The hormone insulin, as addressed in our Endocrine System / hormone email, controls the level of glucose (i.e.: sugar) in the blood. Insulin has a brother hormone, Glucagon, who is essentially in charge of doing everything opposite of Insulin. I like to relate insulin and glucagon to the age-old game of Hungry Hungry Hippos! You can think of the plastic balls as the food that you eat right after a meal, the hippos as insulin gobbling up all of the nutrients possible from your meal, and glucagon as your finger pulling the trigger to release more plastic balls into the game / blood stream!
Without glucose (i.e.: sugar) from food, the body will break down its own lean (protein-containing) tissue to get the amino acids needed to make energy…which is something we want to avoid at all costs! 🙅🙅🙅
Hungry Hungry Hippo! You can think of the plastic balls as the food that you eat right after a meal, the hippos as insulin gobbling up all of the nutrients possible from your meal, and glucagon as your finger pulling the trigger to release more plastic balls into the game / blood stream!
What about too much or too little glucose in the blood?
Too much glucose in the blood can lead to hyperglycemia, also known as Diabetes or “eye, nerve & kidney disease"…while too little glucose in the blood can lead to hypoglycemia – being in a constant tired or lethargic state, potentially even a coma. Usually, our body is pretty good about making sure the level of glucose stays within all the sweet spot. This is accomplished via the brother hormones - insulin and glucagon.
When are brothers, insulin & glucagon, released?
If we zoom out a bit, insulin and glucagon are involved in two “stages” that occur when we eat food:
- Immediately after a meal, blood glucose rises due to the food now flowing through the gut. Insulin is released with the critical assignment of snatching up as much glucose as it can from these nutrients, and storing it away to later be converted into energy. It’s important to note that this glucose is stored as fat, as that is the easiest form to store.
- A few hours after this meal, blood glucose levels fall, and glucagon is now released into the blood. Glucagon’s one assignment is to raise blood glucose and bring us back to homeostasis. It raises blood glucose by signaling the body to release the goodies insulin has been storing (in the form of fat), and start breaking them down into energy to be distributed throughout your body!
I am sure we are all familiar with diabetes, as the global prevalence of diabetes is sharply increasing. Diabetes is a well-known disease directly correlated to one’s insulin behavior. More specifically, Type 2 diabetes (which is 90-95% of all diabetes cases), occurs when the body's cells don't respond normally to insulin. Glucose can't enter the cells as easily, so it builds up in the blood. This can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.
Highly processed and nutrient-poor foods can boost your blood sugar faster and higher than protein (Greek yogurt, meat, eggs) or fat (avocado, egg yolk, nuts). Some super easy recipes below to test out!