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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Why of the Diabetes Epidemic, Part 3

We said before that carbohydrates and fats are the main providers of energy to keep it working. The carbohydrates are broken down into smaller sugars in the intestine. These smaller sugars can now be absorbed into the circulation. This is then moved from the blood into the cell.

It is during this transport that it gets to meet Mr. Insulin. There it is broken further making it a main source of energy. The extra sugar or glucose is then stored in the liver or as glycogen in the muscle. This can also be stored in the muscles where they stay until they are needed.

How about the fats? The other main source of energy is dietary fat which produces a breakdown product called fatty acids. The same thing happens to it just like the glucose. They are either used immediately for energy or stored to use later.

Insulin is a hormone that is made in the pancreas. It is a protein that is circulated in the blood stream and while it does, it affects the functioning of the other organs. The pancreas also produces chemicals that help break down the food so that that the intestine can absorb this.

There are also bunches of cells in the pancreas called islets that contain different specialized cells. Phew! Thank goodness for the forefathers who did studies on this and now they're even using it as a new diabetes cure
or we would not even know these cells exist. Anyway, one of the cells in the islets are the beta cells that produce insulin.

The sugar level in the blood is sensed by these beta cells after a meal and as the level goes up, the beta cells make insulin that makes the transport of sugar into the cells faster, thus effectively stopping the blood sugar from going up too high.

When the sugar level falls, what do you think happens? The opposite happens. The insulin production stops and opens up the stored sugar in the cells. Think of the insulin as a traffic policeman who directs the nutrients to the storage when the sugar level is up and then directs them to come out of the storage when the sugar level is down.

Isn't that cool? This is what happens in a person without diabetes. This is a finely tuned machine but just like our cars, when something disturbs the engine, then there is trouble. I should not really call it trouble for it is just a challenge we have to meet head on.

My, my, this is getting too long. We have not halfway covered why diabetes is on the rise but we will. We will just persevere with our weekly sessions and learn as much as we can about this. What is ten minutes (it takes to read this) compared to a life-long knowledge on this which we can pass on to the next generation?

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