Glucose in the Body

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. Blood glucose levels are normally regulated by the hormone insulin, which is made by the pancreas. Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with this hormone and how it works in the body.


Around 5.1 per cent of Australians aged 18 years or older have diabetes. The risk of diabetes increases with age, from 2.8 per cent in people aged 35 to 44, to 15.0 per cent in those aged 65 to 74. Aboriginal people have one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world.

The body uses glucose as its main source of energy. Glucose comes from foods that contain carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, fruit and milk. After food is digested, the glucose is released and absorbed into the bloodstream.

The glucose in the bloodstream needs to move into body tissues so that cells can use it for energy. Excess glucose is also stored in the liver, or converted to fat and stored in other body tissues.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, which is a gland located just below the stomach. Insulin opens the doors (the glucose channels) that let glucose move from the blood into the body cells. It also allows glucose to be stored in muscle, the liver and other tissues. This is part of a process known as glucose metabolism.

In diabetes, either the pancreas can’t make insulin (type 1 diabetes), or the cells don’t respond to the insulin properly (insulin resistance) and the pancreas produces inadequate insulin for the body’s increased needs (type 2 diabetes).

If the insulin cannot do its job, the glucose channels cannot open properly. Glucose builds up in the blood instead of getting into cells for energy. High blood glucose levels cause the health problems linked to diabetes, often referred to as complications.

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