for us all. By contrast, Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the body (in your pancreas, to be more specific), in reaction to high glucose levels in the bloodstream. The purpose of the hormone insulin is to prevent the accumulation of too much glucose, by enabling the rest of the body cells to use that glucose either for energy, or to store as fat for later use.
In theory, eating at mealtimes is supposed to provide your body with fuel to sustain it throughout the day by creating enough energy as it is needed. However, unhealthy eating habits – such as going too long without eating – do the opposite. Chances are that you will start feeling sleepy and sluggish if you haven’t eaten in a while, prompting you to go to the nearest vending machine (or drive-thru) to grab something to eat to still the rumbling in your stomach. Often the emergency meal is a chocolate, muffin, pie or other similar fast-foods. The moment you consume this, you start feeling better as your body converts this food to fuel, and you suddenly have a burst of energy to go about your day with. However, within about 20 minutes or so, the sluggish and sleepy feeling returns.
Why is that, you may ask? Well, what you are experiencing is your body crying out for proper fuel. You need fuel to create energy! The moment you eat that chocolate or muffin, your digestive processes kick in, breaking down and stripping the chocolate for nutrients. As I’m sure you know, chocolates and those other fast-food options are high in sugar; sugar is what your body wants and needs in order to create energy and it takes whatever fuel you give it to work with. These sugars or are then absorbed into your bloodstream, which is the body’s main transport route (much like a highway) to be distributed throughout the body’s cells that need energy to function. But, there’s a problem… the glucose can’t enter the body’s cells on its own, so your body basically becomes a production line. Much like a factory that produces a lot of merchandise, loads it into trucks only to find it can’t really unload it anywhere, the body not keeps producing glucose that can’t actually be distributed effectively.
Your body registers the increasing amount of glucose, and responds by producing the hormone Insulin. Produced in your pancreas, Insulin enters the bloodstream as well, and acts like a door-to-door salesman, going to all the body cells, knocking on the door, and making sure that the glucose gets loaded out of the bloodstream into the body cells where it can be used for immediate energy, or stored for later use. By doing this, the Insulin decreases the glucose load in the bloodstream and creates a way in which energy (or potential energy) can be given to the cells that need it. This is the ideal way in which the body works. However, sometimes things don’t go according to plan.
There are two types of disorders that could disrupt the process: namely, Diabetes Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is the less common form, and is generally seen as an auto-immune disease where the body is not able to produce enough insulin on its own. As such, the person with Type 1 Diabetes needs to take insulin every day to ensure their body is able to process glucose. This is the more “infamous” diabetes where needles and injections become a part of daily life. Contrary to popular belief, Type 1 Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar, and it does not only affect children. The reality is much different: genetics and a possible viral trigger have been found to be the cause of Type 1 Diabetes, and it can affect anyone regardless of age.
Type 2 Diabetes is seen as a lifestyle disease, or a disorder of one’s metabolism. Characterised by high blood glucose levels, a person with Type 2 Diabetes’ cells do not respond to insulin like it’s supposed to. This means there is too much sugar in the bloodstream and, over time, the body produces less and less insulin, or becomes resistant to it. Basically, the insulin doesn’t work the way it should, causing a build-up of sugar in your blood with nowhere to go. Type 2 Diabetes is caused by three main lifestyle factors, including obesity (being overweight), lack of physical activity, and a poor, unhealthy diet. This disease is also progressive, meaning that if you don’t deal with it, it will get worse and worse, and worse. Also treating it means that medicines taken to combat it should change over time, as the disease progresses. Sounds quite scary, doesn’t it?
What to take home from this is the lesson regarding the importance of healthy diets and physical activity. While we all want to look good, we should also want to be healthy, particularly when bad eating habits and lack of exercise can literally cause a potentially life-threatening disease. Another important lesson is to keep eating throughout the day to keep the right amount of fuel available for conversion to energy in your bloodstream. Eating healthy, regular meals will help you to avoid the slump and sluggishness that comes with starving yourself, and will help your mind to remain sharp and focussed. Not storing unnecessary quantities of sugar is obviously also a bonus, and the health of your body – and mind – can be promoted.