Some things are good for your health and bad at the same time. Glucose is such a thing. Without it you simply cannot survive, but too much of it will kill you as well. Our cells use glucose as fuel to keep their machinery going. The brain is a large-scale consumer. It consumes no less than 25 percent of the glucose that enters our body.
Glucose is a sugar. It is also known as dextrose or grape sugar. The sugar we use at the table and in the kitchen is called sucrose, which consists of glucose and fructose, another sugar. Sucrose is extracted mainly from sugarcane and from sugar beets and refined to turn it into table sugar.
Our body gets the glucose it needs from the food we eat. Via an ingenious system, this glucose ends up in our cells as an energy source. The glucose coming from intestines or liver, stimulates the pancreas to make insulin. This hormone is a very important regulator of blood sugar concentration, the amount of glucose present in our blood.
Insulin molecules attach to special receptors on the surface of a cell. They open a kind of entry gate through which glucose can enter the cell itself. Insulin can be compared to the nozzle attached to the hose of a fuel dispenser. The nozzle pushes aside the small valve inside the fuel tank of the car and makes sure the gasoline necessary for the car to run its engine, can enter the tank.
Glucose is very important to the brain. It appears to enhance memory storage. A group of healthy elderly participated in a study to test their memory. Before taking the test, they were given lemonade with sugar (glucose) and on the next occasion, lemonade with the sugar substitute saccharin. After the glucose drink, they performed far better on memory tests than after the lemonade with saccharin.
Glucose also aids memory retrieval. Students have known this fact for a long time already. They take along some candy to perform better at an exam.
Glucose is the reason why breakfast is of vital importance for a well-functioning brain. When the body gets going again in the morning after the rest of the night, it’s only logical it needs fuel. An investigation in the US revealed that children performed much better at school and showed less behavioural problems after eating a solid breakfast. And it won’t be surprising if adults also turn out to be able to concentrate more on what they are doing after an extensive breakfast and thus having supplied the brain with fresh glucose.
But this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to take in a lot of glucose. A high-sugar diet results in low-insulin sensitivity. Insulin signals cells to take up glucose from the blood. When insulin sensitivity is low, cells don’t get enough signals to take up glucose and will starve.
A greater difficulty handling glucose is part of the ageing process. Older cells aren’t as sensitive to insulin anymore. It is as if the opening of the fuel tank is clogged up and the nozzle won’t enter very well. Consequently, glucose can’t enter into the brain’s neurones. The brain is inundated by unused fuel. This surplus of glucose makes the cells age more rapidly. Thus, the brain is more vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases.
Since the pancreas keeps on creating insulin, this also may result in too high insulin levels, which may lead to type 2 diabetes. Whereas in type 1 diabetes insufficient insulin is produced, type 2 diabetes is characterised by insufficient receptors for insulin. Not enough glucose can enter the cells and they will starve.
People with type 2 diabetes have chronically elevated levels of blood glucose and as a consequence are more susceptible to memory problems. The excess of glucose is detrimental to the cells in the hippocampus, the brain part which plays an important role in memory function.
But even the brains of people who do not have diabetes, may suffer because of glucose. According to Australian research, blood sugar levels on the high end of the normal range are also linked to brain shrinkage. The researchers found that blood sugar on the high end of normal accounted for six to ten percent of brain shrinkage
There’s another reason to make sure you keep your blood sugar levels under control. Dutch researchers found out people with an extra high blood sugar concentration look older. Apparently, glucose influences the ageing process of the skin.
Fortunately, there is a way to restore insulin sensitivity, create new insulin receptors and thus improve absorption of glucose. Physical exercise is a simple and safe way to regulate blood glucose levels and to preserve the hippocampus and thus protect memory and cognitive functions.
And, of course, it is of the utmost importance to limit the amount of glucose that enters your body in the first place via the food you eat. So, keep that sweet tooth under control!
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