How to Live Well: A Closer Look the Impact of Food, Nutrition & Health
Chronic disease is a serious problem. People get sick every year with easily preventable diseases, and spend more and more money to heal. We must learn to use the incredible scientific innovation and resources in our country to better combat these issues as a nation.
According to the CDC: Chronic disease is a public health crisis.
- Deadly: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women
- No one is safe: Diabetes affects 25.8 million people (CDC)
- Expensive: 75% of our health care dollars goes toward the treatment of chronic illness
- Growing Problem: 65% of all men and woman over 25 are overweight or obese.
For most people health is a choice, but you need the right information to make the best decisions. In the following article we will talk about how poor nutrition leads to chronic disease and what you can do to prevent it.
The Three Basic Molecules of Nutrition: Proteins, Carbs, and Fats
No matter what you eat, this is where it ends up. Basic nutrition is all about these three main components. Staying healthy depends on eating the appropriate amount of each. To prevent disease, it’s all about managing insulin and glucose, which all gets back to eating minimal carbs.
Proteins are the source of life itself. They do a lot of cool things, chief among them DNA assembly. Proteins also are used for food and energy, body repair and growth. They are what make up our skin, muscle, hair, and nails, as well as neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones. To make proteins useful, our guts break them down into what’s known as amino acids. And just try to eat too much of them- it won’t happen. The body won’t let you. The body has a mechanism for making sure you never, ever overeat them.
Technically, carbohydrates include everything from wood to grass to apples to bread. Depending on how you link carbohydrates together, you can have anything from a bowl of pasta to a pine tree. Our body, however, has no use for bark. Unlike the multi-tool protein, sugar is only used for energy production.
It all starts with what are called “monosaccharides.” The two monosaccharides, or sugars, we will follow most closely are glucose (the main sugar used for energy in our bodies) and fructose (a relative of glucose). Everything boils down to glucose. Our bodies need to break down all sugars (whether they be disaccharides or polysaccharides) into glucose, which is the only form of carbohydrate that can pass through the gut wall to be used for energy. This is why if we eat too much of it, it can tax our bodies. It takes a lot of energy to whittle those sugars down into glucose-bites.
Also unlike proteins, our body has no mechanism for controlling our carb consumption. This is why we can just keep eating and eating all that pizza…
Fructose is what you really have to look out for. While it is naturally occurring in most fruit, fructose is everywhere in processed foods. And it doesn’t do a whole lot besides make us sick. Fructose actually serves zero purpose- it can’t be used for energy by your body, and as we already know, carbs (sugars) only have that one purpose anyway. Fructose can cause obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It also can feed pathogenic bacteria in the gut, make us forgetful, and damage the liver.
Fat has a really bad reputation these days. There are a lot of fad diets out there that tell people the best way to lose weight and get healthy is by cutting out fat. Actually, a good way to lose fat is by cutting out unhealthy fats. But fat itself is really good for us. Our body is designed to run on fat as a source of energy, which it converts into ketones bodies. Scientific research shows that diets rich in monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats actually reduce instances of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
Just like protein, it’s impossible to overeat fat. Except the fat that you combine with, say, sugar, and chocolate flavoring to make, oh I don’t know, ice cream. It’s possible to overeat ice cream precisely because it has carbs (sugar) in it.
Hormones: Insulin, Blood Glucose, Glucagon, Leptin, Ghrelin, Adiponectin, Peptide YY, Cortisol and IGF_1
Besides the three main nutritional building blocks, our body also runs on a series of important hormones. Below are some of the most important hormones for understanding digestive function and health.
Critical in regulating blood sugar, body fat, and aging, it’s important to keep insulin levels low by controlling carb intake and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Too much insulin can be extremely inflammatory. According to Dr. Cordain, 35% of all heart disease and blood vessel disease are related to mismanaged insulin and glucose.
2. Blood Glucose
Blood Glucose is basically glucose that has left the digestive tract and is now in the blood, traveling around to be utilized by the body. It’s important because red blood cells and certain parts of the brain need it and it alone to run properly. However, we are better off if we can run the body on mostly fat. Our bodies actually have the capability of making glucose from fats and proteins, so this blood glucose could come from carbs or from proteins and fats converted into glucose.
