Spotlight on energy
Living creatures need energy - but none of them can generate energy by itself. It must be fed from outside. We humans cover our needs over the food we consume every day. Glycaemic carbohydrates are the main source of energy in most human diets. Glucose is the preferred energy source for most body cells. The brain requires glucose for its energy needs. An intake of 130 g of dietary glycaemic carbohydrates per day, for both children (>1 year) and adults, is estimated to cover the glucose requirement of the brain (Quoted from: EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), 2010; IoM, 2005).
Our Brain: the dwarf with giant hunger
Although the brain represents only 2% of the body mass, it consumes 20% of the energy provided by the diet and 20% of the oxygen inhaled. Children consume twice more glucose than adults do, and the newborn brain requires 60% of the energy provided by the diet. Therefore, the effects of prolonged hypoglycemia can be devastating for newborns and children, given that the brain is totally dependent on dietary glucose, and glycogen reserves are limited. In the elderly, decreased cognitive performance occurs with relatively mild hypoglycemia. (Benton 2001; quoted from Román GC. Nutritional Disorders of the nervous system. In: Shils ME, Shike M, Ross AC, Cabellero B, Cousins RJ, Editor: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006: 1362-1380)
The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body, accounting for approximately 20% of the basal metabolic rate and only 2% of the body weight. Unlike other organs in the body, under normal circumstances, the brain uses glucose almost exclusively as its source of energy. The brain is reliant on a continous glucose supply although glucose stores are extremely small. Without replenishment, the glucose reserves of the brain will be used in approximately 10 minutes. (Quoted from Benton D. The impact of supply of glucose to the brain on mood and memory. Nutr Rev, 2001; 59: S20-S21)
Glucose: additional life support for the brain
Our brain needs large amounts of glucose. The brain's need is high: it needs more than half of the glucose present in the body. In stressful situations - during high mental performances - it can even take up to 90 percent. However, the brain is not able to store glucose - even not small amounts. It can only help itself from the blood glucose and from the stores the body has built up in the liver (glycogen).
Glucose: an significant carbohydrate
Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet. In our culture, carbohydrates cover 40 to 55 percent of our energy comes in the form of carbohydrates, while fat and protein supply remaining part. Therefore, carbohydrates build a considerable part of our nutrition.
Carbohydrates are absorbed very quickly by the body when consumed as single building blocks. The so-called simple sugar (dextrose or glucose) is the basic unit of carbohydrates. In many foods, however, glucose is not present in this free and easily absorbable form but in complex structures. Complex means that the individual building blocks have linked to pairs, but also to short and long chains. One then speaks of double (di-saccharides) or multiple sugars (polysaccharides). They include different sugars such as malt sugar, beet sugar and starch.
The generation of energy
The carbohydrates from our diet are broken down into single building blocks in the digestive tract - resulting in glucose as simple sugar. However, this rebuilding process takes time. Glucose enters the bloodstream via the small intenstine. There it appears in form of blood sugar and it is absorbed into our cells where it is converted into energy - now available for the brain and muscles. Glucose, which is not used up immediately, is stored in its storage form "glycogen" in muscle cells and in the liver.
Compared to other nutrients we consume, glucose is absorbed the fastest into the blood stream. In order to verify this fact, a study was carried out at the University of Freiburg, at the department for sports and sports science (Ifss). The glycaemic index of different foods (such as bananas) was determined and compared to the one of dextrose.
Glucose vs. Banana
According to a DIN standardised testing methodology the panel was given first Dextro Energy tablets and afterwards bananas in a comparable amount of carbohydrates. The blood sugar was measured fist after five minutes.
The results were statically significant. Following the consumption of Dextro Energy tablets the blood sugar raised after five minutes up to 20% from the initial value, while it raised only up to 5% following the consumption of bananas with a comparable amount of carbohydrates. The blood sugar continuously raised until 30 minutes after sampling - however, the blood sugar level was significanty higher after the consumption of glucose (in average up to 80% from the initial value) than after consumption of bananas (in average up to 40% of the initial value).
Diabetes: risks and support
Those who suffer from diabetes – the sugar disease – are impaired in their insulin functioning. Either the insulin is no longer able to transport blood glucose to the cells, or the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin. In both cases, blood sugar gets off track. It is often possible to counter diabetes by adopting a healthier lifestyle, getting the patient's blood sugar back on track.
The Risk of Hypoglycemia
But especially when medications become necessary to help control a patient’s blood glucose level, the patient faces an elevated risk of hypoglycemia. This is the most common side effect of insulin treatment. The process is fast, and often goes unnoticed by the diabetic patient: Suddenly there is excess insulin in the blood, and blood sugar is transported to the cells with excessive zeal. As a result, the level in the patient’s blood drops dangerously low. But once the brain stops receiving enough sugar, glucose is needed as soon as possible.
First Eat, Then Measure
All of this means that the top priority whenever even the slightest sign of low blood sugar arises is not to measure the sugar level, but to take action right away – preferably by consuming carbohydrates in their purest form, glucose. This specific form is the best choice when help is needed right away, since glucose travels very quickly to where it is needed. Pure glucose passes fully into the blood right away, alleviating acute low blood sugar in minutes.