What is glucose metabolism?

Cells within the human body primarily need glucose for proper function. Through the metabolism of glucose, the body can technically supply the cells with much-needed fuel. Glucose metabolism is the process that generally converts glucose into energy for cellular use. This energy is mainly in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Glycolysis is the term commonly used for the breakdown of glucose into energy for cellular use.

The body generally derives glucose from carbohydrates. Many foods that are high in carbohydrates are high in starch and sugar. They mostly include potatoes, pasta, breads, cereals, rice, and sweets. After meals, the metabolism of carbohydrates technically takes place in the digestive tract, where they are converted to glucose and absorbed into the blood. As the blood glucose level rises, the pancreas, which is part of the endocrine system, is usually stimulated to release the hormone insulin.

Insulin generally works to maintain normal blood glucose levels by transporting glucose into cells. Glucose metabolism generally takes place to provide fuel for most tissues and muscles within the body, including the heart muscles, as they generally constantly need energy to perform their normal functions. When glucose supply exceeds the body's needs, it is often stored within the liver and muscles as glycogen for future use. Excess glucose is also often converted to fatty acids and stored primarily as body fat.

Blood glucose levels sometimes drop after physical activities and between meals. The cells of the pancreas often respond to low blood glucose levels by producing the hormone glucagon. Glucagon generally works to increase blood glucose levels in times of low supply.

Through the process of glycogenolysis, glucagon technically converts glycogen stored in the liver and muscles into glucose. During periods of fasting and starvation, glucagon primarily stimulates the liver to convert non-carbohydrate sources into glucose for cellular use to prevent blood glucose too low. Examples of these carbohydrate sources within the body are glycerol, amino acids, lactate, and pyruvate.

Any defect in insulin secretion and function generally results in the development of diabetes mellitus (DM). In DM, glucose metabolism is generally impaired, often leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Symptoms of diabetes include frequent hunger pangs, thirst, and urination. Fasting blood glucose tests usually show elevated blood glucose levels even after many hours of fasting.

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