What Does Glucose Do?Friday, November 21, 2014
Glucose is the primary energy source of the body. Every muscle and organ in the body needs energy in order to be able to function. All carbohydrates, from sugar to complex carbohydrates like whole wheat, sweet potatoes, and brown rice when eaten are mixed with stomach acids and enzymes and broken down into their basic components. One of the basic components is glucose. (1)
There is a minimum amount of glucose that is needed in order for your body to function properly. Without meeting this minimum amount, your body will begin to break down other parts of the body in order to fulfill its need for energy. Once carbohydrates are digested the stomach and small intestines absorb the glucose and release it into the bloodstream. However, the only way for the glucose to enter the cells of the body is with insulin. Insulin is released in the body from the pancreas.
Beta cells are the cells in the pancreas that create the hormone insulin. When glucose enters the blood stream, beta cells sense the need to create more insulin. Once insulin is released into the blood stream in response to the glucose, the insulin allows the glucose to enter the body's cells. When muscles have enough glucose stored, the liver stores additional glucose for later use. The stored form of glucose is called glycogen. (2)
Blood sugar in the body is constantly fluctuating. When you eat carbohydrates, glucose increases in the blood. When you exercise, glucose is utilized for energy and the amount in the bloodstream is decreased. Nearly every process in the body utilizes glucose for energy to keep it functioning. The resulting change to blood glucose is a decrease in the bloodstream as it enters cells via insulin and converted into glycogen. When your body doesn't have the ability to create insulin or use it efficiently, glucose builds in the bloodstream to high levels, known as hyperglycemia. (3)
Once you have an excess amount of glucose in the blood, your kidneys go into overdrive and try to excrete it in urine. This leads to the two most common signs of diabetes, extreme thirst and frequent urination. Because you're not utilizing glucose properly (as energy) you become tired, have an increased appetite and may lose weight.
If this goes on too long, the body begins to burn stored fat instead. When your body begins converting fat to energy it produces a byproduct called ketones. When too many ketones build up in the blood this is called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and can be both dangerous and deadly. People with type 1 diabetes are more prone to experience diabetic ketoacidosis and should be careful if showing signs or symptoms to check their ketones.
The key takeaway is that glucose is the primary energy source for the body and must be managed correctly to prevent complications and keep you on the right track to proper diabetes management. Check your glucose levels often and correct them appropriately when needed.