The Pancreas

The pancreas is a glandular organ in the body’s abdominal cavity and it has very important functions. It helps the body digest foods by secreting digestive juices into the upper part of the small intestine; these juices contain enzymes that help breakdown carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into components that can then be utilized by the body or eliminated. The pancreas also secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon in response to the body’s blood glucose levels, to keep them stable. This blog post will focus on insulin. Beta cells make up about 75% of the cells in the pancreas, and these beta cells are responsible for making and secreting insulin.


Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 9th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.

Insulin Response

The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream as a result of blood sugar being too high. High blood sugar usually occurs from a high glycemic diet: When a person ingests carbohydrates, they are broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into the bloodstream. Insulin acts very rapidly to get glucose out of the bloodstream and increases the entry of glucose into the body’s cells to be used for energy. Insulin also inhibits the breakdown of glycogen (the storage form of glucose in the liver and muscle tissue), and inhibits the breakdown of fat in the liver and in fat cells. Chronic insulin surges increase blood pressure and triglycerides, and promote fat storage. It also reduces HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and increases total cholesterol.

Insulin Resistance
You may have heard of the terms insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, which are commonly used interchangeably. Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells literally become resistant to the effects of insulin, and do not allow more glucose to enter the cells. This results in excess blood glucose, as the glucose has nowhere to go. Excess glucose is turned into triglycerides (fat), which is stored in fat cells (adipose tissue). Insulin resistance is caused by a high carbohydrate diet, an inactive lifestyle since exercise helps cells’ sensitivity to insulin, excess adipose tissue itself, and elevated cortisol (the “stress” hormone). You may wonder if you are insulin resistant. Hallmarks are: fatigue after eating, sugar cravings, and difficulty losing weight. According to the American Heart Association, diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is the presence of three or more of these components:

  • Central or abdominal obesity (measured by waist circumference):
    • Men – greater than 40 inches
    • Women – greater than 35 inches
  • Triglycerides greater than or equal to 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL)
  • HDL cholesterol:
    • Men – Less than 40 mg/dL
    • Women – Less than 50 mg/dL
  • Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mmHg)
  • Fasting glucose greater than or equal to 100 mg/dL

Diabetes

There are two primary types of diabetes. The first is Type 1, which is also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. This type is usually diagnosed in childhood. It’s an autoimmune disease where the pancreas’ beta cells are destroyed, which results in low or non-production of insulin. The patient requires lifelong insulin supplementation. The other type is Type 2, or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. 90% of diabetics are Type 2 diabetics (T2D). It’s typically diagnosed after the age of 40, but its incidence is increasing among children and young adults due to sedentary lifestyles and high-glycemic diets. Metabolic syndrome can lead to T2D. The primary risk factor for T2D is obesity; other risk factors include family history, increased waist/hip ratio, gestational diabetes (diabetes first occurring during pregnancy), and high triglycerides. Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, excessive hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, poor wound healing, periodontal disease, and frequent infections. Complications from diabetes include cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, neuropathy resulting from nerve damage, and amputations. Diabetes is diagnosed by checking fasting blood glucose, glucose two hours after eating, and glucose tolerance tests. Hemoglobin A1C levels are also used for diagnosis and are a good way to monitor diabetes over a 2-3 month period.

How to Stay Healthy

To avoid insulin resistance and T2D, it’s important to maintain an ideal body weight by eating a low-glycemic diet, drinking plenty of water, avoiding excessive alcohol & smoking, and exercising regularly. In addition, keeping stress low will help alleviate excessive cortisol in the body. If you need help with any of these, please schedule a complimentary consultation with me to discuss your needs and develop a plan for moving forward.

To your happiest, sunniest life,
René

Carbs, Sugar, Insulin, and You
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