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Metabolic Disorders and Weight Gain
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Weight gain is a common health problem among both adults and children in the United States with approximately 70% of adults being overweight, and 1 in 3 being classified as obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although high-fat diets seem to be a part of the problem, excess carbohydrate intake appears to be the primary contributor to central weight gain and thereby increasing the risk of developing chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. What is causing this rapid weight gain and difficulty with weight loss? Consider the following.
When a food containing a sugar (sucrose, fructose, lactose, etc.) is eaten, the sugar is absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. Then it is normally transported into our cells to be used for energy. However, this can ONLY happen if insulin is present. In a healthy response to sugar intake, insulin is secreted into the bloodstream by the pancreatic beta cell and its job is to bind to receptors on cells and allow the glucose molecule to pass through the cell membrane. When things go wrong is when there is too much sugar in our diet and our body responds by releasing a lot of insulin. Under these conditions, our cells get desensitized to a large amount of insulin and become what is called insulin-resistant.
What sugary foods are the worst?
Researchers have found foods with a high glycemic index (an indicator of how quickly a food releases its sugar into the bloodstream) are a large part of the problem. Another component is the type of sugar eaten, with fructose being the worst. The consumption of fructose in the U.S. has increased more than 1,200 percent since the 1970s! It has gone from 5 pounds to 60 pounds per person per year, due to the introduction of high fructose corn syrup in the US.
What we normally refer to as sugar is sucrose, which is made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. Sucrose must be split into these two components in the small intestine to be used by the body. Eating straight fructose, which is what you get in soft drinks and most processed foods cause a great number of negative effects in the body. Fructose is easily absorbed and goes straight to the liver, where (when in significant amounts) it is converted into fat, mostly triglycerides. Some of this fat will go into the blood, while the rest is stored in the liver (causing fatty liver, which is present in about 25% of the U.S. population) and elsewhere in the belly.
The consequences being overweight
Excessive fat leads to more inflammation in the body. Fat cells release chemicals, called cytokines, into the bloodstream. These cytokine compounds often cause inflammation throughout the body, but especially in blood vessels. When blood vessels come in contact with cytokines they can become damaged, resulting in a process called vascular endothelial dysfunction, in which the cells lining the inside of arteries are not as healthy as they need to be. These unhealthy endothelial cells attract cells from the immune system, which try to repair the damage. The end result can be that the blood vessels don’t dilate when they need to, which decreases blood flow to vital organs, including the heart, and to the body’s periphery, like the arms and legs. Atherosclerotic plaques (hardening and narrowing of the arteries), which significantly increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, are the end result of this chronic dysfunctional process.
Other contributors to metabolic dysfunction
Another contributor is genetics. A family history of obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes increases the risk of developing that particular chronic disease if preventative measures are not taken. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are also at greater risk for metabolic problems. PCOS is a condition that affects the ovaries, hormones, and insulin production.
How can metabolic dysfunction be prevented or reversed?
1. Eat Well
First and foremost is maintaining a normal weight, and more specifically the weight carried around the middle. Stay away from sodas, as they are the top contributor of fructose to the diet. Also, watch out for other sources of fructose, including sweetened juice blends, processed foods, and store-bought baked goods. Trans-fats in the diet are also dangerous, as they can contribute to cancer and heart disease, as well as inflammation. Recent studies have also shown the Mediterranean diet may be best for preventing metabolic dysfunction. This is a diet high in whole foods, including vegetables, fruit, fish, olive oil, and nuts, with moderate wine intake. Other studies confirm the importance of eating a low-sugar diet. One of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet is fiber, an increase in fiber slows the absorption of sugars from food into the bloodstream and improves bowel elimination as well. Learn about the top ten foods to avoid when trying to lose weight.
In addition to exercise being important to maintaining a normal weight, exercise makes our cells more sensitive to the normal effects of insulin. A number of studies have shown vigorous exercise is helpful in reducing weight, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, and reducing the risk associated with metabolic syndrome. Any exercise is good, but the more strenuous the better. A recent study noted that 30 minutes of moderate to high-intensity daily exercise works best.
3. De-Stress Your Life
Although reducing stress is always a smart decision for improving health, it is particularly important for weight loss. The adrenal glands release stress hormones, in particular, cortisol, which promotes fat accumulation in the belly. What is the most important anti-stress measure you ask? Exercise! Yoga is also helpful to reduce both stress and blood cortisol levels.
Sleep deprivation causes hormone changes that can stress the body and result in insulin resistance. For example, decreases natural HGH production and increases cortisol. Make sure you try to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
5. Quit Smoking
Smoking damages the cells inside blood vessels and is a strong contributor to cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. If you need support in quitting talk to Dr. Schulz about how natural therapies can help.
A few different dietary supplements and herbs can be part of your plan to improve your blood sugar and help with appetite control and your body’s ability to break down fat in the liver. Talk to your doctor about what might be best for you, if any.