Learn more about metabolic health and what it means for you
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about metabolism?
I bet whatever you are thinking of right now has something to do with weight or appearance. Forget that. Let’s talk about what metabolism actually means in the context of health and well-being.
To put it simply, human metabolism equals all the chemical reactions that take part in transforming food into energy and building blocks for our bodies. The energy and building blocks are then used for three important actions:
Metabolism isn’t something that you can jump start or magically reset. It is the engine that ignites before we are born and keeps on running until the day we die. Metabolism is something that keeps all of our bodily functions going - it is not just something that defines how easily we gain or lose weight.
Having a well maintained metabolic engine is a cornerstone of your everyday wellness, and a must for living a long and healthy life. A recent study looking at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy (1). This means that there are almost 300 million people in the U.S. alone with a coughing engine. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?
In a healthy state, the human body is a very smart machine that has a lot of flexibility when it comes to metabolism. If you keep thinking about metabolism being an engine, healthy metabolism is very much about efficient fuel utilisation - and for us humans, that fuel is food.
In a normal state this smart machine of ours can utilise very different types of fuel from us eating different types of food, survive when there is a lack of fuel from us not eating enough, and handle an excess of fuel when we eat too much.
These mechanisms of adaptability are also referred to as metabolic flexibility. In contrast, disrupted metabolic flexibility or metabolic inflexibility means that our bodies have trouble handling, circulating and storing the fuel that we feed to it. (2)
Metabolism is a very complicated network of chemical reactions - let’s keep it simple and walk through the most common metabolic problems here.
Our bodies are constantly in a state of flux, converting food from our meals into sugar and fats to use instantly as energy or to store as fuel for the body between meals. Disrupted metabolic flexibility ultimately comes down to the body’s inability to process and utilise carbohydrates and fats from food.
Going back to the study mentioned earlier, metabolic health was defined as having ideal levels of fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), blood pressure, and waist circumference. Fasting blood sugar, triglycerides and HDL, the later sometimes referred to as ‘good cholesterol’, are blood components that are used widely to screen metabolic health. Combined with blood pressure and waist circumference these five can give a physician a quick and simple snapshot of how well someone’s engine is running.
Falling out of lines with any of these five measurements is associated with developing various chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The earlier you catch the signs of metabolic problems the better as these diseases take years, even decades, to develop.
Consider falling out of line with any of these measurements similar to the check engine light illuminating on your dashboard. Most likely your body is still running quite okay, but you should get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that maybe something isn’t quite right.
It could be just a minor issue or it could mean something more serious.
In the light of current science, the root cause for eventually losing our metabolic health seems to be losing our metabolic flexibility.
What you should acknowledge is that when you have by definition fallen outside of being metabolically healthy, your body has already lost a lot of its metabolic flexibility. Your engine is struggling to process and store carbohydrates and fat.
We start storing excess fat especially around our liver and intestines. Yes, this is the point when you start growing a belly. The Dad bod might be considered ‘the look’ nowadays, but it might not actually be so healthy. Having excess fat around your abdomen has been shown to be both a sign of already existing metabolic disturbances and a cause for developing further metabolic complications.
When everything starts to spill over, it can also be observed as elevated levels of glucose and triglycerides in the blood. Since the body doesn’t know how to utilise or transport energy anymore everything starts to just float around, causing even more disturbance.
Elevated fasting blood sugar and triglycerides should be considered as a sign of an already more permanent disturbance, not just something that was caused by a couple of days of indulgence or skipping your work-out routine for a week.
And here comes the most important thing.
Taking care of your metabolic health here and now is not only about preventing disease. Your current state of metabolic flexibility can have a huge impact on your everyday life. Losing your metabolic flexibility has been associated with depressive symptoms, skin problems like psoriasis and acne, and hair loss (3,4).
So actually, when it comes to routine health screenings, the check your engine light is illuminated ridiculously late. The damage has already been done.
What if we now tell you that there is a way to catch metabolic issues much earlier?
Monitoring blood sugar levels more closely, especially after a meal, can give some very early warning signs that there is something going on with your metabolism.
It is normal for your blood sugar to rise after a meal, but if it stays elevated for an extended period of time it’s often an indicator that the body has trouble regulating its sugar metabolism.
Consider this a more sensitive, upgraded version of the check your engine light.
But what if we could just stay healthy and flexible without the check your engine light ever turning on? Monitoring your blood sugar might be the key to that as well.
