Dextrose: Why is it in food and medicine?

In this article, learn more about simple sugars, the uses of dextrose, and possible side effects.

What is dextrose?

Dextrose is a type of simple sugar made from corn. It is similar to fructose and chemically identical to glucose, which is blood sugar.

Simple sugars, including dextrose, fructose, and glucose, appear in foods such as table sugar, honey, and bread.

Dextrose often appears in foods as an artificial sweetener and ingredients such as fructose corn syrup.

Doctors may use this simple sugar to raise a person’s blood sugar when it is too low.

They may also combine dextrose with other substances if giving it as an injection.

Is dextrose good or bad for you?

The body breaks down simple sugars very quickly to use them for energy. If someone consumes too much simple sugar, the body will store any extra as fat.

While the body does need some simple sugars for energy, consuming too much can lead to increased risk of the following:

  • weight gain
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • acne and other skin problems
  • low energy
  • depression

Even so, there are times when using dextrose benefits an individual more than it harms.

Doctors use dextrose for a variety of reasons, including :

  • to quickly treat low blood sugar
  • to treat dehydration
  • to provide nutrition in combination with amino acids and other substances

Doctors may recommend that a person with diabetes or who is otherwise prone to episodes of low blood sugar carries dextrose tablets with them.

These tablets dissolve quickly when in a person’s mouth, allowing the body to absorb the dextrose.

Once a person with low blood sugar takes a dextrose tablet, their blood sugar will rapidly return to healthy levels.

Doctors can also combine dextrose with many other liquids to make an intravenous solution.

For example, they may combine dextrose with a saline solution to create a rehydration drip for someone with dehydration.

Some medical problems may make a person unable to eat or unable to absorb nutrients. This can lead to malnourishment.

In cases of malnourishment, doctors may decide to feed a person through a central venous catheter, which is a tube inserted into a large vein.

They may choose total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or partial parenteral nutrition (PPN), using solutions that contain dextrose.

TPN fulfills all a person’s nutritional needs, while PPN supplements a person’s nutritional intake.

Dextrose is usually safe to consume but does have some potential risks and side effects.

Side effects of using too much dextrose include:

  • swelling
  • rapid breathing
  • excessive thirst
  • diarrhea
  • low blood phosphate
  • fluid in lungs
  • low blood magnesium
  • high blood sugar
  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness

Doctors should exercise caution when prescribing dextrose to people with some medical conditions.

Dextrose use can lead to dangerously high blood sugar or fluid buildup in the body, which may cause swelling and fluid in the lungs.

People with the following conditions should avoid dextrose:

  • high blood sugar
  • swelling in arms, legs, or feet
  • pulmonary edema
  • low levels of potassium in the blood

Anyone taking dextrose should carefully monitor their blood sugar levels to avoid excessively high blood sugar.

Symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • increased thirst
  • sweet smelling breath
  • confusion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • frequent urination
  • fatigue
  • upset stomach
  • shortness of breath


Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from corn and other vegetables. It has many uses, including sweetening foods and extending the shelf life of many products.

Bodybuilders may use dextrose as a supplement. Doctors use dextrose to treat many conditions, including dehydration and low blood sugar.

Dextrose is an effective treatment for low blood sugar. It is low cost and widely available, making it an excellent choice for people who tend to experience episodes of low blood sugar.

However, it is essential to carefully monitor blood sugar levels when using dextrose to avoid experiencing symptoms of high blood sugar.

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