Metabolic health has become an increasingly important and relevant topic in the clinical field. Understanding and promoting metabolic health is an opportunity to serve our patients better. What is the importance of metabolic health, and what are the methods to assess and improve it?
Metabolic health is a term that refers to the optimal functioning of the metabolism, which is the set of chemical processes that convert food into energy and support various cellular functions in the body. Metabolic health is crucial for preventing and managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. Metabolic disease refers to the disruption of the metabolism that can impair the ability of the mitochondria, the cellular organelles that produce energy, to use different fuels, such as glucose (sugar) or ketones (fat). This can result in increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and tissue damage.
The traditional definition of metabolic disease focuses on a cluster of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome, which includes pre-diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, and abnormal cholesterol. However, metabolic disease is much more complex and pervasive than this definition suggests. It can affect various organs and systems in the body and contribute to a wide range of conditions.
Diet is a key factor that influences metabolic health and disease. The type and quality of food that people consume can affect how their metabolism works and what fuels their mitochondria use. Evidence shows that when we create a metabolic shift using our stored body fat for fuel in the form of ketones instead of glucose, we can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, further improving mitochondrial function. Ketones are molecules derived from free fatty acids. This metabolic shift can be seen with both caloric and carbohydrate-restrictive dietary interventions.
However, many patients consume a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, which elevate glucose levels. Chronic elevations in glucose ultimately progress to insulin resistance, which can lead to the development of many forms of chronic disease. Therefore, dietary interventions that aim to lower glucose levels and reverse insulin resistance have beneficial effects on metabolic health and disease prevention or management.
One of the most effective ways to assess metabolic health and disease risk is to monitor glucose response. Glucose response is the change in blood glucose levels after eating or drinking. It reflects how well the body can handle different types of foods and how sensitive it is to insulin.
There are several devices available for monitoring glucose response, including fingerstick blood glucose meters, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices, and breath ketone meters. By monitoring glucose, patients can gain real-time feedback on how their lifestyle choices affect their metabolism. This can help them make informed dietary choices that optimize their metabolic health and lower their disease risk.
Patient empowerment for metabolic health is about changing behavior through strategy and understanding the science of what truly makes the body work optimally. We hope this information helps you to support your patients in taking charge of their metabolic health.
- Allison Hull, DO