Regulatory interactions between lipids and carbohydrates: the glucose fatty acid cycle after 35 years

Diabetes Metab Rev. 1998 Dec;14(4):263-83. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-0895(199812)14:4<263::aid-dmr233>;2-c.


Competition for respiration between substrates in animal tissues has been known for at least 80 years. The most important interaction, quantitatively is between glucose and fatty acids. The starting point in 1963 for the so called Glucose Fatty Acid Cycle was the realisation that the metabolic relationship between glucose and fatty acids is reciprocal and not dependent. Glucose provision promotes glucose oxidation and glucose and lipid storage, and inhibits fatty acid oxidation. Provision of free fatty acids promotes fatty acid oxidation and storage, inhibits glucose oxidation and may promote glucose storage if glycogen reserves are incomplete. This review is concerned predominantly with evidence in man in vivo. In the authors opinion the evidence for inhibitory effects of fatty acids on whole body glucose utilization ad oxidation (predominantly muscles) is decisive and enzyme mechanisms mediating these effects are well established. There is also much evidence that fatty acid oxidation inhibits glucose oxidation and stimulates glucose formation in liver and again enzyme mechanism are known. A permissive role for fatty acids in the insulin secretory response of islet beta-cells has now been firmly established and can be visualised as a mechanism to protect continuing provision of respiratory substrate. Longer term exposure of islet beta-cells to fatty acids impairs the insulin secretory response to glucose and mechanisms are known. There is compelling evidence that fatty acid oxidation may impair glucose oxidation in uncontrolled Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but no convincing evidence that fatty acids have a role in diminished glucose storage (glycogen deposition) in Type 2 diabetes. The inhibition of glucose storage which may follow prolonged elevation of plasma FFA in man and experimental animals is associated with glycogen repletion whereas the inhibition of glucose storage in Type 2 diabetes is associated with glycogen depletion. The precise role of fatty acids in disturbed carbohydrate metabolism in Type 2 diabetes is an area where future progress is confidently predicted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Liver Glycogen / biosynthesis
  • Liver Glycogen / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids
  • Insulin
  • Liver Glycogen
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex
  • Glucose