Look up insulin in the dictionary, and you’ll likely be stuck sifting through medical jargon. But with something as vital to your health as insulin, we want to make sure you know exactly what’s going on.
Here at US Neuropathy Centers, our peripheral nerve surgeons, Stephen Barrett, DPM, and Sequioa DuCasse, DPM, break down what insulin does so you can better understand your health.
Simply put, insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and metabolism. What are hormones? They’re chemical messengers that come from multiple glands all over your body. Once released, they alert your brain and kick-start a variety of functions.
Your pancreas (a small organ located in your abdomen) is responsible for releasing insulin after you eat.
Once you’ve finished a meal or snack, a series of biological and chemical reactions occur. First, your intestines break down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar). Then, the glucose enters your bloodstream, triggering a spike in blood sugar levels.
That’s the cue for your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin travels around your blood to help your cells absorb glucose and use it as energy. Your body makes and releases insulin in a sort of feedback loop based on your blood’s sugar levels.
High levels of sugar prompt a special type of cells in your pancreas called beta cells to release insulin — the more sugar in your blood, the more insulin your pancreas secretes.
Low levels of sugar stimulate a different type of cells, which calls for your pancreas to release a different hormone called glucagon. Glucagon finds sugar stored away and releases it into your bloodstream.
Throughout the day, your pancreas alternates between releasing insulin and glucagon to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
Think of it like your home’s thermostat. When it detects that your home is too hot or too cold, your thermostat kicks on to restore a comfortable temperature. Your pancreas works the same way, but instead of temperatures, it responds to the amount of sugar in your blood.
The system we just described works flawlessly when you have a healthy pancreas, But it can quickly deteriorate if you have diabetes. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that usually starts in childhood. It causes your immune system to mistakenly attack and destroy healthy beta cells in your pancreas that are supposed to make insulin.
Type 2 diabetes typically occurs later in life and develops when your pancreas has trouble releasing insulin. Additionally, your body struggles to respond to insulin — a condition called insulin resistance.
In both types, your blood becomes saturated with sugar. Sugar-saturated blood wreaks havoc on nearly every facet of your health, including your nerves.
What do nerve surgeons have to do with diabetes? A lot, actually.
Over time, high blood sugar levels attack and weaken the nerves in your body, particularly your peripheral nerves. Your peripheral nerves branch off your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) and help you sense and react to the world around you.
When your peripheral nerves are damaged by diabetes, you have what’s called diabetic neuropathy. As a result, you may experience:
You may also suffer from serious foot problems, including ulcers, infections, and bone and joint damage — often unbeknownst to you.
Fortunately, we have years of experience treating diabetic neuropathy. For mild cases, we usually recommend over-the-counter medication. For more severe cases, we may turn to prescription medication, peripheral nerve stimulation, or surgery if necessary.
Whatever your situation, we prioritize diligent foot care, including regular checks for ulcers and wounds that aren’t healing properly.
If you’d like more information, or if you suspect that you’re suffering from diabetes-related nerve damage, don’t wait. Call or click to schedule an appointment at our Marietta, Georgia, office today.