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Diabetes 101: How Glucose Actually Affects Your Body

Every day, millions of people check their blood sugar levels. If you’re diabetic, you may know what to do if that number is too high or too low, but do you know what that number means? 

Dr. Ann Morvai and her team at Arlington Family Practice strives to make sure that everyone dealing with the challenge of diabetes understands how sugar affects the body, both positively and negatively. Here’s what you need to know.

Sugar and carbs

When most people think of sugar, they think of those small, sparkling crystals that they drop in their coffee. But sugar is both more than that. 

Sugar is a simple chain of hydrocarbons that gives every cell in the body energy. Without sugar, your body will break down and die. 

But that doesn’t give you permission to dig into a package of cookies and feel justified. Your body can get what it needs from larger chains called complex carbohydrates. 

There’s a key difference between eating a piece of candy and eating a piece of fruit. They may have the same calories. They may even have the same carbohydrate. But one is almost all simple sugars that the body can use immediately, while the other also has more complex carbs that the body has to work to break down. 

Complex carbohydrates stay in the system longer and get into the bloodstream more gradually than simple sugars.

How sugar works with insulin

After the body absorbs the sugar from your food, whether it breaks it down or not, it goes into the bloodstream. This is where insulin becomes so important. 

Insulin is the chemical that the body makes that actually carries the sugar into the cells. Your body’s cells need sugar — it’s what energizes every cell. When there is enough insulin present, the cells are nourished by the sugar from the bloodstream. Any excess sugar is carried into fat cells for storage.

Sugar and diabetes

Diabetes prevents the body from making adequate insulin to carry the sugar. In Type I diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells, so your body can’t make insulin.

In Type II diabetes, your body doesn’t use the insulin properly. In either case, the sugar gets into the bloodstream but isn’t carried into the cells. It remains in the blood until the kidneys and liver remove it as they would a toxin. 

What happens when you don’t have enough insulin?

The lack of insulin causes a multitude of problems. First of all, it starves the cells. The cells need energy, and if they can’t get it from sugar, they will get it from other parts of the cell — usually a protein. 

Not only does the waste product of burning protein lead to a problem called ketoacidosis, but it can also damage the liver and kidneys. In addition, by burning the protein in the cell, it is, in fact, slowly killing the cell. Over time, the body can’t survive the slow loss of necessary cells.

The problem with high blood sugar

The liver and kidneys aren’t designed to handle large amounts of sugar. When they have to filter out the sugar and the protein acids, they can’t do their job of ridding the body of normal toxins. 

This can lead to a wide range of problems. In the short-term, high blood sugar can lead to anything from confusion to coma or death. Even slightly high blood sugar can lead to longer-term problems that can include liver or kidney damage, which in turn contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Getting your blood sugar under control

There’s good news, however. A balanced diet, exercise and medication can protect the body from blood sugar issues. The team of proivders at Alrington Family Practice are dedicated to helping you face the challenge of diabetes. From diagnosis to management, they can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Call our office at 781-646-4345 or use our online booking tool to schedule an appointment at our office in Arlington, Massachusetts. 

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