What Is Glucose?
Glucose is a kind of carbohydrate classified as a monosaccharide, or a simple sugar. Its suffix, -ose, is used to identify sugars and comes from the Ancient Greek word for sweet.
It’s stored in animals as glycogen and in plants as starch. It’s also the most important source of energy for all living organisms.
What Does Glucose Do?
When it comes to the inner-workings of the human body, what doesn’t glucose do? Well, it may not do a lot directly, but it’s the fuel our cells use to do their work and our bodies require it to function. Glucose is especially important for our brains, which account for approximately 60% of glucose use in the human body. Nerve cells that communicate information to the brain also use blood sugar as a source of energy.
Where Does Glucose Come From?
In plants, glucose is created from carbon dioxide and water during a process known as photosynthesis.
In humans, glucose is created from the body’s stored glucose: glycogen. When glucose is consumed, it’s absorbed in the small intestine and enters the bloodstream. There, a hormone released from cells in the pancreas called insulin that acts as a reference for the glucose, vouching for it as a safe compound. Muscles, fats and the liver take insulin’s word for it and allows the glucose to enter.
Once blood sugar gets low, the pancreas switches from releasing insulin to a hormone called glucagon. This hormone orders the liver to break the body’s glycogen stores back down into glucose. The average person stores enough glycogen for approximately one day’s worth of energy. Once more glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas will revert back to insulin.
Glucose enters the bloodstream from foods you eat. The easiest way for the body to process glucose is through the consumption of fruits and honey. If you’re getting glucose from more complex sugars like starch, that absorption is delayed because those sugars must be broken down into monosaccharides.
Interestingly, table sugar is one of those more complex sugars as it’s made of two different parts. Glucose makes up half the chemical composition—it’s joined by fructose, another monosaccharide, to form a disaccharide—a sugar consisting of two equal parts.
Why Blood Glucose Levels Are Important
We call them blood glucose levels (or blood sugar levels) for a reason—they need to be maintained, as an uneven tilt in either direction can create issues for you and your body.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can make you feel lethargic and fatigued. It can also make your brain feel foggy. On the other end of the spectrum is high blood sugar, a condition called hyperglycemia, which can make you feel excited, hyper or jittery. For most, the latter is the more pressing health issue because high blood glucose can lead to insulin resistance.
We’ve already discussed how insulin vouches for glucose throughout the human body. Insulin resistance means those cells take more convincing before they let glucose in, so the pancreas sends more insulin to strengthen the argument. That insulin blocks the body from using fat for energy, so it can cause unhealthy weight gain and make it hard to lose weight.
In addition to the excess insulin in the bloodstream, extra glucose can also cause inflammation and contribute to the creation of destructive free radicals. If that extra glucose attaches to red blood cells, it creates glycation—if too much glycation occurs in the body, it can become a contributing factor to a number of issues, including wrinkles and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re curious about your blood sugar level, it’s one of the easiest things to ascertain about the microscopic processes of the human body. An at-home blood test can tell you your levels in moments.
What Affects Blood Glucose Levels
This is the number one way of regulating blood sugar levels. Avoid excess sugars that put you over your recommended daily amount. Add fat, protein or fiber to meals because eating carbohydrates alone can have a huge impact on your blood glucose. Try not to eat processed foods or refined grains.
Even the perception of stress at work can increase your blood sugar. This could be because stress indicates a possible flight-or-flight situation, and the fact that the stress-linked hormone cortisol can make liver cells insulin resistant may support this theory.
Methods of reducing stress, like meditation or daily breathing exercises, can help lower stress and therefore help lower blood glucose levels, too.
Cortisol also plays a part in blood sugar levels during sleep. Since cortisol levels in most people trend lower during nighttime, glucose levels aren’t impacted by cortisol and will, more often than not, find stability on the lower end. Poor sleeping habits can be seen as a stressor on the body, though, and lead to the same set of issues that stress (or perceived stress) can cause for your blood sugar.
A muscle partaking in physical activity may require as much as 10 times more glucose to fuel its work than a muscle that’s at rest. A great need like this convinces the liver to supplement blood sugar with its stored glycogen.
Studies show that moderate exercise three times a week for approximately 30 minutes can lessen insulin resistance. Short bursts of locomotion throughout your day can be just as beneficial than a long workout, if not more, according to another study.
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