I stopped biology classes at 16 when I chose to do history instead. This probably helped me in accepting the latest developments in the carbohydrate controversy, as my mind was already an embarrassingly blank slate. Hence, let me start with some basics that I learned this past week. (If there are mistakes or semi-truths, please please please leave a comment!)

First things first, we eat because our body needs fuel to function. But since we are an oddly-shaped collection of cells, we really eat because our cells need fuel.

ATP is the lifeblood, so to speak, of every single cell in your body.

ATP is the lifeblood, so to speak, of every single cell in your body.

Our cells can create a molecule called ATP to use as fuel for survival and any other functions it needs to perform. Without the ability to generate ATP, a cell would wither and die. To create this molecule, cells need glucose. I never knew that we were so dependent on glucose!  (Brrp, wrong: ATP can be formed from ketones. Will be discussed in a follow-up post.)

Now, glucose comes with its own story. It is either ingested in the form of the sugars and carbohydrates in our food, or synthesised by our liver and kidneys through a process called gluconeogenesis. This process is present in everything living from mammals to fungi to bacteria.

Our bodies, if healthy, will always synthesise glucose in this manner when we do not get it via food.  (Have a look at the comment section, please. This statement was totally inaccurate, as at some point we do need food for gluconeogenesis to occur, but the question is which kinds of food are vital for this process to occur.)

glucose

Glucose is a crucial ingredient for our cells to produce its own fuel, ATP.

Too little of it in the bloodstream and we get hypoglycemia,  which in everyday terms is the ‘low blood sugar‘ people refer to. Too much and we get the opposite, hyperglycemia. This delicate balance is regulated by that substance we associate with diabetes: insulin.

Insulin is therefore just as vital to our bodies as glucose.

Insulin regulates glucose by telling the body to take it out of the blood stream and store in certain cells as glycogenGlycogen is a fuel source for our bodies, but it is a secondary source after fats stored in our fat cells, or adipose tissue.

Insulin is the regulator of blood sugar levels. Like a tax collector coming to balance your square your account with government , it comes along when there is too much glucose in the blood and tells the body to get rid of it.

Insulin is the regulator of blood sugar levels. Like a tax collector coming to balance your account with the government, insulin comes along when there is too much glucose in the blood and tells the body to give it to cells (glycogen).

The other command that insulin gives is to the fat cells to store any fats present in the blood highways as fatty acids and to inhibit the movement of the fatty acids within these cells.

We therefore see that both glucose and insulin are absolutely essential for us to carry on walking and talking, but also, and very importantly, that our bodies are fully capable of generating glucose by themselves. It is when we take in external sources of glucose that we call up insulin to the battle front to keep the amount of glucose in the blood in check.

People who suffer from diabetes have a problem with either very low insulin levels, or in the body’s refusal to take orders from it (resistance to insulin). Their bodies are therefore terrible at getting glucose out of the blood stream and stored in cells as glycogen, and they end up with chronic hyperglycemia.

This is the story that glucose and insulin dances out in our bodies all day long, without most of us giving it a passing thought. It seems a deceptively simple dance, but has complexities that we still haven’t mastered as outsiders looking in.

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