January 29, 2024
January 29, 2024

The Link Between Metabolic Health and Chronic Disease Prevention

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The Link Between Metabolic Health and Chronic Disease Prevention

When many people think of "metabolism," they often link it solely to weight loss. Although metabolism plays a role in weight management, it barely scratches the surface of its significance in overall health and well-being.

Your metabolism is the foundation for every bodily process—a network of chemical reactions converting food into energy, akin to a car's engine continually burning fuel to keep you moving and alive. Metabolic health refers to the optimal functioning of the system—in essence, it’s like a car running on all cylinders.

In this article, we’ll explore the link between metabolic health and chronic disease prevention, debunk some common metabolism myths, and discuss the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome (MetS). We’ll also examine how lifestyle factors like diet and physical activity can positively affect your metabolic health.

What Is Metabolic Health? 

A common misconception is that metabolic health is solely determined by a person's weight or body mass index (BMI). This is only sometimes the case. For example, individuals can have metabolic disease even at a healthy weight and those who are overweight may maintain excellent metabolic health if they engage in healthy lifestyle habits. The following are some common metabolism myths that should be dispelled.

Myth: You're born with a set metabolic rate and can do nothing to change it.

Fact: About 70% of the differences in how our bodies burn calories at rest are because of our inherited traits. However, while genetics play a role, your metabolic rate is not a fixed number. Lifestyle changes, such as regular physical activity and building muscle mass through strength training, can boost your metabolism. Moreover, the simple act of getting enough sleep can help regulate hormones like cortisol that affect your metabolism. 

Myth: If you're thin, you don't need to worry about your metabolic health.

Fact: Being of normal weight doesn't guarantee optimal metabolic health. It's possible to have average weight and still have underlying metabolic imbalances that increase the risk of chronic diseases. Regular healthcare check-ups and healthy lifestyle choices are essential for everyone, regardless of weight.

Myth: You should have multiple small meals throughout the day. 

Fact: Intermittent fasting, which involves limiting the times you eat through brief intentional fasting periods, may benefit metabolic health. Some clinical studies have also found that the longevity diet (fasting-mimicking diet) can lower inflammation and blood pressure while treating insulin resistance by providing better blood sugar control. 

Why Does Metabolic Health Matter?

Metabolic health: women sitting on their yoga mats

A retrospective survey published in 2019 found that 88% of American adults were metabolically unhealthy and at risk for developing heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Inflammatory oxidative stress drives metabolic dysfunction, hastening the onset of MetS. This harmful interplay contributes to the development of various diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The impact of oxidative stress and inflammation goes beyond metabolic disorders; it can also interfere with essential cellular functions such as DNA repair and cell cycle control. This interference is associated with the development of cancer—approximately 70–75% of cancers are linked to processes often co-occurring with metabolic syndrome and chronic inflammation.

Red Flags of Metabolic Syndrome

When your metabolism is imbalanced, it can lead to numerous health problems, including metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. 

Technically, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors. You must have at least three of the following to meet the criteria:

  • Central obesity: Excess fat around the abdomen, also known as an apple-shaped body.
  • Insulin sensitivity: A measure of how well your body uses insulin to process glucose. Good insulin sensitivity means your body is efficient at stabilizing blood sugar levels.
  • Waist circumference: A large waistline can indicate you have visceral fat, a type of belly fat that's located deep in the abdominal cavity, and a major risk factor for serious health conditions.
  • High blood pressure: Consistently elevated blood pressure readings.
  • High blood sugar: Elevated fasting blood sugar levels that correlate with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
  • High triglycerides: A type of fat in the blood that can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Often termed "good cholesterol," HDL cholesterol pulls other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream. High levels are protective against heart disease.

How Do Diet and Lifestyle Affect Metabolic Health?

Your lifestyle choices, particularly diet and physical activity, are powerful tools for improving your metabolic health. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) confirms that metabolic health is tied to various lifestyle factors, dietary choices, and genetic predispositions. Understanding how these elements interact can shed light on preventing chronic diseases and promoting health.

Diet and Nutrition

Factors like blood glucose levels, cholesterol, and triglycerides are influenced by dietary choices, especially the intake of ultra-processed foods and carbohydrates. It’s important to find a way to eat that works for your body to avoid poor metabolic health.

Physical Activity

Moving to stay healthy is a cornerstone for achieving and maintaining optimal health. Exercise helps with weight management and insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular and strength training exercises positively impact cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and lipid levels.

Weight Management and Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for metabolic well-being. Lifestyle changes like exercise and diet significantly prevent weight gain and obesity-related issues. 

Knowing your body mass index (BMI) and implementing lifestyle changes to help your heart can boost metabolic health. Paying attention to your waist circumference and body fat levels will also help. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, having a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women and greater than 40 inches for men indicates potential metabolic dysfunction as waist circumference is a good indicator of body fat distribution. 

Blood Sugar Regulation

Blood sugar levels are central to metabolic health, and factors like fasting glucose and insulin resistance are key indicators because they offer insight into how well the body metabolizes and responds to sugar. 

Fasting blood glucose is how much glucose (sugar) is left circulating in your bloodstream after a period of not eating. If you regularly have higher than normal fasting glucose levels (≥ 5.6 mmmol/l 100 mg/dl), it may indicate that your body is no longer responding to insulin the way it should. Being insulin resistant is a precurser to type 2 diabetes.

Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health

High blood pressure (≥ 130/85 mmHg) management is integral for metabolic health. Lifestyle choices, including dietary changes and stress management, contribute to maintaining optimal blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attack and atherosclerosis.

Take Proactive Steps to Maintain Good Metabolic Health

Metabolic health: couple happily riding their bikes

Taking proactive steps to improve your metabolic well-being involves regular monitoring of your health and making lifestyle adjustments where necessary. Regular exercise helps decrease obesity, enhances insulin sensitivity, and improves overall metabolic function. Stress management and quality sleep are often overlooked but are also vital components of metabolic health. 

Tools like the Ezra Full Body MRI provide a look at 13 of our internal organs, some of which play a vital role in metabolic processes. This innovative screening technique helps detect various health conditions, such as cancer and other anatomical abnormalities that may affect your metabolic health. 

By including such screenings in your health routine, you can stay ahead of potential concerns related to your metabolic health and help ensure timely interventions if necessary. Book your online scan today.