Understanding Glucose Reabsorption And Kidney's Functions


The human body is a complex system that performs a myriad of functions to sustain life. One of these functions is the filtration of blood, which occurs in the kidneys. However, not all blood that reaches the kidneys gets filtered. In fact, about 80% of it immediately returns to the circulation without undergoing any filtration. This is necessary to prevent the filtration system from getting clogged by cells and proteins that cannot be filtered.

The Role of Glucose Reabsorption

Glucose, due to its small size, is rapidly filtered in the kidneys. Its concentration in the filtrate (a fluid that has passed through a filter) is identical to that in the plasma. This means that the more glucose there is in the plasma, the more there is in the filtrate. This relationship holds true even when glucose concentrations are high, as in the case of diabetes.

After being filtered, glucose is quickly reabsorbed in the proximal tubule of the kidney, where there are epithelial cells similar to those found in the intestines. These cells have specific transporters that capture glucose and sodium and transport them into the cytoplasm. From there, a sodium-potassium pump moves the sodium back out, while a GLUT-4 transporter does the same for the glucose.

Under normal conditions, these transporters can reabsorb all the glucose. However, when glucose concentrations in the filtrate are excessively high, some glucose may not be reabsorbed. This occurs at the so-called renal threshold, which is equivalent to a blood sugar level of 300 mg/dl. Beyond this limit, the concentration of reabsorbed glucose cannot increase, even if the glucose concentration in the filtrate continues to rise. As a result, the concentration of sugar in the urine, which is normally zero, begins to increase.

The renal threshold of 300 mg/dl is theoretical. In reality, this threshold is much lower, at around 180 mg/dl. This is because not all parts of the kidney are equally efficient at reabsorbing glucose, due to variability in the number of transporters.

When blood sugar levels exceed 180 mg/dl, some parts of the kidney may let small amounts of glucose escape, while when blood sugar levels exceed 300 mg/dl, all transporters are saturated and cannot reabsorb all the glucose. This results in glucose being expelled in the urine, a condition known as glycosuria.

Having glucose in the urine is dangerous because it draws large amounts of water, leading to dehydration. It also promotes bacterial growth, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections.

Regulation of Body Water

Besides glucose reabsorption, the kidney also plays a crucial role in regulating body water. Every day, 180 liters of plasma are filtered, but only about one and a half liters are excreted. The kidney is capable of adjusting water excretion based on the body's needs. For instance, urine excretion decreases during dehydration and increases when large amounts of liquids are consumed.

The body of an adult contains approximately forty liters of water, which is balanced between intake (from food, drinks, and metabolism) and output (through the skin, breath, urine, and feces).


The kidneys play a critical role in maintaining the body's homeostasis by filtering blood, reabsorbing glucose, and regulating body water. Understanding these processes is important for understanding how the body functions and how diseases such as diabetes can affect these processes.

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