10th October (10/10) was International Metabolic Health Day, so how do you score 10/10 for your metabolic health?
A healthy metabolism means optimal blood pressure, blood sugar level, waist circumference, HDL and triglyceride. Three or more of these outside the optimal range diagnose metabolic syndrome. And it is sobering to hear that unhealthy metabolism affects 88% of the US population, 90% of overweight people, 95% of the obese, and even 65% of normal-weight adults.
Many of us are now living longer but in poor health. We have developed the science to keep us alive, but not healthy. The average person in the UK has 14 years of poor health towards the end of their life. This is due to metabolic diseases that lower quality of life, reducing our “health span” and forcing many people to live in nursing and care homes.
The metabolic disease continuum starts with poor blood sugar control, weight gain and obesity before progressing to hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, non-alcoholic liver disease, heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer, enlarged prostate, erectile dysfunction, PCOS and infertility. These chronic diseases constitute the most challenging modern public health crisis.
This blog will discuss what having a healthy metabolism means, how metabolic problems start, how to spot them, and what we can do about them and finally, find your metabolism type.
Metabolism means digesting food and delivering calories and essential nutrients to your cells to make energy. This powers your life-sustaining and daily activities, removes metabolic waste, and supports growth and repair to maintain bodily structure.
A healthy metabolism is when calories enter your cells to make energy without causing blood sugar or insulin spikes. Producing steady and sustained energy levels and your ideal body weight.
Healthy and fast metabolism interchangeably refers to the ability to overeat without gaining weight.
However, slow or unhealthy metabolism is when you divert calories away from cells to be stored as fat. You gain weight by overeating, which often indicates poor health and lifestyle choices.
Simple tricks like consuming more calories to maintain your ideal body weight or restricting calories to lose weight do not always work. Your metabolism style dictates your body size and shape.
There are four metabolism styles
Stable metabolism is when you gain and lose weight easily by increasing or decreasing your calorie intake.
Inefficient metabolism is the tendency to spend calories due to hyperactivity and high energy cost per activity. In this case, gaining weight becomes a big challenge.
Efficient metabolism: is the tendency to conserve calories. Your body efficiently extracts more energy from fewer calories, saving the rest as fat and causing obesity resistant to weight loss. You need a marked calorie cut to lose weight.
Adaptable metabolism: you maintain your body weight within a narrow range at high or low-calorie intake. This is because your metabolism becomes efficient during calorie restriction but inefficient with overfeeding.
How to speed up your metabolism
You can speed up your metabolism through high-intensity workouts, weight training, standing at a work desk, eating more protein, eating spicy food, and drinking green tea and coffee. You should consume healthy food (low glycemic index), take enough water to stay hydrated, have a restful sleep, have good physical activity, and reduce stress levels.
More detail on all these factors is later in this blog.
Blood sugar control is the key to metabolic health. However, not all sugars are created equal. Glucose is the body’s primary fuel, raising blood sugar and stimulating the pancreas to produce insulin. However, fructose (fruit sugar) does not raise blood sugar but causes insulin resistance through the back door.
The actual health problem is related to the type of sugar made chemically from corn, i.e., high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sweeter, cheaper sugar is used exceptionally widely in commercial juices, fizzy drinks, and sports drinks and is the cause of the modern obesity pandemic.
HFCS also lowers leptin (the “stop eating” hormone), increasing your appetite and making it hard not to overeat, with a long-lasting negative impact on health.
Eating pro-inflammatory food of refined sugar, processed carbs, and allergens, such as gluten, dairy and soy, causes low-grade inflammation. This is the driver of insulin resistance until belly fat takes over.
You can track your blood sugar levels through HbA1C, a laboratory test available everywhere, which reflects your blood sugar control over the past three months.
Likewise, Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) is a sensor that reads blood glucose levels over time. It shows the impact of various foods on your blood sugar and helps people choose lifestyles that support their metabolic health. It can detect metabolic dysfunction early.
Conventional weight loss advice
Conventional weight loss advice – eat less and exercise more – shifted our focus to calorie counting, ignoring the fact that all calories are not created equal. The food’s quality, not its quantity, is what matters.
This is because cutting calories slows your metabolism and makes it harder to lose weight. In addition, exercising more will stress your body and make you eat energy-dense, palatable food.
On the other hand, studies confirm that high fat in your diet speeds up your metabolism, helping weight loss and reversing disease, while high sugar intake increases insulin, the fat storage hormone.
Other studies have confirmed the prevalence of metabolic syndrome among people who consume sugar, processed carbs, animal protein and fast food, but low among those who consume fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds and eat their dinner well before bedtime.
Changing the fuel
In the shift to energy-dense food, the calorie intake per person in the US has risen by 1,000% since the 1970s, dramatically escalating obesity rates – from 15% in 1970 to 39.5% in 2021!
The opposite happened in Cuba. The US imposed sanctions against Cuba in 1990, reducing their processed food imports. The Cubans had to depend on locally produced real food. There was an average weight loss of 5.5%, and the death rate from diabetes, heart disease and cancer plummeted to its lowest levels!
This constitutes a convincing large-scale health study!
How do we improve our metabolic health?
Consume real food in fruits and vegetables and healthy fat in avocados, nuts, and seeds that are high in fibre, which makes you regular and feeds the microbiome to produce butyrate, positively impacting your metabolic health. This helps you achieve your ideal body weight and prevent disease. Conversely, cooking with cheap vegetable fat makes toxic fat that causes insulin resistance.
