Diabetes Type II (Part II): Digestion of Food and Production of Insulin

By: Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP
Salesian Cooperator

The prevalence of Diabetes type II in our country prompted me to invest our coming weeks to the understanding of what diabetes type II is about, why it happens, and how to manage this condition. Last week we briefly reviewed what the condition is and what are some of the presenting symptoms. I am always curious as to how our food (especially sugar in this case) is metabolized and how it turns into energy in our body. More important, one of the steps in this process is the role of insulin.  I found the work of Ms. Meredith Cotton, RN from Kaiser Permanente to be a good framework for our discussion. Hence, I will summarize the key points for you:

Why do we eat food? Food is our energy source to support all parts of our body, including muscle, brain, heart, liver etc.)

Once we digest food, in our case, the sugar and starches (you all know them as carbohydrates), mixed with digestive acids and enzymes in the stomach, turns into a form of sugar called glucose.

The stomach and small intestine absorb the glucose and release it in your blood stream.

Glucose can be used immediately, or it can be stored for later use.

Insulin – a hormone, is the key ingredient to use or store glucose for energy.

Without the help of insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream: your blood sugar is high.

Insulin comes from the beta cells in the pancreas. The beta cells are like your radars; they sense the high or low level of glucose in your blood and adjust the release of insulin accordingly.  An example would be if you drink a sugary soda, the beta cells respond immediately by producing insulin to travel to the body cells.

Insulin knocks on the cell doors to open and let the glucose to go into the cell. Inside the cell, glucose is converted to energy for immediate use or glucose can be stored for later use.

Once the cell doors open and begin the conversion of glucose to energy inside your cells, the beta cells in your pancreas signal the insulin in the blood stream to slow down. Your blood sugar starts to drop in your blood stream.

Insulin helps to store glucose in your muscles, fat cells, and liver for later use.

Lessons learned: without  insulin, your body cannot store glucose for later use; it remains in your blood stream.  


Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: describe the relationship between food, blood sugar, glucose, insulin, beta cells, pancreas, energy and glucose storage.

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