The primary source of your body’s energy is glucose. You can perform physical and physiological tasks because of this vital substance. Glucose has two isomers (types), the alpha and the beta. When it comes to alpha vs. beta glucose, what are the differences and similarities between the two?
Both alpha and beta glucose have the same molecular formula but differ only in the direction of their -OH (hydroxyl) and -H (hydrogen) groups on carbon 1. Alpha glucose has the -OH attached below the ring, while beta glucose has its -OH group above the ring.
Alpha and beta glucose come from the carbohydrate meals you eat, such as starch, rice, potatoes, and pasta. These meals are digested to simple sugars in your small intestines and metabolized and stored in your liver.
The most predominant simple sugar is glucose (C6H12O6), meaning it has 6 carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms, and 6 oxygen atoms.
Glucose turns into glycogen and is stored in the liver when you don’t need energy, and the body converts it back to glucose plus ATP when you need energy.
Read on to learn more about the differences and similarities between alpha and beta glucose, their function, and more.
Alpha vs Beta Glucose
Alpha and beta are both glucose isomers, but they differ only in the position of their -OH (hydroxyl) and -H (hydrogen) groups on carbon 1. Beta glucose has its -OH group above the ring. On the other hand, Alpha glucose has its -OH attached below the ring.
To learn more about their differences, let’s delve deeper into more aspects, such as stability, metabolism, and function.
Alpha vs. Beta Glucose: Differences
There are secondary differences between alpha and beta glucose due to the primary variation in their chemical structure. The positions of their hydroxyl groups are different.
Here are differences that you should know about alpha glucose vs. beta glucose:
Beta glucose is more stable because the body cannot easily take it apart. This stability is due to the solidly-packed binding of its molecules.
On the other hand, alpha glucose is less stable as you can take apart its atoms easily. Although alpha glucose is more compact, the human body can easily break the chains apart.
Alpha glucose chains are composed of starch, while beta glucose chains are made of cellulose. Bread, pasta, potatoes, and similar foods come from starch. Typically, the tastier parts of plants are made of starch, while the hard parts of plants, such as the stem, are made of cellulose.
Starch’s foundation is alpha glucose, and hence, the body can quickly metabolize it. On the other hand, beta glucose chains are composed of cellulose, and the body cannot break it down easily.
Nevertheless, cellulose is essential for the digestive system to function correctly as they are fibers that help in food digestion.
Some animals, such as cows, can break down cellulose, but humans cannot do so. So, in cellulose metabolism, the winner of the beta vs. alpha glucose comparison is beta.
Due to their compositions, their functions vary. Alpha glucose is the primary energy source in the body, while beta glucose is used as a structural substance. In the beta glucose vs alpha glucose comparison, alpha glucose has a more crucial body function than beta glucose.
Starch’s monomer is alpha glucose, while cellulose’s monomer is beta glucose. Thus, usually, alpha glucose forms a spiral structure when in the alpha acetal linkage. Meanwhile, beta glucose is mostly a linear chain because of its beta acetal linkage.
Note that the above alpha vs. beta glucose differences stem from the primary fact that alpha and beta are both glucose isomers. As isomers, they have different chemical structures.
The usefulness of alpha and beta glucose differs. Alpha glucose has more vital functions in the body than beta glucose. It’s because the body cannot fully metabolize beta glucose for utilization.
However, both are useful to the body. Hence, make sure that your diet includes both these sugars. Please, don’t overdo it, though, as too much glucose in your body could cause illnesses, such as diabetes.
Alpha vs Beta Glucose: Similarities
Alpha and beta glucose also have some similarities listed below:
Both alpha and beta glucose are classified as sugars as they have the same components. They are also considered isomers, as they have the same number and type of atoms, but they have different atom formations.
2. Molecular Formula
Beta and alpha glucose have the same molecular formula (C6H12O6). The difference lies in the arrangement of the atoms in space.
3. Stereogenic Center
Alpha and beta glucose have the same stereogenic center – carbon 1. Both types of glucose attach the -OH to carbon 1 – only in different positions.
They have the same general source, food, primarily plants. They are both ingested and enter the body through the mouth.
Next, let’s learn how alpha and beta glucose are metabolized in the body.
How Is Alpha and Beta Glucose Metabolized in the Body?
Alpha and beta glucose enter the body through the mouth with the food that you eat. Generally, the plant’s edible parts, tubers, leaves, flowers, are made of starch. Meanwhile, the harder plant parts, such as stem and twigs, are made of cellulose.
The mouth starts to digest the starch and cellulose with the salivary amylase (amylopsin) enzyme through mastication or chewing. The food passes the esophagus to the stomach, then to the small intestines, where complete digestion occurs with the enzyme pancreatic amylase.
Digestion of alpha-D glucose vs beta-D glucose differs, though, as starch is easily digested, resulting in alpha glucose chains, while cellulose is not, resulting in beta glucose.
The small intestine’s villi will absorb alpha glucose and convert it to its inactive form – glycogen. This process happens if your body would not use glucose as energy at the moment.
