This article will try to explain how glucose is one of the main sources of energy for all cells including the brain, how it stabilizes energy, how it contributes to healthy weight, how it maintains healthy veins and arteries and why it contributes to healthy mood and vitality.
Every cell in the body needs glucose as an immediate source of energy. Brain cells have severely limited storage capacities, and for this reason, the blood must maintain a fairly constant supply of glucose. For this reason even though the brain represents only 2% of the body weight, it receives 25% of total body glucose utilization.
To utilize carbohydrates for energy, your body converts them to glucose in the liver (or glycogen for storage and use later). Carbohydrates–from sugars, fruits, vegetables or grains–follow a similar route in the process of digestion. Carbohydrates are broken down to mono saccharides (very basic sugar molecules) which are absorbed and carried to the liver. The liver release the glucose into the blood stream as needed.
Glucose is transported into cells via insulin and once inside of the cells, the energy producing reactions begin. The powerhouse of energy production is a result of breakdown of chemical bonds. This energy release helps initiate the many needed chemical reactions for life; protein formation, enzyme production, movement of chemicals across cell membranes to movement of skeletal muscle. ATP is the carrier and regulation-storage unit of energy. It is a molecule stored and generated within each cell. When it is chemically changed to form ADP a huge amount of energy is released. The energy for constructing ATP is food. 2500 calories of food translates into 400 lbs of ATP. There is a huge need for energy in the cells to keep all the functions going from moving muscle, elimination, respiration, and repair.
Complex carbohydrates are whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, brown rice, potatoes, and grains. They are molecules that combine sugars in chains and complex structures and for that reason break down relatively slowly. Because of their slower digestion, these complex carbohydrates are better for the body as the eventual glucose they become is released more gradually and steadily.
Fats and proteins contributes to available energy via ATP production even more slowlythrough a different process than glucose production called and the energy available is even more dense per calorie.
Simple carbohydrates break down and absorb quickly which turns then out to the blood stream or to the liver very quickly. Processed food including most white flour products. packaged foods like cereal and noodles, cookies, chips, candy, fruits, juices, milk, yogurt, honey and sugar will break down quickly and soon raise blood glucose levels.
Excess glucose happens when taking in more than you need to burn for energy. If this happens too often it eventually contribute to high triglycerides and increase in body fat. Your body breaks down the carbohydrates you eat into glucose to be used for energy by your cells. Once the cells have what they need, the excess glucose is sent back to your liver and converted to glycogen. Glycogen can then be stored in your muscles but there is a storage capacity. Once glycogen stores are filled glycogen is sent back to your liver again, where it becomes triglycerides. These triglycerides become stored as fat. Lowering refined carbohydrates in your diet a is the most significant way to lower triglycerides and one of the most effective ways to lose excess weight.
Some of these triglycerides are not stored as fat, but remain in your blood stream, which is where the problem lies for artery and veins. Excess levels of triglycerides thicken your blood, making it sludgy, which increases the possibility of clotting and blockage which could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found, if your triglycerides are high, you have two to three times the risk of heart disease and stroke – even if you have low cholesterol. [Vol. 86: 943-49] Triglyceride levels over 200 mg/dl are considered high and put you at serious risk. An optimal level is below 150 mg/dl. Many doctors focus too much on cholesterol, and not enough on triglycerides. However if you have high cholesterol AND high triglycerides, your chances of developing heart disease go up exponentially. Both indicators must be looked at together for cardiac risk.
Lowering your intake of refined carbohydrates is the key to improving your triglyceride levels.
Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose in the blood stream to enter cells that need it for energy (ATP). Often a diet that is in excess with simple carbohydrates (processed foods) will develop problems with insulin. If the body has the fuel it needs and glycogen stores are filled then the body will respond by turning down receptivity to insulin. With glucose in the blood stream, storage as glycogen filled it will be rerouted to the liver again converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. People frequently become overweight not from eating too much but from eating too much processed foods. Exercise will increase the demand for energy and will optimize the use of glucose or glycogen. Insulin resistance can be reversed by eating foods that break down more slowly to glucose in the digestive tract (high in fiber and complex starches, proteins and fats) so that the production of glucose is more gradual appropriate to the energy needs of the body.
Finally how does blood sugar affect mood? Refined carbohydrates like white sugar and breakfast cereals, broken down quickly with result of high glucose stimulate a quick boost of serotonin, that’s why after eating sugary donuts and other similar foods you feel pretty good. However the feeling drops and you want more. These high spikes of serotonin confuse the brain and it shuts down some of the receptors to try and restore balance. Serotonin resistance means we can’t use the serotonin we have, something similar to insulin resistance. The more this cycle goes on the more problems with serotonin resulting in mood swings or just generalized low mood and energy. The mood problems are even worse when combined with insulin resistance. In the last 20 year depression and diabetes have both significantly increased .
The human body is amazing in it’s complexity as to how it handles food we take in and getting it to the vast array of physiological processes call life. Most imbalances can be reversed and we see this over and over again as people get education, understanding as to how their food is contributing to their complaints and guidance to change their choices. Just to eat natural whole foods seems like an old prescription but my patients, along with myself, are really convinced when they try it! The body and mind will eventually find harmony. If you have been neglecting your body and mind then this will take time, so don’t think that one good day of eating is going to make a difference it must become a lifetime quest. However, build in success on those days when you do make good choices and pay attention to how you feel.
Better energy, more consistent energy to stay alert, weight loss and improved metabolism, improved mood, motivation, memory and vitality are the motivators to do a little better job each day.