Only 1 in 8 Americans, about 12 percent, enjoy optimal metabolic health.
A recent study in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders determined that 88 percent or seven out of eight Americans were not in good metabolic health. Researchers used the widely accepted guidelines of waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting glucose, triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol to assess metabolic health.
Optimal metabolic health is of vital interest to patients looking to lower their risk for heart disease, or those looking for more energy, vitality, and vigor, or even those just looking for a more youthful appearance. Every journey needs a map and here is the beginning of an integrative path that will lead you to optimal metabolic health.
Your Naughty and Nice List
This highly personal path starts with a very simple concept: out with bad and in with the good.
Classify your diet and lifestyle habits into a simple list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” Most people have a good comprehension of the negative habits in their lives but it can be trickier to choose which positive habits to develop.
While I recommend enlisting the assistance of a health-care practitioner as a guide, those people with a clear vision of what positive steps their unique journey requires may reach their destination without help.
Start With Food
Are you eating more whole foods and less processed foods? Are you eating clean, organic, non-GMO and sustainable foods as much as availability and your pocketbook allow?
Beware of organic junk food. It is still not good for you. Do you have any special conditions which require a special diet? These include heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but also lesser-known disorders which can also be helped with diet, like autoimmune disease, mood disorder, chronic fatigue, and autism.
Are you sensitive to any foods? I frequently remind my patients that food sensitivity does not necessarily need to present itself with a gastrointestinal complaint. It can trigger pain, brain fog, low energy levels, or even changes in mood.
Does everything inside of me move properly? Optimal health rests on the foundations of five types of movement:
- Movement of the body (exercise)
- Movement of the bowels (gut function)
- Movement of the mind (cognition)
- Movement of the hormones (cortisol/melatonin, sex hormones etc.)
- Movement of the liver (detoxification and biotransformation)
Exercise has more documented health benefits in the medical literature than any medication, herb, or supplement known to man. How to exercise based on your individual needs is not a simple question and may require some help, but a good start is to incorporate three components into your exercise plan: cardiovascular, resistance, and balance.
The gut is our primary interface with the outside world and home to over 70 percent of our immune system. Good gut function and robust and balanced gut microbiome are essential to optimal health. Poor gut function and an imbalanced microbiome (gut dysbiosis) can have significant effects on dysregulating inflammation and immune function in the body. Unchecked, they can require large amounts of nutrients to maintain a metabolically “expensive” state for the body.
Keep your mind moving by engaging in daily challenging cognitive activities. These will keep your brain on par with your healthy body and gut. Just like your body, using your mind, and even straining it a bit, will help keep it fit.
So how do I move my hormones? Most people only have control over one hormone, cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress is not what happens to a person in their life. Stress is how that person reacts to their environment.
In other words, stress isn’t caused by what happens to you nearly so much as it is caused by how you think about the things that happen to you.
While we may not be free from the demands of life, we have total control over the amount of stress those demands place on us. Cortisol makes up the active/waking half of the circadian rhythm and melatonin the relaxed/sleeping half.
Persistently elevated cortisol levels have been associated with scores of downstream effects from shrinking brains and decreased memory to expanding waistlines and elevated blood sugar. After years of elevated cortisol, a phenomenon known as “cortisol steal” can occur in which the levels of progesterone, estrogen, testosterone and other hormones can be reduced.
The first thing elevated cortisol, or stress hormone will impact is sleep which will then affect the next day’s cortisol rhythm. This creates a vicious cycle that is best broken by eliminating the stress and creating an environment where you are able to get around 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night.
Influencing the movement of your liver or detoxification is best achieved by the practices outlined above and removing the toxic sources to the best of your ability.
Unfortunately, we live in a world today where human toxicants are present in almost every aspect of our everyday life and growing. Whether it be alcohol, aluminum, vaping, diesel exhaust, electromagnetic fields or the thousands of other known toxicants in our environment, the focus should be put on the area where you have control over your exposure.
A good starting point would be to eat and drink clean, stay out of traffic, and turn your phone to airplane mode when you go to sleep.
Don’t Start Tomorrow
If you’re thinking about getting on the path to optimal metabolic health tomorrow—don’t. Do it today. Do it as soon as you are done with this article. The path to optimal health is not some paradigm shift in thinking which occurs some Thursday evening. It is a daily conviction to further your mind, body, and health to the best level that you can achieve.
Armen Nikogosian, MD, practices functional and integrative medicine at Southwest Functional Medicine in Henderson, Nev. He is board-certified in internal medicine and a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine and the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs. His practice focuses on the treatment of complex medical conditions with a special emphasis on autism spectrum disorder in children as well as chronic gut issues and autoimmune conditions in adults.