Your liver is the largest organ in your body, after the skin.
Your liver is a dark reddish-brown organ sits in the upper right abdomen and, at about 3 pounds. Your liver manages a dizzying array of tasks, including digesting fats, making and storing glucose, and serving as the body’s detox centre.
The liver is an insulin-guided organ. Its behaviour changes depending on the level of the hormone insulin in the body and how sensitive the liver is to that insulin.
After eating, blood glucose levels rise, which in people without diabetes triggers the pancreas to release insulin into the blood. Insulin is the signal for the body to absorb glucose from the blood. Most cells just use the glucose to supply them with energy.
But the liver has a unique job when it comes to glucose. When levels of glucose (and consequently insulin) are high in the blood, the liver responds to the insulin by absorbing glucose. It packages the sugar into bundles called glycogen. These glucose granules fill up liver cells, so the liver is like a warehouse for excess glucose.
The liver also makes sugar when you need it….
When glucose levels drop, insulin production falls, too. The shortage of insulin in the blood is the signal that the liver needs to liquidate its assets, sending its glucose stores back into the blood to keep the body well fed between meals and overnight.
When you’re not eating – especially overnight or between meals, the body has to make its own sugar from scratch. The liver supplies sugar or glucose by turning glycogen into glucose in a process called glycogenolysis. The liver also can manufacture necessary sugar or glucose by harvesting amino acids, waste products and fat byproducts. This process is called gluconeogenesis.
This is a critical function that keeps people alive when food is scarce.
We have been taught that human needs carbs for fuel. Well, it is true that Carbs are fuel.
But more than that carbs are the potent regulator of your metabolism. In fact, carbs control how your body burns fat.
When you eat carbs and absorb it as sugar, the body is forced to prioritise burning the sugar. So carbs control the fuel use and in particular inhibits access to fat. And any excess amount of energy will be stored in the fat cells. So this type of metabolic response locks people into a glucose-dependent metabolism. And if you happen to develop insulin resistance issues, you are more likely also locked into a storage mode.
Remember, it is the job of your digestive tract to break down the starch and other complex carbohydrates, which are nothing more than chains of sugar molecules, into their component sugars so that they can be absorbed into the blood.
How much glucose is dissolved in blood?
Well, roughly 2 teaspoons. Each teaspoon is about 4 grams.
One-quarter of a teaspoon is all the difference between a normal blood sugar and a diabetic blood sugar, according to the American Diabetes Association.
An order of whopper at Burger King contains 49 grams of carbohydrate. 49 grams of carbohydrate converts to about 49 grams of sugar, which is almost 10 teaspoons. So, when you eat a whopper, you put 10 times more sugar into your blood than that required to maintain a normal blood sugar level.
Since your metabolic system has to work very hard indeed to deal with the sugar load from a whopper, imagine what it has to do when you add a large soft drink, a side order of fries and maybe an apple turnover for dessert.
So where do all the carbs go?
Well, some of the carbs from your whopper might go to your muscle for oxidation and use. Most will then go to your liver. Processing the body’s fat is a key job for the liver. Once the liver is full of glycogen, it starts turning the glucose it absorbs from the blood into fatty acids through a process called Lipogenesis, the formation of fat from no-fat sources.
So your liver both stores and produces sugar. Your liver also turns sugar into fat for long-term storage.
The liver also makes another fuel, ketones, when sugar is in short supply…
When your body’s glycogen storage is running low, the body starts to conserve the sugar supplies for the organs that always require sugar. These include the brain, red blood cells and parts of the kidney. To supplement the limited sugar supply, the liver makes alternative fuels called ketones from fats. This process is called ketogenesis.
The hormone signal for ketogenesis to begin is a low level of insulin. Ketones are burned as fuel by muscle and other body organs. And the sugar is saved for the organs that need it.
The truth is that ketones are a natural part of human metabolism. It is also an incredibly important aspect from an evolutionary perspective. When carbs are limited, and our body naturally has the ability to produce ketones. It’s a software program that’s just sitting there dormant unless you unleash it by restricting carbs.
Rethink your carbs and learn more on ketones!