What is Glucagon?


Blood sugar levels are an important part of overall health. When blood sugar levels drop, an individual may feel lethargic. If they drop too low, the individual may become disoriented, dizzy or even pass out. Blood sugar control involves a complex system of hormones, and one of those hormones is glucagon.

Glucagon is a hormone that works with other hormones and bodily functions to control glucose levels in the blood. It comes from alpha cells found in the pancreas and is closely related to insulin-secreting beta cells, making it a crucial component that keeps the body’s blood glucose levels stable.

What does glucagon do?

Although secreted by the pancreas, glucagon directly impacts the liver as it works to control blood sugar levels. Specifically, glucagon prevents blood glucose levels from dropping to a dangerous point by stimulating the conversion of stored glycogen to glucose in the liver. This glucose can be released into the bloodstream, a process known as glycogenolysis.

Secondly, glucagon stops the liver from consuming some glucose. This helps more glucose to enter the bloodstream, rather than being consumed by the liver, to keep levels stable.

Finally, glucagon works in a process known as gluconeogenesis, which is the production of glucose in the amino acid molecules.

In each of these processes, glucagon and insulin work together. Insulin will prevent glucose levels from increasing to a point that is too high, while glucagon prevents it from dropping too low. Glucagon production is stimulated when an individual eats a protein-rich meal, experiences a surge in adrenaline, or has a low blood sugar event.

Potential problems with glucagon function

Glucagon function is crucial to proper blood glucose levels, so problems with glucagon production will lead to problems with glucose levels. Low levels of glucagon are rare, but are sometimes seen in babies. The main result is low levels of blood glucose. The treatment is to inject the patient with glucagon. When the individual has recovered sufficiently, eating carbohydrates will then raise the blood glucose levels even more.

High levels of glucagon are also rare, but can occur when a patient develops a specific type of tumor in the pancreas. Patients with high levels of glucagon can develop diabetes mellitus or experience unexpected weight loss.

Questions to ask your doctor

If you are struggling with hypoglycemia, or chronic low blood sugar levels, a number of factors could be causing your problem. However, one of those is an inadequate level of glucagon. Talk to your doctor about glucagon and whether or not it could be a factor. Common questions may include:

  • Is glucagon impacting my blood sugar levels?
  • What can I do to improve glucagon levels?
  • How can I better control blood sugar levels?

If you have questions or concerns, consider finding an endocrinologist near you.

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