Are You Metabolically Flexible?
Being metabolically flexible is the secret to health and longevity, but what does it actually mean?
Metabolism is how your body biochemically processes the foods that you eat into fuel.
Defined as "the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life."
Unfortunately, we no longer live in a world where humans consume mostly whole foods in the way that nature presents them, we've added our own human morals and idealism to the equation and we have developed dogma and addictions.
When we eat fats, carbohydrates and protein they are processed in our body biochemically in a fairly predictable way. It's not simple, but our understanding of how it's biochemically managed is pretty well mapped out. If these foods are not being handled in the ways that they are supposed to be in the body biochemically, that means one's metabolism is NOT flexible. When the tires start falling off the car metabolically we are walking headlong into metabolic inflexibility and subsequently metabolic disease.
The way I like to think simply about macros:
1) Fat is for slow burn fuel and satiety.
2) Protein is for building blocks.
3) Carbohydrates are for fast burning kindling.
While this is an oversimplification, it works for most people to understand.
Humans are now at a place where 94% of US adults are metabolically "busted" and we've exported that problem worldwide.
The current state of human metabolism is, in my opinion, completely unsustainable. Most people don't realize, but this is what a busted metabolism leads to:
Increased obesity rates
Cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure being the first sign)
Organ damage body-wide
Creeping cognitive disfunction (brain shrinkage and inflammation on the path to dementia)
Osteoarthritis ("diabetes of the joints")
Osteoporosis ("diabetes of the bones")
Inflammation smoldering body-wide inducing untold damage
Epigenetic impacts on offspring, genetically setting them up for obesity and metabolic dysfunction
Immune suppression, higher risk of poor outcomes with infection/viruses/pneumonia
The list of negative impacts is endless, really. I could tie virtually any modern disease back to metabolic dysfunction.
This scenario is like a slow drip poison. When folks are finally diagnosed with frank Type 2 Diabetes, the damage has likely been going on for a decade or more. Meaning, all the scary impacts that T2DM has on the body were actually low-grade happening for many, many years to the individual. Finally, one day, their fasting glucose shot above 120 and a lab test caught it and now they are officially diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic, but that didn't just happen overnight. That pre-diabetes had been smoldering, usually undiscovered, for many years prior. Bringing with it all the disease processes listed above.
Think of metabolic dysfunction as a continuum starting with the body becoming "less flexible" with how it's processing the foods being eaten, low-grade insulin resistance ramping up and usually accompanied by some level of visceral fat deposition around the organs (the fat under the muscle layer). The person will usually experience symptoms of low blood sugar, like getting hangry, etc as their metabolism is starting to get strained.
From there most will graduate to full-blown insulin resistance (a topic for another blog post), increased weight gain (which perpetuates the problem) and continued inflexibility in their metabolism, meaning their body is no longer managing the foods they are eating (especially the carbohydrates) in a regulated and predictable fashion. Their cells begin to starve because of the insulin resistance, the sugars stay outside the cell at high levels and caramelize them, the pancreas gets taxed having to pump out so much insulin (that the cells are no longer responding to) and insulin is pro-grow (think cancer) and the organs are getting hammered by it all. Their brain is shrinking, their liver is filling up with fat and their immune systems are being severely compromised in the process. Not to mention the fire it's stoking in their arteries.
Most will cook in the above scenario for about a decade+ before frank diabetes is diagnosed.
This is where 94% of US adults are sitting, on this highly damaging spectrum. And we wonder why we have rocketing rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer happening. We wonder why Covid hit our country so hard.
Even if folks do get diagnosed properly, most won't heed the warning unless it's frank diabetes. The term "Pre-diabetes" doesn't seem to stir people into much action, at least in my clinical experience. "You're headed straight into diabetes Carol, and the damage is already happening" never seemed to get people to pivot very hard. Not until their labs finally came back as frank T2DM would they listen. Even then it was often, "oh yes, that runs in my family, I figured it was only a matter of time."
Type 2 Diabetes is 100% a lifestyle disease. Meaning, you ATE your way into it. You "life styled" your way into it.
I'm not laying blame, but trust me when I tell you that it is 100% the individual's actions that got them there and it is 100% the individual's actions that will get them out. And ONLY their actions. There is no drugging or supplementing one's way out of this.
THE FIRST STEP is realizing there is perhaps a problem.
While I can tell by looking at someone if they have metabolic dysfunction, the simple questions I would ask my patients were:
1) Is your waist circumference above 35 if you're a woman, >40 if you're a man?
2) Are you exercising (specifically strength training) 3 X week?
3) Is your blood pressure elevated? >120/70?
If your waist circumference is elevated, you're not exercising regularly and your blood pressure is creeping up, I can almost guarantee you that you do now or will soon have some level of metabolic disease. This would mean that your metabolism is NOT flexible.
The internationally recognized standards for being officially diagnosed with metabolic syndrome is when 3 out of the 5 criteria below are met:
Waist circumference over 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men)
Blood pressure over 130/85 mmHg
Fasting triglyceride (TG) level over 150 mg/dl
Fasting HDL cholesterol level less than 40 mg/dl (men) or 50 mg/dl (women)
Fasting blood sugar over 100 mg/dl
You can have all of the above assessed simply by asking your doctor to work you up for metabolic syndrome. As you can see it's fairly simple. The studies point to waist circumference being a HUGE predictor for T2DM, so simply starting with that on your own can tell you a lot. Blood pressure can be measured at most drug stores and you'll need labs to assess the triglycerides and HDL.
What's the solution? Remember, this is 100% a lifestyle disease.
Basically, live like the fancy mammals we are.
Living in boxes under fluorescent lights, living off highly processed garbage that comes out of convenient packages has done us in.
The solution is simple, but it's not always easy.
Lift weights (put a slab of muscle on your body to mop up the excess glucose)
Walk often, preferably outside (weight loss)
Cut out refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup
Cut out seed oils
Cook every meal at home
Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
Avoid refined carbohydrates (mainly snacky foods that come in packages)
Lower one's stress
Honor the circadian rhythm by getting outside light in the eyes morning and afternoon
Intermittent fast (~12 hours from dusk to dawn)
Get adequate protein. I prefer animal protein, specifically from ruminant animals like beef. (Stay tuned for my Beef and Blueberries post soon!)
Know what your blood sugars are doing
Since knowing is half the battle, the BEST tool I've found for folks interested in how the foods they are eating are impacting their blood sugars, and hence a strong marker for their actual metabolic flexibility, is the Continuous Glucose Monitor.
Using a CGM for a month (or 3-6 months if need be!) is one of the absolute best tools I've found to help people assess not only what is spiking their blood sugar, but you can actually see your insulin response right on the graph. Are you spiking your blood sugar infrequently or all day long? Is the spike fast and comes down quickly or is it a long, drawn out hump indicating insulin resistance? Which foods are causing this? What is stress doing do your blood sugars? How is your sleep impacting them?
All of this information is GOLD when trying to determine one's metabolic health and flexibility, as well as why that stubborn belly fat is hanging on.
The best part is that you can have a CGM delivered to your home WITHOUT a doctor's prescription and have the information explained to you by expert dietitians.
I've teamed up with the crew at NutriSense because I love their biosensors, I love their customer service, I love using their app, and I love the real-time data interpretation I get from their expert dietitians.
This is HAND'S DOWN the best "biohacking" tool I've found and I highly suggest you give it a go to see exactly how your metabolism and blood sugars are responding to your lifestyle. Test, don't guess.
Right now you can get $30 OFF your first subscription with NutriSense by heading to THIS LINK and using code DRTYNA.
Check out these episodes of The Dr. Tyna Show for more:
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