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Glucagon is a naturally occurring hormone that is produced in the pancreas. The main function of this hormone is to react to a situation where there is a low level of blood sugar present. The release of glucagon into the bloodstream helps to restore blood glucose levels back to a point that is considered acceptable for the general function of the body.
People with some forms of diabetes may be susceptible to a sudden drop in blood sugar, leading to a crisis situation. The drop may be a reaction to the introduction of too much insulin into the bloodstream, or there may be other health issues present, such as hypoglycemia. The body will attempt to compensate by releasing the hormone from the pancreas to begin the process of restoring an acceptable level of glucose in the bloodstream.
Glucagon by itself does not raise blood sugar levels. Instead, the hormone is released by the pancreas and causes a reaction in the liver. The liver responds by releasing fats and carbohydrates that convert into the glucose needed to stimulate the metabolism and restore a decent level of blood sugar.
Although the body produces glucagon, various types of health ailments can interfere with this process. Diabetics who must use insulin to control blood sugar levels may experience episodes where the insulin causes the sugar to drop below a safe level. When this happens, the body may not be able to release enough of the hormone to handle the crisis in a timely manner. The development of injections has made it possible to introduce this hormone into the system rapidly and thus balance the blood sugar before the individual experiences any additional stress or complications.
Not every person with diabetes is likely to require injections of glucagon. When the blood sugar level can be controlled adequately with diet and exercise rather than making use of insulin in the treatment and management process, there is a significantly reduced chance of needing any assistance with the natural production of the hormone. Instead, the diabetic using diet and exercise to control the situation may be able to jump-start a release of this hormone by the pancreas by simply eating a small cookie or drinking a small amount of orange juice.
Individuals who are hypoglycemic due to thyroid problems may also benefit from the use of glucagon injections. This is usually reserved for more extreme cases. However, a physician can evaluate the status of the condition and determine if the injections would be in the best interest of the patient.
@pastanaga - It also helps to demonstrate why scientists haven't managed to find a magic pill that controls appetite and weight gain yet. Most people believe that having a full stomach is what makes you feel full, but it's actually blood sugar levels. And messing around with blood sugar levels can be dangerous.
As it says in the article, if someone has very low blood sugar levels they can go into shock or die very quickly and glucagon is used by the body to adjust for that (although not quickly enough, or we wouldn't need to use injections to help people). It's just one of lots of different hormones that control blood sugar and fat storage and tipping even one out of whack could kill someone. So, it's a dangerous thing to mess with.
I have no doubt, though, that they will eventually come up with weight loss medication that really works.
This shows why diabetes is such a complicated and difficult disease to control. I think that people get it into their heads that as long as you monitor your diet and you are very careful and, if all else fails, ready with the needle, then you will be fine, but the mechanisms that control blood sugar levels in people are so complicated that it takes more than that.
I'm at risk for diabetes myself, so I've tried to get my head around what causes it and what can control it. Of course, glucagon is used more for people with type 1 diabetes I believe, rather than what I'm at risk for which is type 2.