Glucose: A measure of our fuel system and a potential indicator of a problem.

The cells of our body need energy to live and work. Food is our fuel that provides this energy. Much of the fuel we eat is chemically altered (digested) to glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar and the primary fuel source that is transported through our blood to our cells. With the help of insulin, glucose is taken up by cells so energy is produced and the cell's motor can run.

Gasoline is the fuel source of most of our cars. Our bodies however are much more efficient than cars. If we give our cars too much fuel (i.e. too much gas at the fuel station), gas splashes out of the tank and is lost onto the ground (or our clothes) and is wasted. Our bodies do not waste energy. As we take in more fuel, we store this potential energy in the form of glycogen and fat in our cells. When needed, our bodies can use this stored energy to run our cells.

If our body's fuel intake continually exceeds our energy use, our fuel storage (fat) collects beyond a healthy set-point and we experience significant weight gain and obesity. When we combine obesity with increasing age and a sedentary, low energy use life-style, we begin to alter our bodies ability to efficiently use insulin and transport glucose and fats (lipids) around to the cells. As a result, we experience cell injury and loss of function that has been termed "Metabolic Syndrome." Metabolic Syndrome is association with the development of type II diabetes, vascular and heart disease.

The Metabolic Syndrome is a complex disorder often associated with carrying around too much stored fuel. By measuring the serum fasting glucose and certain fat levels in our blood (triglycerides and LDL cholesterol), we are able to see how efficiently our bodies are functioning with these extra fuels on board. If our system is getting too much fuel over too long a time, the insulin system that works to transport the glucose into our cells gets tired and inefficient. As a result, our blood glucose and fat levels in our blood will tend to rise.

Another way of measuring how much extra glucose is circulating in our blood is to check "glycated hemoglobin" or "Hemoglobin A1c." Glucose slowly reacts with the protein hemoglobin in our red blood cells. This always happens. However, if we have too much glucose in our blood over a long period of time, there will be a lot more of this reaction and a lot more glycated hemoglobin is produced. Our Hemoglobin A1c level will increase. A hemoglobin A1c level gives your health care provider a better indication of your average glucose over a longer period of time. The Hemoglobin A1c provides additional information than just a single point in time glucose measurement.

Interpretations of lab results are only complete after consultation with a competent health care provider.

More information can be found at websites associated with the following organizations:
American Diabetes Association.
Lab Tests Online produced by the American Association of Clinical chemistry (AACC).
The American Heart Association.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.