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What Is Insulin?

What is insulin, and how does it affect you? This is what you may be wondering if you have been diagnosed with or are at risk for diabetes. Individuals with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes should all learn more about insulin and the impact that it has on them.

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. Hormones are protein molecules that travel in the blood and allow cells to send signals to each other. The body produces insulin in response to sugar levels in the body. Insulin helps the body’s cells extract sugar from the blood into the cell, where the sugar can be used to produce energy.

Types of Diabetes and Insulin Production

Individuals who do not have normal insulin levels may have one of three types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetics, who only account for 5 percent of all people diagnosed with diabetes, are unable to produce insulin on their own. Type 1 diabetics are commonly referred to as insulin-dependent, because they require insulin injections to treat their condition.

Type 2 diabetics, who make up 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes, do produce their own insulin. Individuals with type 2 diabetes experience insulin resistance, which means that their bodies are unable to use the insulin that they do produce, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Due to their bodies' resistance to insulin, type 2 diabetics are sometimes referred to as insulin-resistant and require insulin injections to trigger a response from the body’s cells

The third type of diabetes, which is called gestational diabetes, only occurs during pregnancy and is usually temporary. Like type 2 diabetics, women with gestational diabetes are resistant to insulin. According to the American Pregnancy Association, diabetes may develop during pregnancy because of unique substances released by the placenta. It is important that pregnant women be screened for gestational diabetes because high sugar levels can adversely affect the baby’s growth and development.

How to Lower Blood Sugar

How Exercise and Diet Affect Insulin

A balanced diet and regular exercise routine are recommended to all sufferers of diabetes. Following a healthy diet helps control blood glucose levels, while exercise helps lower blood glucose levels and ensures that the body is able to use insulin more efficiently.

For type 2 diabetics and women with gestational diabetes, lifestyle changes may eliminate the need for medications or insulin injections. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before making any significant lifestyle changes, however. For type 1 diabetics, who require insulin injections, the amount of insulin that is being prescribed should be balanced with food intake and physical activity level. Careful monitoring is necessary for treating this condition.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it's important to visit a licensed healthcare provider regularly to treat and manage your condition. Regulating insulin dosing and glucose levels play a key role in effective treatment of type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

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