Biological Importance of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are distinct and large group of organic compounds. They are essential macro molecules made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Biological significance of carbohydrates in living organisms is as follows:
  • Carbohydrates are energy stores of animals and plants.
  • Carbohydrates are immediate source of energy while lipids are long-term source of energy.
  • Glucose is a free sugar which circulates in blood and is an important substance for normal cell functioning.
  • Regulation of glucose metabolism is vital for survival. Carbohydrates make up most of the plant of about 60-80% of its dry mass.
  • In plants they are used as energy source and for storage in the form of starch.
  • Cellulose which is a polysaccharide is an important structural component in the cell wall of plants.
  • Sucrose, a disaccharide is a product of photosynthesis and is transported internally.
  • Carbohydrates are an important component of diet in animals.
  • Carbohydrates are main source of energy and are essential to all animal life.
  • Carbohydrates act as fuel to physical body parts on daily basis.
Within the body carbohydrates have six major functions:
  • They provide energy and regulate blood glucose.
  • Help in breakdown of fatty acids and prevents ketosis.
  • Aid in biological recognition processes.
  • They minimize the use of proteins for energy.
  • They also act as flavor and sweeteners.
Glucose is a carbohydrates and it is the only energy providing sugar to the body. Glucose is important as it is required by the body for proper cellular functions, and hence the blood glucose levels are kept relatively constant. Liver maintains the homeostatic levels of blood glucose and yet it stores glucose for a period of twenty-four hours. After this time period, the cells and tissues of the body particularly the brain and the skeletal muscle rely on glucose. Lack of glucose the body cells start using up the fatty acids or the proteins of the body and also may lead to ketosis due to prolonged fasting. Hence, regular intake of carbohydrates will prevent proteins from being used for energy. Sufficient amount of carbohydrates will prevent the degradation of skeletal muscle and other tissue of the liver, heart and kidneys. Ketosis will be prevented.

Carbohydrates are also important in the form of dietary fibers like cellulose, pectin, mucilage etc. Dietary fibers like pectin and mucilage are important for proper intestinal health. Consumption of fiber makes waster elimination easier. Excess pressure during defecation may cause hemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Fiber intake reduces the risk of obesity and diabetics also benefit from fiber intake. It also decreases absorption of cholesterol.

Carbohydrates also are important in cellular recognition process. Example: Immunoglobulin’s or antibodies and peptide hormone contain glycoprotein sequences. The liver can recognize the glycoprotein sequence and this way carbohydrates mark proteins passages.