When people discuss diabetes, they talk about insulin as well. Diabetes refers to a disease that affects millions of people all across the world. Insulin is a hormone that controls this disease. Now, a third factor is said to join this conversation i.e. glucagon.
Glucagon has been known as a hormone with a purpose to counteract the effects of insulin. However, Jennifer Estall, a researcher seems to be challenging this dogma.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) unravelled the mechanism involved in controlling the action of insulin. It showed that glucagon plays an important role in these mechanisms and can be a protective asset.
Two Opposite Hormones
Diabetes is said to occur when your body is unable to store glucose anymore. This may lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. Over time, this may also cause serious complications.
When the blood sugar becomes high, insulin signals the body to store all excess as energy supplies in the tissue while asking the liver to stop producing any more.
Glucagon, on the other hand, signals the liver to use up these reserves and triggers the production of more sugar. This hormone can act during fasted periods when the body is expending more energy than usual.
Because of opposing effects, glucagon and insulin are said to fight against each other due to their effects on the liver. In fact, a lot of scientists have said that glucagon, when secreted in too large amounts, can be a risk factor for diabetes.
In the past researches, people have been developing treatments to stop the effects of glucagon. However, its effectiveness has remained to be unpredictable.
Estall, an associate research professor has finally been able to explain why this approach has failed to produce conclusions. In fact, her team has demonstrated how glucagon can, in fact, be a protective asset.
When your body fasts for a specific time for example during sleeping, the glucagon levels become high. This way, the body is able to use up its energy reserves and stop the blood sugar from getting too low and causing hypoglycemia.
However, scientists also found an additional function that can be attributed to this hormone. It prepares the liver so that when you get up and have breakfast, the liver becomes more responsive to the signals coming from insulin to stop producing its own sugar since the body doesn’t require it.
According to their observations in the mice models, the researchers discovered that glucagon requires a protein known as PGC1A to control the response of insulin.
Activation of PGC1A did not cause hyperglycemia as the previous studies indicate. Instead, the mice were found to have a better response to insulin.
In fact, having increased levels of PGC1A and glucagon were found to be beneficial. Without these, the liver reacts less quickly to the effects of insulin after having a meal. So, it takes more time for your blood sugar to return to normal.
Estall expects that this breakthrough will encourage the researchers to look closely at PGC1A and glucagon which have been largely discredited for their negative effects on the liver.
The scientists hope that their work will identify new therapeutic targets for diabetes as well as other metabolic diseases.