Glycogen and Diabetes: What is the Connection?

Medically Reviewed By: DR. MOHAMMAD SULEMAN, Consultant Diabetologist, MBBS March 24, 2022

The stored form of glucose as glycogen. It is a huge multi-branched polymer of glucose. It accumulates in response to insulin. Glucagon hormone breaks it down into glucose. The storage of glycogen occurs in the liver and muscles. Also, it delivers readily available fuel sources to the body in case blood sugar levels lower down. Read to know about the relationship between glycogen and diabetes.

glycogen and diabetes

Glycogen’s Role

Storage of energy occurs in various forms. Fat is one of the forms of stored energy while glycogen is another one. Fatty acids are high in energy however, glucose is the ideal fuel source for the brain. Also, glucose delivers energy for body cells when there is a lack of oxygen. This occurs for example, during anaerobic exercise.

Storage of Glycogen in Diabetes

A healthy person’s pancreas reacts to higher levels of blood sugar. For example, in response to eating. Person liberates insulin which would reduce the levels of blood sugar. And, this occurs by supporting the liver and muscles to take up glucose from the blood. Also, the body stores it in the form of glycogen. Diabetics either fail to produce enough of their own insulin and/or their insulin fails to function efficiently. Hence, a person’s pancreas might not be capable to react efficiently to spikes in blood sugar levels.

Glycogen Release

Glycogen release occurs by the liver for various reasons, such as:

  • In response to low blood glucose levels
  • In response to traumatic conditions
  • Upon getting up (the process is dawn phenomenon)
  • To help in digestive processes

In such conditions, when a person’s body requires extra glucose in the blood, the pancreas would liberate the hormone glucagon. This hormone helps in converting glycogen into glucose for getting liberated into the bloodstream.


Glycogen is the principal storage form of carbs in human beings. Its storage majorly occurs in the body’s liver and muscle tissue. In the presence of high glucose levels, storage of excess glucose occurs as glycogen. Reduced blood sugar levels leads to back conversion of glycogen into glucose. Glycogen is helpful for delivering a readily available source of glucose for the body.

Exercise and Glycogen

Glycogen plays a vital role in fueling the muscles for exercise. While exercising, muscles gain benefit from the stored glycogen. Glucose in the blood and glycogen in the liver keeps the muscles energized. Once a person finishes his or her exercise session, muscles would replenish their glycogen stores. The time for completely replenishing the glycogen stores depends upon difficulty and duration of exercise. It might also differ from some hours to a number of days.

Exercise can thus be a helpful approach to lower blood sugar levels. It may be particularly helpful in individuals experiencing type 2 diabetes. Also, after exercise, muscles try replenishing their glycogen stores. And, thus takes in available glucose from the blood to do so. This helps in reducing the levels of blood sugar over this time duration.

Role of Glucose, Glycogen, and Insulin in Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus occurs when there is an insufficient amount of circulating insulin in the body.  Metabolism within a person’s body is nothing more than the breakdown. It is a conversion of glucose into energy in the form of ATP. The byproducts in this process are water and carbon dioxide. When a person eats, his or her blood sugar levels increase. Insulin is a caretaker that lets blood sugar molecules to get utilized by the cell. In the presence of low levels of blood sugar, glucagon is the prime form of hormone. It results in the release of stored glycogen or energy by the body.

For a person’s body to produce energy, insulin must let glucose to get inside the cell. If insulin is not available, the quantity of glucose that is capable of entering the body cells is small to meet the body’s energy needs. There needs to be a sufficient amount of insulin for this to occur. Also, the insulin should be functional properly to let the movement of sugar into the cell.


Too much exercise might exhaust an individual’s glycogen stores. This implies that diabetics might develop serious hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) after exercise. Person’s body replenishes its supply of glycogen in the muscles by taking up sugar from the bloodstream.

Breakdown of Glycogen

There are two hormones that regulate the breakdown of glycogen. These are epinephrine (adrenaline) and glucagon. Epinephrine release occurs in the adrenal glands. And, the secretion of glucagon occurs by the alpha pancreatic cells. After lots of years of diabetes, these hormones might fail to function in a proper manner. The timely breakdown of glycogen into glucose might not take place. And, this may increase the susceptibility of individuals to incidents of serious hypoglycemia without warning.

Learn About the Process

Carb-foods deliver the fastest form of energy to the body. Once consumed, the pancreatic beta cells instantly liberate insulin. This hormone associates with particular receptors present on the surface of the cell to let glucose to go in.

The purpose of this is two times. Initially, it let the cell access to glucose to metabolize. Then, it delivers an assurance that a person’s body would not need to depend on fat or protein for metabolism. Too much glucose uploads into the liver where conversion and storage occur in the form of glycogen. Liver gets a limited amount of glycogen stored there.

As a result, muscles help in this process. One third of the glucose that moves through the liver converts to fatty acids. Their storage occurs in adipose, or fat tissue, as triglycerides. If insulin is unavailable for normal metabolism, this fat breaks down and transforms into a soluble form. And, this soluble form is present within the blood.

Due to this, low insulin levels have a greater level of cholesterol and triglycerides following the condition. This gives rise to heart problems, another common medical condition noticed by emergency medical experts.

Insulin and growth hormone function in combination to transfer amino acids across the cellular membrane. There breakdown occurs to release new proteins. This process is referred to as protein synthesis. In the presence of an inadequate quantity of insulin, protein storage gets hindered. And, breakdown of muscle protein starts.

The protein that remains unused is known as protein wasting. It transfers to the kidneys and removes out in the urine. High quantities of protein travelling through the kidneys might cause kidney failure and dialysis.


In a healthy person, pancreas reacts to higher levels of blood sugar, like in response to eating. It does so by liberating insulin. This hormone reduces the glucose levels by supporting the liver and muscles to take up sugar from the blood. And, store it as glycogen. Glycogen offers energy to the body when the levels of blood glucose fall down. When liver fails to hold glycogen, insulin activates the fat cells to take in glucose.


What occurs when glycogen stores are filled?

Ketosis takes place when glycogen stores finish and fail to replenish. During the process of ketosis, liver oxidizes fatty acids into ketones. A person’s body may then use ketone bodies as an alternate energy source. It’s critical to make sure that a person eats enough of protein during this time.

What occurs to glycogen when insulin enhances?

Insulin promotes storage of glucose as glycogen in the liver. A huge portion of glucose absorbed from the small intestine is instantly taken up by hepatocytes. They transform it into the storage polymer glycogen.

Does glycogen enhance blood sugar?

Glycogen provides your body with energy when your blood sugar level drops. When your liver can hold no more glycogen, insulin triggers your fat cells to take in glucose.

What occurs to glycogen when glucose levels fall down?

Glycogen storage majorly occurs in the liver and muscles. When blood sugar levels are high, body stores excessive sugar as glycogen. In the presence of low sugar levels, glycogen conversion into glucose occurs. Too much exercise may reduce a person’s glycogen stores.



Last Updated on by Dr. Damanjit Duggal 


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