metabolism 101

Article highlights:

  • what is metabolic health
  • how to measure metabolic health
  • 3 key factors that impact metabolic health
  • metabolic health takeaways

[estimated read time: 8 minutes]

WHAT IS METABOLIC HEALTH:

Metabolic health is a foundational element of wellness because it encompasses the set of mechanisms that generate energy from our food and environment to power every cell in the body.

When energy producing pathways run smoothly we experience metabolic health. Since all cells require energy to function, metabolic health is foundational for wellbeing.

Overtly, metabolic dysfunction shows up in weight gain and stubborn weight retention. And subtly metabolic dysfunction shows up as anxiety, poor endurance, increased appetite and chronic pain.  But over time, metabolic dysfunction leads to more inflammatory conditions like Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.

HOW TO MEASURE METABOLIC HEALTH:

Metabolic health is not abstract. It can be tangibly experienced by:

  1. stable and sustained energy throughout the day
  2. sharp memory and recall
  3. sustained exercise endurance
  4. fat burning ability and healthy weight
  5. stable mood, decreased anxiety and depression
  6. clear skin and decreased wrinkles
  7. improved fertility
  8. improved sexual health
  9. a high functioning immune system
  10. lower risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, fatty liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and more

But maybe even more objective and granular are the clinical metrics for metabolic health.

The following tests can be run, with the optimal target in mind, to illuminate patterns relative of metabolic health: :

  1. fasting blood sugar [optimal: ≤ 100 mg/dL]
  2. HDL cholesterol  [optimal:  > 40 mg/dL]
  3. triglycerides [optimal: < 150 mg/dL]
  4. blood pressure [optimal: <130/85]

3 KEY FACETS OF METABOLIC HEALTH: 

While it’s so tempting to resort to the reductionistic [and archaic] equation “calories in – calories out,” metabolic health is [thankfully!] predicated on so much more than this and can be consolidated into 3 main families:

  1. blood sugar regulation
  2. microbiome diversity
  3. hormone balance [and metabolization]

Lifestyle and food factors that positively impact all 3 include, consistent exercise, deep sleep and mindfulness rituals. Let’s explore each further and identify even more targeted actionable takeaways for each to implement in your own life.

BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION: 

There are 2 main fuel sources to the body: glucose and fat. When glucose is available, the body will use it first but when it is cleared from the blood the cell has the capacity to switch to its alternate fuel source, fat. This switch in fuel sources depends heavily on blood sugar regulation. If blood sugar is chronically high and / or dysregulated, the opportunity for the cell to switch over to the alternate fuel source [fat] is rarely given. Over time, the cell is either predominately using glucose for fuel or storing excess sugar as fat [triglyceride]. This inflexibility can be very inflammatory to the body causing oxidative stress and leading to a variety of chronic disease states rooted in blood sugar dysregulation.

Take action now: start by tracking your blood sugar. Buy a simple glucometer and test your blood sugar upon waking. If your fasting blood sugar is over 90 mg/dL, consider this evidence of your cell saving more glucose than it could use from yesterday. Take this as an invitation to switch from packaged carbohydrates to unpackaged carbohydrates [ex. crackers —> roasted sweet potato], walk after meals, eat more fiber and/or decrease amount of carbohydrates consumed at each meal.

Go pro: consider watching your blood sugar with a continuous glucose monitor [CGM] to see what is causing the glucose dysregulation and self-correct in real time. A few strategies include: adjusting carbohydrate volume, carbohydrate quality and making sure all carbohydrates are paired with protein since protein has an anchoring impact on blood sugar.

MICROBIOME DIVERSITY: 

While seemingly unrelated, the microbiome [a collection of trillions of microbes in the digestive tract] plays another incredibly impactful role in metabolic health. The types of foods we eat dictate the diversity and density of bacteria as well as the balance between probiotic species and more pathogenic species. When we diversify our plant matter and amplify our fiber intake research continues to re-iterate the impact this has not only on blood sugar regulation but also on the uptick in postbiotics which have a very beneficial impact on metabolic health.