Released from the liver, glucagon allows us to access our body fat for energy which helps normalize blood sugar and energy levels between meals. Insulin and glucagon play complementary roles in the maintenance of energy levels by storing and releasing nutrients at the right time. While insulin facilitates the passage of nutrients into cells, glucagon releases nutrients in cells to be used or energy. Decreased blood glucose levels, among other signifiers, stimulate it. Under normal circumstances, glucagon is stored in the liver and muscle tissues for later use.
Leptin tells us when we’re full. It regulates both appetite and metabolism. Produced by white adipose tissue (fat cells) and the cells lining the wall of the stomach, Leptin heads towards the central nervous system where it communicates directly with the brain.
Ghrelin tells us when we are hungry and low on energy. It is greatly impacted by too little sleep and high levels of stress. It is produced all over the body- in the stomach lining, the pancreas, and other
Another hormone that tells us we’ve had enough to eat, Adiponectin also protects our arteries from oxidative damage. Though it is secreted by adipose (fat) tissue, it has been found that people with high levels of adiponectin actually have a lower percentage of body fat.
7. Peptide YY (a.k.a. PYY)
Another satiety hormone. Protein and fat release a lot of PYY, whereas carbohydrates release relatively little. PYY is a gut hormone that plays a synergistic role with leptin in helping us feel satisfied after a fatty (not carb rich) meal.
Cortisol does a lot of things, but in relationship to the topic of this article, w’re only going to talk about what it does with blood sugar. Made in the adrenal glands, cortisol raises blood sugar levels which can lead to fat gain. Spikes in cortisol occur through lack of sleep and stress. In fact, it’s often referred to as “the stress hormone.” It increases blood pressure and lowers the activity of the immune system. It can trigger the breakdown of muscle mass by converting protein into glucose. Too much cortisol can decrease insulin sensitivity, lower the bone formation rate, and diminish skin collagen and connective tissue. However, by and large cortisol is a helpful hormone because it serves as an anti-inflammatory. To avoid developing too much cortisol, avoid: intense or prolonged physical activities, caffeine, sleep deprivation, stress, and certain contraceptives.
9. Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF_1)
Just enough IGF_1 aids in physical recovery, but too much increases our likelihood for cancer and our rate of aging. IGF-1 also helps kids grow, promotes cell maintenance and stress resistance. Exercise, stress and nutrition all affect IGF-1 levels.
Comparing Healthy and Unhealthy States: The Physiology of Digestion
Now we have met all the contributing players in the digestion/endocrinology game, we will begin to understand Type 2 diabetes, various types of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, infertility, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis and, of course, our bodies homeostasis: wellness.
What happens to our bodies when we eat too much, too little, and just enough? In the next section we will use what we have learned to evaluate a “normal” fed state where we eat exactly as much as we need (isocaloric), a “fasted” state (hypocaloric) and an “overfed” state (hypercaloric).
What happens to the body in a “normal” fed state?
You’ve decided to marinade then roast some salmon. The protein in the salmon is broken down into individual amino acids. The amino acids can now go one of two ways. Either the liver will absorb them and use them for its own functioning, or the amino acids will circulate to the blood where they will help primarily with growth, repair, and energy production.
You’ve also decided to make some pasta with a white wine sauce to go with the salmon. Digestion breaks down the carbs into free glucose, and the glucose makes its way from intestines to liver. Its fate can go one of a few ways, too. Free glucose releases insulin from the pancreas, which activates glucose transport molecules. These glucose transport molecules facilitate blood glucose absorption by the liver, where it is then stored as a form of starch called glucogen.
What tips the scales in an “overfed” state?
Some people are able to eat everything they want and never gain a pound, while others just look at food and it creeps on their wastes. The secret is not calores-in and calories-out, but rather hormones and food choice.
All the satiety hormones we discussed previously in this essay are complex sensors which let us know when we are “full.” This is why hormones such as leptin are so important. Food choice is also very important. Certain foods affect our sense of satiety and can wreak havoc on various physiological functions.
If instead of eating the amount of salmon our body needs, we instead continue to eat, the protein is still broken down into amino acids. These amino acids will also still be either converted to glucose or burned directly as fuel. While proten can add to overall caloric excess, it is virtually impossible to overeat protein due to the potent satiety signal sent to the brain. Because of our bodies strong response to excess protein, its good to base meals around protein-rich foods, which will tell us to stop eating before we eat too much.