A low-fat diet causes weight gain, increasing triglycerides and lowering your HDL (the good guy cholesterol)-3 metabolic risk factors.
But, unlike sugar, fat has a neutral insulin effect, making you look good and feel great. Your body burns more fat, loses weight, and you enjoy steady energy all day.
A high omega 6:3 ratio also increases the risk of metabolic diseases. Our ancestors’ hunter-gatherer diet saw a ratio of 1:1, compared with our Western diet of 20:1. The vegan ratio is 15:1, vegetarian 10:1, meat-eater 7:1 and the Mediterranean diet 4:1. An intake of omega 3 balances the ratio and reduces the risk of disease. A ratio of 4:1 has a positive impact on vascular and brain health and longevity.
Water is essential, as it transports oxygen and nutrients to cells via the bloodstream. It facilitates healthy digestion, eliminates metabolic waste, lubricates your swallowing through saliva and eyes through tears, and “oils” your joints.
People with unhealthy metabolism struggle to have a good fluid balance. The body gets rid of excess sugar in the blood via the kidneys, inducing diuresis, which often results in dehydration.
We live in a culture of dehydration, typically drinking tea and coffee during the day and alcohol at night without proper hydration. This is compared to the Mediterranean culture, which serves a glass of water before each caffeinated and alcoholic beverage.
Drink water 30 minutes before or two hours after a meal. Drinking water during meals spikes your blood sugar and puts you at risk of metabolic diseases.
Sleep deprivation changes your food preferences towards palatable, energy-dense, processed, and fast foods high in sugar, fat, and salt, a recipe for obesity.
Poor sleep stimulates your stomach to produce more ghrelin. Higher levels of ghrelin and lower leptin levels make you consume excessive calories. Restful sleep is necessary to regulate your appetite and avoid cravings and weight gain.
Growth hormone (GH) causes growth in children and repair in adults. It increases during sleep and diminishes with sleep deprivation. 70% of GH production occurs early at night, a good reason for an early bedtime.
Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is also the master antioxidant released at night to clear oxidants that build up in your body during the day, from head to toe. This prevents mitochondria from being damaged by oxidants and promotes energy production.
The old saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” is correct. Physical activity is a vital pillar supporting our health. A sedentary life of low physical activity creates a state of low energy needs and slows our metabolism.
In the famous Dallas study, three weeks of complete bed rest was worse for our health than 30 years of ageing!
We lose muscle mass by 5% every decade. Postmenopausal ladies also lose bone density. And you experience a 75% loss of mitochondria between 20 and 70.
On the other hand, exercise helps your metabolism. Walking for 15 minutes after lunch stabilises your blood sugar and prevents blood sugar spikes.
HIIT and weight training increase your resting metabolic rate. Vigorous exercise increases insulin sensitivity, controls blood pressure and blood sugar, and increases VO2 Max, the very accurate measurement of your cardiopulmonary fitness.
Low-intensity cardio workouts burn fat slowly. However, high-intensity exercise depletes sugar (glycogen) stores faster and burns more fat quickly. You continue to burn more calories for many hours after a high-intensity workout.
Acute stress helps us get over life’s challenges and achieve daily tasks. However, modern stressors tend to be chronic rather than acute, raising our cortisol, and over time, this can result in chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and dementia.
Studies have shown that people with a BMI of 30 or more (obesity range) had exceptionally high hair cortisol.
With acute stress, high adrenaline suppresses appetite and activates a catabolic state, resulting in significant weight loss.
Conversely, chronic stress can lead to obesity and metabolic disease through comfort eating, simple over-consumption, and a preference for calorie-dense, palatable foods. It also mobilises body fat to be stored in the abdominal organs as visceral fat.
Chronic stress also causes frequent illnesses (due to a weak immune system) and mild cognitive impairment (forgetfulness), which may progress to dementia due to the shrinkage of the brain’s learning centre (hippocampus).
Going for a walk relaxes you and relieves your stress in many ways – through gentle exercise, fresh air and mother nature’s peace and beauty.
When you hug a loved one, your body releases the connection hormone oxytocin, which lowers blood pressure and stress hormones, relaxing you and making you happy.
Finally, intermittent fasting. When you fast, fat burning usually happens between 12 to 36 hours. Adipose tissue fat stores are metabolised to free fatty acids (FFA). These are released in the bloodstream and transported to the liver to undergo B-oxidation to produce ketone bodies (ketone, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate) and distributed to fuel body cells.
Find your metabolism type among three
– Ectomorphs are slim with small body frames, narrow shoulders, and fast and inefficient metabolism. They are prone to fidgety and hyperactivity and find it hard to gain weight.
– Mesomorphs: have an athletic, strong body and broad shoulders. They respond well to exercise and gain muscle and fat easily. They must cut back on carbs and exercise regularly.
– Endomorphs: they have a large, round body and thicker legs and arms. They have a slow metabolism, get fatigued easily and find it hard to lose weight.
So, my friends, you can see how vital your metabolic health is. But again, the pathway to optimal metabolic function can be found in a few straightforward lifestyle choices. Please share your thoughts and questions by commenting on this piece, and please subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss further vital information. Thank you!
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