Understand Your Hormones for Optimum Metabolic Health
To understand how to achieve good metabolic health, it is important to understand the hormones that influence your metabolism. These include insulin, ghrelin, and leptin. While insulin is made in the pancreas and allows cells to use glucose from the bloodstream for energy, ghrelin is made primarily from stomach cells and makes you feel hungry. Leptin, which is made in stored fat tissues, sends the message to your brain that you are full and prevents you from overeating. All three of these vital hormones work synergistically to create either a balanced or chaotic metabolism.
After much research on these particular hormones and their effects on the body’s systems, more specifically at what happens before, during, and after a meal. When sugar levels rise after a meal, the pancreas secretes insulin in order to capture the sugar. Sometimes the normal amount of insulin is not enough to move the glucose into cells, because the cells become “resistant” to the insulin. The pancreas must then produce more insulin in order to stabilize sugar levels.
Ghrelin is the primary hunger hormone that signals when you need food in order to meet your caloric requirements. However, when you see or smell food, you may want to eat even though you are not hungry, serving as a survival skill to keep you going until your next meal. Insulin works to regulate and balance the amount of glucose in the body, causing it to spike and then drop. An insufficiency of leptin in your system may cause you to overeat and gain weight, which along with high glucose levels, are major factors for developing Metabolic Syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by hypertension, elevated glucose levels and insulin resistance. Understanding how much sugar and carbohydrates we consume is vital to maintain a healthy metabolism.
Sometimes called pre-diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome is a group of several risk factors that mark the development of type 2 diabetes, which is the most prevalent and preventable form of the disease. Some of the symptoms include excessive fat around the abdomen, low HDL or “good” cholesterol and high LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, inflammation, a tendency toward excessive clotting, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Quite a few of these risk factors point toward heart disease, meaning that most patients diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome will develop type 2 diabetes within a decade, with a 50 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. But the most dominant factors in a diagnosis of this kind are obesity and accompanying insulin resistance.
Properly modifying your diet, in addition to reducing your body weight, lowering your total intake of fat and saturated fat, increasing your intake of fiber, and boosting your physical activity can all help to reduce your risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome. The key to beating metabolic syndrome is understanding some of the lifestyle-related causes that can increase insulin secretion—eventually leading to insulin resistance, and ultimately, full-blown type 2 diabetes.
The first of these factors is stress. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol as a response. Cortisol is a hyperglycemic hormone, which means it naturally increases glucose levels and suppresses inflammation. At the same time, your body will increase insulin excretion, creating a dangerous pattern of endocrine imbalance. For these reasons, I recommend daily stress-reducing activities such as moderate exercise, yoga and meditation in order to maintain optimum health.
Exercise is another vital part of any diabetes prevention program, as it helps glucose metabolism without the need for insulin. Simple daily exercise such as walking helps the body maintain proper glucose levels and promotes a healthy body.
One of the most important elements in the fight against metabolic syndrome is maintaining a low-glycemic index diet. The glycemic index is essentially a scale that measures different foods according to the length of time they take to break down into glucose during digestion, as well as the rapidity with which they affect blood sugar levels. Balance is the key factor to any healthy diet, so foods that are low on the glycemic index scale—meaning they do not cause an immediate spike and consequent fall in blood sugar levels. Certain carbohydrate foods with a low glycemic index (such as vegetables and certain fruits and beans) are generally healthier, nutrient-rich, less refined, and higher in fiber. In contrast, high glycemic index foods (think candy and refined sugar) cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by various hormonal changes that often contribute to the feeling of hunger at a faster rate since they are metabolized quicker than low-glycemic index foods.
Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, a fundamental understanding of the way your hormones function in can play an important role in promoting metabolic health.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., L.Ac., is an author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator, and clinical practitioner in the field of integrative health. For more information about Dr. Eliaz, visit www.dreliaz.org.