Functions of Alpha and Beta Glucose in the Body
1. Major Source of Energy
Glucose is the most predominant simple sugar coming from the digestion and metabolism of starch or carbohydrates. The body utilizes this sugar for energy as it plays a crucial role in providing energy for the body and the brain to function efficiently.
It’s called blood sugar because it travels to various parts of the body through the blood.
2. Food for the Brain
The brain’s fuel source is glucose, and without glucose, your brain will not function properly. Lack of glucose will diminish your memory, learning, cognitive, and problem-solving skills. A normal weight adult requires 200 grams of glucose daily, and 130 grams is solely for the brain. 
The facts mentioned above are the reasons why hypoglycemic people (low glucose) faint or experience syncope. Syncope is due to the lack of oxygen in the brain.
However, too much glucose would also be detrimental to your brain’s proper functions. Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) could even cause brain shrinkage. Hence, your body has to maintain proper glucose levels.
3. Provides Nutrients to Body Cells
Glucose also serves as a nutrient for body cells, such as nerve cells, especially those in the extremities. Glucose nourishes cells to grow and develop adequately. Without glucose, your body would be dysfunctional.
Beta glucose, also called structural glucose, provides the much-needed fiber for proper digestion in the gastrointestinal tract. Since the human body could not digest fibers, they pass into the intestines and absorb water.
They also provide a means for your food waste to be eliminated from your body by the intestinal muscles.
Without fibers, you can become constipated, and your digestive system would not work smoothly. You could also become bloated and could experience stomach cramps.
Again, alpha vs. beta glucose-what is the difference? Alpha and beta glucose have the same molecular formula. The main difference between them is the orientation of the -OH group located in Carbon 1.
More specifically, alpha glucose’s -OH group is below the ring, while the -OH group for the beta glucose is located above the ring.
Some Sources of Alpha and Beta Glucose
When the body metabolizes these substances, they are converted to simple sugars or monosaccharides. Here are the sources of glucose:
- Foods with sugar
How the Body Maintains Normal Blood Glucose Levels
The body has an internal mechanism called homeostasis that maintains the normal concentrations of the body’s substances. The body uses hormones and biochemical processes to maintain this equilibrium.
In fasting blood sugar (FBS), the normal level falls around 70 to 120 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).  To maintain this normal level, the body utilizes the hormones insulin (decreases glucose) and glucagon (increases glucose.)
When the alpha-glucose level in the body goes beyond the normal level (hyperglycemia,) the pancreas releases more insulin to decrease the sugar levels.
Consequently, when the blood glucose levels are low (hypoglycemia), the pancreas releases more glucagon to increase the sugar levels until it reaches normal. When the body achieves balance, the secretion of these hormones goes back to normal.
Other hormones can increase blood glucose levels, such as epinephrine, cortisol, and Growth Hormone (GH), but the primary hormones involved in glucose balance are insulin and glucagon.
Insulin and glucagon are both secreted by the pancreas; insulin by the beta cells, and glucagon by the alpha cells of the Islets of Langerhans.
4 Processes Involved in Glucose Homeostasis
The four processes involved in the body’s homeostatic action for glucose levels are gluconeogenesis, glycolysis, glycogenolysis, and glycogenesis.
This process involves the production of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources, such as fat and other substances.
This process is the breakdown of glucose involving various sub-steps to produce ATP and energy that the body needs. 
This process is the breakdown of glycogen back to glucose when the body requires more energy for proper function.
This process is the formation of glycogen from glucose when the body doesn’t need glucose. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose. After glycogen formation, the liver and the adipose tissues store the glycogen until such time that your body needs energy.
Symptoms of Increased Glucose in the Body
The cause of diabetes is the lack of insulin or the insufficient amount of insulin in the body. Without insulin, the body cannot eliminate the excess glucose that comes with food.
The function of insulin is to lower blood sugar levels. In diabetes, the symptoms are as follows:
- Polyuria (frequent urination)
- Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
- Polyphagia (constant hunger)
- Hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar levels)
- Glycosuria (elevated sugar in urine)
- Wounds that heal slowly
- Metabolic ketoacidosis (pH of blood becomes acidic)
- Peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerve endings)
Once you have acquired the condition, it’s permanent. There’s no cure for diabetes, only proper management. The doctor would recommend dieting from carbohydrates, exercise, and perhaps a daily maintenance drug to control your sugar levels.
Conclusion – Beta vs Alpha Glucose
The differences and similarities of alpha vs. beta Glucose are essentially based on the -OH and -H atoms on carbon 1. Alpha glucose -OH group is attached below carbon one’s ring, while beta glucose -OH group is attached above the ring.
The rest of the differences and similarities are the effects of the atom’s placement. Note that the body can easily take apart the atoms of alpha glucose (starch), while the body cannot properly metabolize beta glucose atoms (cellulose).
Alpha glucose is the body’s primary source of energy. Thus, it plays a crucial role in maintaining good health. Even though the human body cannot metabolize beta glucose, it still plays a significant role in digestion.
Thus, both the alpha and beta glucose substances are needed by your body.