One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was titled “Why We Need to Think About Insulin.” In that post, I explain why all of us, even those of us that do not have blood sugar problems, need to consider the effects our dietary choices have on our insulin levels. As we move into the new year, I thought it would be good to start with a series of posts that dive deeper into this concept as I believe this is one of the most important things we can do for our overall health. The new year is commonly viewed as a “reset button” when it comes to health goals for many and for others, it’s a time to build on previously met goals. Either way, considering where you are and where you would like to be in regard to your metabolic health should be of top priority.
Metabolism is a blanket term that refers to a set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in the body. The three main purposes of metabolism are:
1) To convert food to energy
2) To convert food to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and some carbohydrates
3) To eliminate metabolic wastes
Given this definition, what does it mean to be metabolically healthy? There’s not a standard definition in the medical community for metabolic health. As such, the estimated occurrence may change quite a bit depending on which factors are considered. In a study published February, 2019 in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill evaluated data from 8,721 adults from the 2009 to 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They found that just 1 in 8 adults in the United States have optimal metabolic health. They defined metabolic health as having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications. These factors directly narrate to a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and stroke among other things. While this was the first study on metabolic health in the United States, other researchers have looked at similar data to determine that around 23 percent of adults have metabolic syndrome. People are said to have metabolic syndrome when they fail to meet at least three of the above five ideal measurements. This is alarming to say the least. Only 1 in 8 of us have our blood sugar, blood lipids, blood pressure and waist circumference (belly fat) in the healthy range, and at least 23% of us have 3 or more of those things outside of the healthy range. This means that the majority of us are at high risk for life stealing and debilitating disease. This keeps me up at night. As a healthcare provider, I have witnessed over and over again just how devastating these diseases can be physically, financially, emotionally and relationally. How can we be so prosperous, yet so unhealthy? How has it become so common to live with these diseases that many consider them a normal part of aging? This is not a scare tactic to get you to buy X, Y, or Z, these are just facts. We have to realize that acknowledging a problem is the first step in making meaningful change and acknowledging and accepting how metabolically unhealthy we have become as a society is that first step.
Dr. Ben Bikman PhD, a scientist and professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU who’s work focuses on the molecular mechanism that mediate the disruption that causes and accompanies metabolic disorders, calls these diseases the “diseases of prosperity” as most of them are driven by our modern lifestyle and diet patterns. That is both good and bad news. The good news is that the majority of us have immediate access to and the power to make lifestyle changes to stop and reverse many of these chronic diseases. The bad news is that changing lifestyle patterns is a multi-layered challenge that isn’t always easy. So, what do we need to do? First of all, we need to educate ourselves. Then we need to plan and commit to change and then implement that change like our lives and happiness depend on it, as they very well might.
The next few blogs are going to walk through some of this education. Stay tuned, my goal is to equip you with the knowledge you need to implement simple changes that will help improve your health for today and your future.
Forever Yours in Health,