Now, if we start with the pasta before we eat the salmon, we’ve got a different story. If we eat too much pasta, digestion will still break down the carbs into free glucose, and the glucose will make its way from the intestines to the liver. However, we filled up our liver with so much pasta that now excess carbohydrates are converted to fat molecules called VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) within the liver. The fat is then released from the liver and heads out to the body to be used as fuel or be stored as adipose tissue.
1. VLDLs skyrocket
VLDL’s are the most inflammatory of the four cholesterol particles (LDL, HDL, IDL, and VLDL). Once released, VLDL’s move all over the body, including the brain. Once inside the brain, VLDL’s can make the hypothalamus (responsible for energy regulation inside the brain) leptin resistant, destroying our normal satiety signal and leading to future over-eating.
2. Insulin Resistance
This process happens in waves, much like the ocean eroding a sand castle. The liver becomes insulin resistant and blood glucose drives up higher. Insulin sensitivity inour muscle tissue is finally lost when the muscles can physically store no more glycogen. They are literally drowining in glucose. The blood sugar continues to increase, insulin skyrockets, and eventually even the fat cells become resistant to insulin. Insulin resistance is considered the half-way mark to Type 2 diabetes.
3. Cortisol Production
Once systemic, full-body insulin resistance occurs, the liver is overwhelmed. Blood glucose is turned into fats and VLDLs so quickly that fat cannot escape into circulation, and it builds up within the liver. This is the beginning of what is known as non-alcoholic fatty-liver disease. Even though the liver is literally swimming in glucose at this point, the liver is also insulin resistant so it actually believes that the body has low blood sugar. Your body is worried about the low blood sugar, because if it falls too low you can die. So your body starts producing cortisol, the stress hormone, and it’s like throwing gasoline in a fire.
4. Full System Meltdown
Cortisol is released to combat the perceived low blood glucose levels, even though your body at this point clearly has way too much. The body begins to make more glucose by cannibalizing its own tissues. Muscles and organs are “burned” to make more glucose. Remember, the muscles are where the body deals with elevated blood glucose in the first place! So not only is our body producing more glucose, its also doing so by depleting our first line of defense when it comes to lowering glucose levels in the body.
This is why Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance is effectively a wasting disease of the muscles, while fat cells grow exponentially. Fat is stored in the abdominal region because of the high insulin, blood sugar, and triglycerides. This waistline fat is the telltale sign of insulin resistance. The stage is now set for chronically elevated insulin levels, and all the other complications that brings such as increased cancer rates, accelerated aging, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, obesity, and ultimately Type 2 Diabetes which is characterized by insulin resistance and chronically elevated blood glucose levels.
5. AGE’s and Physiological Degeneration
We’ve seen above how glucose can serve as a toxic substance, even though it is critical for bodily function. Sugars can oxidize and form “advanced glycation end products” (AGEs) which damage proteins, enzymes, DNA, and hormonal receptor sites. AGEs are a major cause of the symptoms we take to be normal aging, and can also cause several degenerative diseases.
6. The link toHigh Cholesterol
When glucose binds to low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol), it prevents the LDL from binding to receptors that tell the liver to stop manufacturing cholesterol. As a result, the liver “thinks” there’s a shortage of cholesterol in the body and continues to produce more. This is one reason why diabetes is almost always associated with high cholesterol levels.
How to Live Well: Digestive Health Ann Arbor
For most of us, health is a choice. Provided the right information and enough support, we can all achieve optimal health and wellness. If you or a loved one suffers from chronic diseases, food allergies, or wants to make sure they are living as healthfully as possible, it is important that they seek professional health. As we have pointed out in this article, following the right nutritional balance is crucial to living well. In order to find the right nutritional balance for you, you need a nutritional path tailored to meet your needs. For more information, please call Digestive Health Ann Arbor at (734) 726-0153
Digestive Health Ann Arbor now offers a complete Metabolic Health Assessment. It is extremely comprehensive and provides considerably more information about the current state of your health then most doctors will provide. If you are interested in a very detailed assessment of your health, please click here for more information. (All blood work needed for this assessment is covered by your health insurance).
Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.