The Role of Insulin in Your Body

May 08, 2023
The Role of Insulin in Your Body
Insulin is like a key that lets blood sugar into cells for use as energy. The insulin problems that cause diabetes don’t just interfere with your body’s metabolic processes, they also affect your health — including your eyes and vision. Here’s how.

Regular comprehensive eye examinations are a vital component of every effective diabetes management plan. Why? The very mechanisms that define diabetes — insulin problems and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) — can progressively damage your eyes and lead to vision loss or even blindness. 

Preventing diabetes-related eye complications and vision loss starts successful blood sugar control, an ongoing process built on a solid understanding of what insulin does for your body. 

At Elite Eye Care in New York City, seasoned optometrist Dr. Markiel Yakubov specializes in helping at-risk patients prevent diabetic eye disease — and offers comprehensive treatment plans for diabetic patients who are living with eye and vision difficulties. 

Let’s take a closer look at the role insulin plays in your body, and what poorly controlled blood sugar levels can mean for your eye health and vision. 

Understanding insulin function 

The pancreas is a large gland situated behind the stomach. About 95% of the pancreas consists of exocrine tissue that produces and releases digestive enzymes into the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), where they help facilitate the continued breakdown of partially digested food as it arrives from the stomach. 

The remaining 5% of the pancreas gland consists of endocrine tissue that produces and excretes two vital, life-sustaining hormones directly into the bloodstream: Glucagon, which acts to raise blood sugar levels; and insulin, which acts to lower them. 

Insulin enables the cells that make up your muscle, fat, and liver tissues to absorb sugar from your blood and convert it into usable energy, or to convert it to fat as needed. Insulin is also involved in other important metabolic processes, including the breakdown of fat and protein for energy use.  

Essentially, insulin is like a key that lets blood sugar into muscle, fat, and liver cells for use as energy, helping your body balance its metabolic needs. This tightly regulated process is crucial to the normal function and health of your brain, kidneys, liver, and vascular system; it’s also essential to eye health and vision. 

Two types of insulin problems

Insulin problems fall into two categories: insufficient insulin excretion, and ineffective use of the insulin that is excreted. Both these problems lead to diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes

This rarer type of diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to meet your body’s needs. Often diagnosed in childhood, many experts consider type 1 diabetes to be an autoimmune disorder. 

Type 2 diabetes 

Type 2 diabetes accounts for up to 95% of diabetes cases in the United States. With this insulin problem, body cells stop responding normally to insulin — a condition called insulin resistance — causing your pancreas to produce more insulin in an effort to elicit cellular response. 

At some point, your pancreas can’t keep up and your blood sugar levels rise, setting the stage for prediabetes. Although prediabetes can usually be reversed with timely intervention, it can also quickly progress into full-blown type 2 diabetes without treatment. 

How diabetes affects eye health

All people with type 1 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes, must take insulin to control their blood sugar. Unfortunately, the chronically high blood sugar levels of prediabetes and poorly controlled diabetes can undermine your health — and your vision — over time. 

Specifically, diabetes can systematically: 

  • Decrease blood, oxygen, and nutrient flow to ocular tissues 
  • Damage the tiny blood vessels of your retinas, causing leakage
  • Prompt swelling in the central area of the retina (macula)
  • Undermine water (lacrimal) gland and oil (meibomian) gland function
  • Decrease tear production (tear quantity) and adhesion (tear quality)
  • Damage ocular nerves, including the nerve bundle that forms the optic nerve
  • Cause the accelerated buildup of vision-clouding deposits on the ocular lens 

Diabetic eye disease is an umbrella term for a group of eye complications that can develop with the damage that uncontrolled or long-term diabetes can cause. Diabetes elevates your risk of developing:

While the gradual, wide-ranging ocular damage caused by diabetes is more likely to occur with poorly controlled blood sugar levels, diabetes-related eye and vision complications also become more likely the longer you have diabetes — even if it’s properly managed. 

Safeguard your vision today

Most people don’t experience vision loss from high blood sugar levels in the short term, but the ocular complications of uncontrolled or long-term diabetes can be very serious. 

Luckily, working closely with your primary care provider to keep your diabetes in check and having annual eye exams with Dr. Yakubov can go a long way in protecting your eyes and safeguarding your vision.

To learn more or schedule your next comprehensive eye exam at Elite Eye Care, call or click online to schedule a visit at your nearest New York City location today: We have one office in Brooklyn, and four offices throughout the Bronx.