Is Your Metabolic Health Worsening Your Brain Health? Some Thoughts to Consider.

People make claims about their own, and you’re probably aware that yours is important, but what exactly is your metabolism?  Simply, it’s the collection of  chemical processes in our bodies that convert food into energy.  There are hundreds of types of chemical reactions that break down and build up the substances we need for life, and energy is the common currency.  It enables us to move, think, grow, and reproduce.  It’s no wonder Albert Einstein’s most famous equation shows how we are ultimately beings of pure energy:  E=mc2!  Thus, metabolism is foundational to health. 

Your metabolism depends partly on factors which are outside your control, such as age and genetics.  But lifestyle choices including diet, exercise, and smoking also govern the effectiveness of your metabolism, and therefore your body’s ability to derive the benefits from food and other environmental inputs.1  Metabolism stands at the meeting place of genetics, environment, and lifestyle, and to steer our metabolic health in the right direction, therefore, it is vital to understand its impact.  

Importantly, pursuit of metabolic health is not just about counting calories.  Done right, it can substantially reduce our risk of developing serious diseases.2  Much of this revolves around avoiding something called “metabolic syndrome,” a group of conditions which raise our risk of heart disease, stroke, and other potentially fatal conditions.3  Researchers have also found important links between metabolism, inflammation, and brain health that can inform both lifestyle choices and decisions around potential treatments.  

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What Is Metabolic Syndrome? 

Less than a third of Americans are metabolically healthy, and another third are living with metabolic syndrome, which means they are suffering from at least three of these five conditions:4,5 

  • Abdominal obesity (visceral fat), resulting in a waistline above 102 cm (40.1 inches) for men and 88cm (34.6 inches) for women 
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) higher than 130mmHg Systolic or 80mmHg Diastolic (referred to as ‘one-thirty over eighty’) 
  • High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) exceeding 100mg/dL after fasting 
  • High blood triglycerides (which can raise levels of dangerous LDL cholesterol) exceeding 150mg/dL 
  • Low HDL “good” cholesterol (which helps remove LDL cholesterol from your blood) below 40mg/dL for men and 50mg/dL for women6 

The main factor behind metabolic syndrome is being overweight, which is often linked with poor diet and living a sedentary lifestyle.  Fat cells, particularly those in the abdomen that surrounds your organs, can affect your body chemistry in ways that upset the balance of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ cholesterol, and result in insulin resistance.7

Alongside these problems, fat cells can release pro-inflammatory chemicals, leading to an increased risk of type-2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart  conditions including arrhythmia, heart failure and coronary heart disease..8,9  And it’s worth noting, it is now well-established that chronic inflammation is linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.10,11 

It is now clear that the pursuit of metabolic health can form a proactive strategy with important implications for disease prevention and longevity.12

Metabolic Health and Brain Health 

There are strong hints that metabolic health and brain health are linked. They share an overlapping set of risk factors: hypertension, hyperglycemia and diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, social isolation, and depression.  Studies show that obesity and poor metabolism are connected to premature brain aging, marked by reduced brain volume and lower integrity of the brain’s white matter (the brains ”connective” circuits).13,14

A key issue is the link between inflammation and obesity, a major factor in metabolic syndrome.  When faced with a deluge of excess dietary calories, our abdominal fat cells respond by becoming enlarged and/or rupturing, failing to respond properly to insulin, and secreting pro-inflammatory chemicals called adipokines.15  These kick-start the body’s inflammatory response.  Under normal circumstances, the immune response dies down (or resolves) once the injury or disease is healed.  However, in people who are obese, the adipokine triggers continue and continue, leading to chronic inflammation, which is connected to a range of serious conditions, including neurodegenerative disease.16 Metabolic abnormalities can affect cognitive function, glucose levels in the brain, the structure and health of white matter, and cerebral blood flow, all continual disruptions caused by metabolic syndrome.17,18,19

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Strategies for Improving Your Metabolic Health  

We are not powerless in the face of metabolic syndrome.  Although age and genetic factors cannot change, our lifestyle choices can have a major impact.20  The following measures have been shown to help stave off metabolic syndrome: 

  • Obesity is a major factor, so weight loss is central to metabolic health.21, 22  Shedding pounds in a controlled way is best achieved through a combination of regular exercise and informed dietary changes.  Begin by cutting out simple carbohydrates (candy, soda, white rice, commercial breakfast cereals) and replacing them with a range of fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.  Consider forms of work and hobbies which are less sedentary, and raise  your heart rate.23 
  • Expand your social network.  Interestingly, loneliness and isolation are linked with metabolic disease.  Making new friends provides more reasons to leave the house and to be active, which in turn can ease depressive symptoms.24  Consider volunteering, joining a club tailored towards your interests, or even reaching out to family members if you struggle with expanding your social network.  
  • Take a look at your sleep patterns.  Insufficient and disturbed sleep are associated with metabolic syndrome.  Surprisingly, sleeping for too long is also a risk factor.25  Aim for a happy medium duration of 7-8 hours of sleep each night.  
  • Finally, good nutrition is an important part of improving metabolic health.  It’s well worth looking at the Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil. These foods offer anti-inflammatory molecules that ease oxidative stress in the brain because they are rich in: 
    • flavonols like quercetin (berries, apples, onions, broccoli, green tea) 
    • omega-3 oils (fatty fish including salmon and mackerel) 
    • resveratrol (grapes) or pterostilbene (blueberries) 
    • other plant-based polyphenols (tea, fruits, vegetables) 

To learn more about these and other metabolically healthy foods and nutrients, read our full article on healthy nutrients by visiting here.  

Addressing your metabolic health, particularly fighting or avoiding metabolic syndrome, is a powerful tool in reducing your risk of chronic diseases, and in safeguarding your brain health. 

Changes to our dietary habits can be a major challenge, so including a high-quality dietary supplement is a nice way to ensure you’re getting the daily nutrients to support your metabolic system and the brain.  Our nutritional supplement RELEVATE contains many of the nutrients listed above in diet-appropriate doses to help you achieve a brain healthy diet.  To learn more about RELEVATE for your nutritional needs, visit here 


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