Take action now: capitalize on the microbiome’s capacity to improve metabolic health by simply committing to 5 different fiber-rich plants per day.

Go pro: tally up the different plants you consume daily and strive for 30 different plants per week to further optimize the microbiome’s impact on metabolic health.

HORMONE BALANCE: 

All hormones to some degree play a role in all metabolic reactions.  However, there are a few hormones pivotal to metabolic health that are important to optimize and track throughout the lifecycle. The following hormones most heavily impact blood sugar regulation and ATP production:

  1. insulin: the hormone responsible for letting glucose into the cell
  2. ghrelin: the hormone responsible for the sensation of hunger
  3. leptin: the hormone responsible for the sensation of fullness
  4. cortisol: the hormone most reflective of stress [but also heavily impacts blood sugar levels]
  5. estrogen: sex hormone regulating reproduction [fluctuations heavily impact insulin sensitivity]
  6. glucagon-like peptide 1 [GLP-1]: a hormone produced in your gut regulating blood sugar levels and inducing satiety
  7. cholecystetokinin [ CCk]: like GLP-1, CCK is a fullness hormone

Hormones work in symphonic harmony so targeting only one at a time will not breed sustainable results. Instead it’s best to track all using subjective and objective metrics when possible. Subjectively, hunger and satiety cues, stress levels, female cycle regularity, and energy are good starting places.

Take action now: globally metabolic health hormones respond to:

  1. consistent protein intake
  2. exercise
  3. sleep
  4. mindfulness rituals
  5. glucose regulation [action steps referenced above]
  6. microbiome diversity [action steps referenced above]

Go pro: consider testing fasting insulin, fasting leptin and estrogen levels 1-2 x per year.  If above optimal ranges, bring in a medical expert to use this data in their comprehensive plan of care.

METABOLIC HEALTH TAKEAWAYS: 

Metabolic health is fitness and takes practice [and repetition]: just like the process of improving in athletics, martial arts, meditation, or any other practice, consistency is key.

You are not alone – metabolic health is something we can all work on from a different angle: no one is immune to metabolic dysfunction in our current food system and cultural habitat. The body is also a very forgiving and dynamic machine so optimizing metabolic function is a community effort. Enlist others in your journey!

You are in control: regardless of your genetic predisposition to metabolic dysfunction, metabolic fitness is not a predetermined trait. Instead, it is a fluid description of your current state constantly in flux and always modifiable. When you make simple, informed and consistent decisions each day you are proactively taking ownership over your metrics that define your metabolic health.

RESOURCES: 

metabolic health:

  1. metabolic health: a review

blood sugar regulation and metabolic health:

  1. What causes the insulin resistance in diabetes
  2. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy
  3. 8 of the 10 of the leading causes of death are related to high blood sugar
  4. insulin secretion after high carb intake and obesity

the microbiome and metabolic health:

  1. Impacts of gut bacteria on Human health and disease
  2. Gut microbiota and metabolic health among overweight and obese individuals
  3. Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects
  4. Obesity Diabetes and Gut Microbiota
  5. Dietary Fibre Modulates the Gut Microbiota
  6. Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects
  7. Microbiome and metabolic health

hormone balance and metabolic health:

  1. Leptin resistance: underlying mechanisms and diagnosis
  2. Ghrelin and Obesity: Identifying Gaps and Dispelling Myths. A Reappraisal
  3. Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals?
  4. Weight Gain in Women at Midlife: A Concise Review of the Pathophysiology and Strategies for Management
  5. Ovarian hormones and Obesity
  6. Neuropeptide Y genotype, central obesity, and abdominal fat distribution: the POUNDS LOST trial
  7. Regulation of neuropeptide Y in body microenvironments and its potential application in therapies: a review
  8. Glucagon-like peptide 1 in the pathophysiology and pharmacotherapy of clinical obesity
  9. The critical role of CCK in the regulation of food intake and diet-induced obesity

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