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Blood sugar basics

What is blood glucose?

Glucose is a simple sugar that your body obtains by breaking down certain foods that you eat (namely, carbohydrates). Blood glucose or blood sugar level is a measure of the concentration of glucose in your blood.

Why is it important?

Glucose has a very important job: cells and tissues all over your body get the energy they need to move and function from glucose.

What is insulin and why is it important?

In order for cells and tissues to absorb glucose, another ingredient called insulin is needed. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas to help cells and tissues absorb the glucose. Insulin is essential for metabolizing (or processing) glucose.

If the body does not produce enough insulin to help the tissues absorb the glucose, or if the body cannot use insulin effectively, then not enough glucose gets absorbed and more sugar stays in the blood.

When too much glucose stays in the blood, the result is high blood sugar, which is the main characteristic of diabetes. Although glucose is vital to the body, too much glucose circulating in the blood for long periods of time can lead to serious problems, including damage to kidneys, eyes, blood vessels and nerves. These are some of the main complications associated with diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by an abnormally high level of glucose in the blood. There are two main types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 Diabetes

The insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are damaged and insulin is no longer produced. Most often this is the result of the body’s own immune system damaging these cells. When there is no insulin to help tissues absorb glucose from the blood, too much glucose stays in the bloodstream and blood sugar levels rise.

Less than 10 per cent of diabetes cases are Type 1 and it usually develops in childhood or young adulthood.

Type 2 Diabetes

In Type 2 diabetes, there are two possible mechanisms at work. First, the pancreas produces less insulin in response to glucose. Second, the organs and muscles becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, which means insulin is not as effective in helping those tissues absorb glucose. These conditions mean that more glucose stays in the blood, resulting in higher blood sugar.

More than 90 per cent of diabetes cases are Type 2.

What you can do

Diabetes now affects more than three million Canadians. Risk factors include obesity, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits.

For people who are overweight or obese, weight loss can help to decrease the risk of developing diabetes, or postpone its onset. Even modest weight loss can help.

Maintaining a healthy weight, enjoying regular physical activity and eating a healthy well-balanced diet can help lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.



This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Under review by Editor Feb. 24, 2014

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