Okay, so you’ve just finished your lunch. You’re feeling satiated and a little bit relieved because now you can focus better on your work. However, what you don’t realize is that inside your body there is a whole other process that’s just about to begin.
Once you’ve eaten, your stomach starts digesting your food and breaking it down into nutrients, mainly sugar and starch.
This sends a signal to your pancreas, a small organ located behind the stomach, to release the hormone insulin. Hormones are chemical substances whose main job is to help regulate cell activity.
Insulin and glucose then travel together in the bloodstream, stopping at each cell throughout the body. When the cells see them together, they open up their doors to absorb the glucose for energy.
Insulin has a very important role in the way we break down our food for energy (metabolism):
- It helps lower blood glucose levels by allowing cells to absorb glucose, and by minimizing the liver’s glucose production.
- It helps stimulate tissue found in the liver and muscles to store any excess glucose. Once stored, it is known as glycogen.
- Any leftover glycogen that the body does not use for energy, is stored as fat for the body to use later, if ever.
Glucagon is another hormone produced by the pancreas whose job is to raise blood sugar levels once they fall too low. During exercise, sleep, or between meals, the levels of glucose in your bloodstream drop significantly.
The pancreas senses the drop, and tells the pancreas to stop secreting insulin and start secreting glucagon instead.
Once glucagon has been released into the bloodstream, its job is to head for the liver. The liver is both a storage compartment and a manufacturer for glucose, depending on the body’s needs. When you eat, the liver stores glucose (as glycogen) for later when your body will have more need for it.
The liver senses the presence of the glucagon and begins to supply its stored form of glucose (glycogen) into the bloodstream as glucose, allowing for a controlled rise in the levels of glucose in the blood.
When a healthy level of glucose has been detected, the pancreas turns off the release of glucagon.
In a healthy body, the glucagon and insulin use this buddy system to make sure that blood glucose levels remain within set limits, allowing the body to function properly.
Now that we know how insulin works, it’s time to know what triggers its secretion and if certain foods make the body produce more insulin, and vice versa.