It has been proposed that big fluctuations of blood sugar increase the risk of developing further metabolic problems. High-post meal blood sugar spikes have been associated with higher risk for heart disease and cancer (5), especially if they happen repeatedly (6). The metabolic stress caused by large swings in blood sugar can also have a long term effect on your cognition, the capacity to remember and learn new things. (7)
Remember that in a healthy state, even very high blood sugar spikes are brought down rapidly thanks to a well-running metabolism. But as the research shows, having constant spikes might not be so good for your long-term health. These swings between low and high can also affect your day to day life, even when you would be considered metabolically healthy. Monitoring your lifestyle and reducing spikes can therefore improve your day-to-day experience.
An interesting new finding suggests that controlling blood sugar levels can improve skin health. Avoiding those dips and spikes may have an anti-aging effects on the skin by causing less wrinkle formation (8). Gaining control over blood sugar has also shown to reduce symptoms of acne (9).
Controlling your blood sugar can also have a major effect on your daily productivity and performance.
Blood sugar dips and spikes have been associated with sudden feelings of fatigue and low energy (10,11). Have you ever experienced that post-meal energy slump? The lethargy, brain fog and tiredness hits right when you need to be at your sharpest at work. Yep, all of that can be caused by post-meal changes in your blood sugar.
New research also suggests that the metabolic stress caused by large swings in blood sugar can have a long term effect on your cognition (12,13). So avoiding large swings in your blood sugar levels can not only help you to be more mentally alert, but actually also improve your memory.
You can’t really feel or sense those blood sugar spikes, but you will definitely feel the dips when it’s already too late.
This is where we at Veri step in.
Today the easiest way to self-monitor blood sugar levels is to use a technology called continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). With the help of a small sensor attached to one arm, a CGM system can read your blood sugar values constantly and requires no finger pricks.
Changes in blood sugar are mainly triggered by the foods and meals we eat, and can also be affected by exercise, sleep and stress. Without objective data, the effects of different foods on your blood sugar can be a total guessing game. Individuals can have very different or even opposite blood sugar response to the same exact meal (14).
CGMs can therefore help you to objectively measure your individual blood sugar responses and to help you figure out how you should balance your meals to control spikes and dips for your blood sugar.
Most CGMs show the user their current blood sugar value together with past values in the form of a blood sugar curve. Some monitors also show the user their current blood sugar trend i.e. whether it seems to be going up or going down.
At Veri we have taken it one step further.
Instead of just showing you numbers and trends, we guide you through and help you understand your personal responses better.
With Veri you can:
Instead of guessing how different dietary and lifestyle choices affect your metabolic health, Veri can help you to make consistent, well-informed decisions that will improve both your everyday wellness and long term health.
Metabolic health is not just the absence of disease. Being metabolically healthy is being the best, most well-being, and energetic version of yourself day after day.
1. J Araujo et al., Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016, 2019. Published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. URL: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/met.2018.0105
2. R Smith et al., Metabolic Flexibility as an Adaptation to Energy Resources and Requirements in Health and Disease, 2018. Published in Endocrine Reviews. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6093334/
3. S Pearson et al., Depression and Insulin Resistance, 2010. Published in Diabetes Care. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2858189/
4. M Napolitano et al., Insulin Resistance and Skin Diseases, 2015. Published in Scientific World Journal. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4419263/
5. P Stattin et al., Prospective Study of Hyperglycemia and Cancer Risk, 2007. Published in Diabetes Journals. URL: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/7/e78.full.pdf
6. F Sasso et al., Glucose Metabolism and Coronary Heart Disease in Patients With Normal Glucose Tolerance, 2004. Published in JAMA. URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/198573
7. K Node and T Inoue, Postprandial hyperglycemia as an etiological factor in vascular failure, 2009. Published in Cardiovascular Diabetology. URL: https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-8-23
8. H Nguyen and R Katta, Sugar Sag: Glycation and the Role of Diet in Aging Skin, 2015. Published in Skin Theraphy Letter. URL: https://www.skintherapyletter.com/aging-skin/glycation/
9. R Smith et al., A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial, 2007. Published in American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17616769/
10. C Fritsch and L Quinn, Fatigue in patients with diabetes: A review, 2010. Published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research. URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399910000620?via%3Dihub
11. O Roladsson et al., Increased Glucose Levels Are Associated With Episodic Memory in Nondiabetic Women, 2008. Published in Diabetes. URL: https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/57/2/440
12. A Sommerfiel et al., Acute Hyperglycemia Alters Mood State and Impairs Cognitive Performance in People With Type 2 Diabetes, 2004. Published in Diabetes Care. URL: https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/10/2335
13. K Stuart et al., Postprandial Reactive Hypoglycaemia: Varying Presentation Patterns on Extended Glucose Tolerance Tests and Possible Therapeutic Approaches, 2012. Published in Case Reports in Medicine. URL: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crim/2013/273957/
14. D Zeevi et al., Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses, 2015. Published in Cell. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26590418/