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What is the Relationship Between the Pancreas and Diabetes?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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The primary relationship that exists between the pancreas and diabetes is that cells inside the bodies of diabetics have become resistant to insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. This causes the pancreas to overcompensate and produce too much insulin. Overworking the pancreas eventually can cause it to become less efficient or, in severe cases, completely stop producing insulin. People with diabetes generally exhibit this pancreatic degeneration.

Insulin produced by the pancreas is considered responsible for keeping blood sugar levels normal. When insulin is no longer being produced or is in short supply, blood glucose levels rise. Without insulin to signal to the cells that the sugar should be absorbed, these levels can become dangerously high. In addition, continual high levels of blood sugar can have many dangerous side effects.

Another important relationship between the pancreas and diabetes is production of the hormone glucagon. It has been described as a balancing agent for insulin. The two hormones work together to maintain stable levels of glucose. Glucagon also plays an important role in how organs in the body are able to utilize glucose. When the pancreas is not producing glucagon, organs can become damaged because they are unable to release the buildup of sugar.

The relationship between the pancreas and diabetes has been the subject of many studies. Research shows that even in young people, overuse of the pancreas can sometimes quickly lead to its malfunction. The severity of diabetes is very often a good measurement of how much insulin the pancreas is still able to produce. In those whose pancreas has completely stopped working, daily injections of insulin are usually required.

Many drugs have been developed that minimize the impact of imbalances that exist in the relationship between the pancreas and diabetes. Probably the most significant was the development of synthetic insulin. Synthetic insulin mimics the hormone produced by the pancreas, and is used by most diabetics. Other drugs taken by diabetics are primary in a class called “blockers” or “inhibitors.” These drugs help slow the rise of blood glucose levels.

Diabetes is typically classified in two different types. Type 1 diabetes is considered genetic and is usually suffered by children and young adults. It is considered a lifelong condition that requires careful management. Type 2 diabetes occurs most often in people who are overweight and over the age of 40.

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Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Aug 26, 2014

I wonder if a cure for diabetes will ever be found? There must be a way to get the pancreas to produce insulin once again right? Is there a lot of research in this area?

A few years ago, I remember reading about a pancreas surgery that had the potential to treat diabetes altogether. But I read that after the first couple of surgeries, the doctors found the risks of the surgery too high. Does anyone know anything about this?

By stoneMason — On Aug 25, 2014

@fBoyle-- You are right about insulin production in the pancreas in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics' insulin doesn't produce insulin whatsoever. That's why they have to receive insulin injections daily. Type 2 diabetics pancreas produces insulin but the insulin doesn't work correctly. The insulin has lots sensitivity, meaning that the shape of insulin molecules no longer fit with the shape of glucose molecules in blood. Normally, the insulin is supposed to pick up glucose from the blood stream so that the glucose can be turned into energy that the cells can use (ATP). So in diabetics, the glucose builds up in the blood stream.

Some type 2 diabetics may actually suffer from not enough insulin as well as loss of insulin sensitivity. Blood tests can confirm whether or not an individual's pancreas produces normal amounts of insulin or not. So there are also type 2 diabetics who have to use insulin.

By fBoyle — On Aug 25, 2014

Does the pancreas have a different relationship with type 1 diabetes than it does with type 2 diabetes? I know that in type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn't produce any insulin. But in type 2 diabetes, the pancreas continues to produce insulin right?

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