Insulin and Glucagon: Blood Sugar Hormones

You might have heard a lot about Insulin. If you or one of your loved ones are diabetic, you might have heard about it a bit too much. For others, it is a hormone related to blood sugar levels, right?  But how does it work and how does its counter-hormone, Glucagon, work together?

In simple terms, when we eat carbohydrates our glucose (sugar) level in our bloodstream increases. Once the glucose level is above certain balance point in the bloodstream, pancreas start producing insulin into our bloodstream. The insulin hormone signals cells to take glucose in. As cells receive glucose in, the glucose level in the bloodstream drops by time.

Cells mainly use the glucose for energy but some cells, such as liver cells and muscle cells, also store the excess glucose in the form glycogen. Glycogen is stored in muscle cells first and, when the muscles reach their capacity for glycogen storage, the excess is returned to liver.

If we do not eat about 4-6 hours, glucose level in our bloodstream may drop significantly. When the glucose level is below certain threshold, this time pancreas start producing another hormone into the bloodstream: Glucagon. As opposed to Insulin, Glucagon send signals to cells with glycogen storage (i.e. liver and muscle cells) to convert the stored glycogen into glucose and release it to the bloodstream for other cells to use.

Take a look at the infographic to have a general understanding of the process.