The breakdown of glycogen, the stored form of energy found in muscle and liver tissue, into glucose, which the body can readily use. Glycogenolysis plays an important role in the regulation of glucose in the blood. For example, as part of the body’s “fight or flight” reaction to stressors, the adrenal glands release the hormone epinephrine, which stimulates glycogenolysis to provide immediate energy for muscle activity.
Glycogenolysis is also important for blood glucose regulation in people with diabetes. When blood glucose levels drop too low, the release of epinephrine and another hormone, glucagon, stimulates glycogenolysis to restore blood glucose levels to normal. People with Type 1 diabetes may eventually lose the ability to secrete glucagon and epinephrine, setting the stage for severe hypoglycemia. The symptoms of mild-to-moderate hypoglycemia typically include shaking, sweating, hunger, and headache, alerting the person for the need to consume carbohydrate. However, people suffering from severe hypoglycemia may be unable to eat or drink, may have seizures and may lose consciousness, so consuming carbohydrates may not be an option.
Friends and family members of people who are prone to severe hypoglycemia should learn how to use a glucagon emergency kit. Injecting glucagon stimulates glycogenolysis and raises blood glucose levels.
Want to learn more about hypoglycemia? Read “Understanding Hypoglycemia,” “Take a Bite Out of Hypoglycemia: 10 Proven Strategies for Cutting Down on Low Blood Glucose,” and “Hypoglycemia: What Your Inner Circle Needs to Know.”