As diabetics, glucagon plays a vital role in part of our overall management and as I experienced a couple weeks ago, it can save your life. As a type 1 diabetic, I’m very well versed on how this works (unfortunately), and why it is so important and how it can keep us out of emergent situations or in my case, help you come out of a diabetic seizure.
So for all the newly diagnosed diabetics out there, young and old, what is glucagon? What is it so important that we should have it on us at all time, wherever we go? Lets take a closer look!
What Is Glucagon:
Glucagon is a hormone (like insulin) that is naturally made in the pancreas. The pancreas produces this hormone when the body needs to put more sugar (glucose) in the blood to be used for energy. Glucagon raises the blood sugar by sending a signal to the liver and muscles (where your body naturally stores glucose) to release glucose.
The difference between the two, is that insulin lowers your blood glucose (sugar) by helping your body use the glucose in the blood for energy. Glucagon raises your blood glucose (sugar) by causing the liver and muscles to release stored glucose quickly. Though glucagon helps raise the level of glucose in the blood, it is not considered a sugar.
In its simplest form per Lilly, one of the manufactures of glucagon kits:
Glucagon is a medicine that’s different from insulin. It’s used to treat severe low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Glucagon works by telling your body to release sugar into the bloodstream to bring the blood sugar level back up.
The Role Of Glucagon In The Body:
Glucagon plays an active role in allowing the body to regulate the utilization of glucose and fats.
Glucagon is released in response to low blood glucose levels and to events whereby the body needs additional glucose, such as in response to vigorous exercise.
When glucagon is released it can perform the following tasks:
- Stimulating the liver to break down glycogen to be released into the blood as glucose
- Activating gluconeogenesis, the conversion of amino acids into glucose
- Breaking down stored fat (triglycerides) into fatty acids for use as fuel by cells
Insulin And Glucagon:
Glucagon is usually given by injection beneath the skin, in the muscle, or in the vein. It comes as a powder and liquid that will need to be mixed just before administering the dose. Instructions for mixing and giving the injection are in the package. Glucagon should be administered as soon as possible after discovering that the patient is unconscious from low blood sugar. After the injection, the patient should be turned onto the side to prevent choking if they vomit. Once the injection has been given, contact your doctor. It is very important that all patients have a household member who knows the symptoms of low blood sugar and how to administer glucagon.
If you have low blood sugar often, keep a glucagon kit with you at all times. You should be able to recognize some of the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar (i.e., shakiness, dizziness or lightheadedness, sweating, confusion, nervousness or irritability, sudden changes in behavior or mood, headache, numbness or tingling around the mouth, weakness, pale skin, sudden hunger, clumsy or jerky movements). Try to eat or drink a food or beverage with sugar in it, such as hard candy or fruit juice, before it is necessary to administer.
While I’ve heard this several times, is it the insulin that is causing the weight gain, or could it be something else? Perhaps a hormone that as type 1 diabetics we also stop producing since our beta cells have died off.
Have you ever heard of Amylin? Could the lack of this hormone be the reason why she is seeing an increase in her weight? What is amylin anyway, and is it something we should be concerned with if we are no longer producing it?
These are all great questions and honestly this was news to me as well as I’ve never heard of it. So lets take a closer look at what this little hormone does and if it has a direct impact on our overall health as type 1 diabetics!
Function Of Amylin?
So what is amylin? Or as its also called, pramlintide, and how can it help us? Amylin is a peptide hormone (insulin’s partner in crime) which is released by the beta cells in response to ingesting food. This hormone, is also released at the same time as insulin, but in different quantities and its primary function is to help aid in the digestive process by helping to control the rate of digestion.
The complete range of functions of amylin is still not fully known, but its main function has been determined to be to help to slow the speed at which food is digested and glucose is released into the bloodstream after a meal. Essentially, amylin keeps too much glucose from appearing in the blood in the first place.
Amylin accomplishes this in a number of ways. It decreases appetite by promoting a feeling of fullness, hence reducing food intake. It slows gastric emptying and inhibits the secretion of digestive enzymes, all of which slow the appearance of glucose in the blood after a meal and it also slows the secretion of glucagon, which otherwise causes additional glucose release by the liver at mealtimes.
In short, the release of amylin minimizes glucose spikes that often occur after meals. I know, frustrating right! I mean this disease is already hard enough, now this. Fortunately for us, we do have another option to replace this important hormone that has also died off with our beta cells so go ahead and keep on reading.
Did you know that your body produces its very own fat burning hormone? A wonderful little hormone called leptin! Yes that’s correct, you do not need to be buying these “fat burning supplements” (which are highly processed and ironically enough, never seem to work) to lose those couple of pounds that you’ve been wanting to.
As diabetics we all know how vitally important it is to maintain a proper weight to ward off potential complications as well as help maintain proper blood sugar levels.
So lets take a look at leptin and see how you can increase levels in your very own body and start burning fat!
So what is leptin?
Leptin, also referred to as the hunger hormone, is a protein that performs a major part in the human body. This hormone oversees consumption of energy as well as expenditure of it. It plays an important role in metabolism and appetite.
The creation of leptin comes from our fat cells or adipose tissue. There’s a primary link between leptin levels and appetite. If leptin levels are higher, you feel less hunger. Probably the most interesting aspect about this hormone that quite a few individuals are not aware of is that when your exercising and dieting to shed those extra pounds, it actually has adverse effect and actually lowers the amount of leptin that we carry around. Here is an interesting study done by the NIH, you can read about it by clicking here.
Leptin And Obesity:
An individual whose hypothalamus (area of the brain that regulates our appetite) is responding appropriately has a built-in check against excessive weight gain, the leptin induced feeling of satiety.
However, if a person is obese, their hypothalamus gland can become resistant to the effects of leptin. As they accumulate more fat cells, the fat cells produce ever greater amounts of leptin, all the while making a hypothalamus that weekly responds to the hormone. Why does this happen?
How Leptin Works:
Leptin is secreted by fat cells and is received by receptors in the hypothalamus. If leptin is absent, feeding is uncontrolled and relentless. In normally healthy people, if leptin is present and receptors are sensitive, feeding is inhibited. More body fat means less food is required, and so leptin is secreted to inhibit feeding and the accumulation of excess adipose tissue. Overweight people generally have higher circulating leptin, while leaner people have lower levels. A severe caloric deficit will result in reduced leptin secretion – this is your body’s way of getting you to eat when you need energy. It’s the hunger hormone. Overfeeding temporarily boosts leptin, reducing hunger.
Its a fantastic question and was a test that was run on me to confirm my type 1 diagnosis. A c-peptide! What is it? What is the purpose and why do they use this particular test in order to confirm a type 1 diabetes diagnosis? Lets take a closer look!
What Is C-Peptide?
C-peptide, similar to the hormone insulin is produced in the pancreas. Both are released simultaneously from the pancreas where a compound called pro-insulin is split into two pieces.
As we are aware by now, Insulin is responsible for regulating the body’s glucose levels. Glucose, the body’s main source of energy, is a sugar that comes from foods. After a meal, our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose and other nutrients, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream to give us the energy we need in order to fuel our bodies. Glucose levels in the blood rise after a meal and trigger the pancreas to make insulin and release it into the blood, and when insulin is released, so is C-peptide.
Although both are released into the blood stream simultaneous, C-peptide has zero effect on our blood sugar levels. That being said, it is extremely useful as its used as a marker of insulin production, since the pancreas typically releases C-peptide and insulin in about equal amounts.
In a nut shell, high C-peptide levels are associated with increased insulin production, while low C-peptide levels indicate decreased insulin production.