Are you overweight? Are you struggling with high blood sugar, cholesterol or blood pressure? Do you want to avoid medication at all costs? Then please keep reading.
Let us start with a definition:
Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term that includes a cluster of symptoms such as excess weight/obesity, increased blood pressure, fatty liver, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides and blood sugar. It is a major risk factor in the development of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
When we talk about metabolism, most people link it to weight, e.g. a slow metabolism is the reason for weight gain. However, the term ‘metabolic’ refers to the biochemical processes that happen as part of your body’s normal functioning. Developing a metabolic dysfunction or disease is a way of saying that your biochemistry has gone off track.
Our diet and lifestyle are killing us.
The standard Australian diet (SAD) is just that – sad. We have moved away from homegrown food and visiting the butcher, bakery and greengrocer for our staples. Instead we visit the supermarket where we get bombarded with clever advertising pushing heavily processed foods with a promise of ‘health’. Breakfast cereal with milk is a staple in Australia, as are sandwiches with fillings such as ham and cheese for lunch. Snacks often include crackers and biscuits, while dinner favourites are chicken parmas, pasta and meat and three veg (usually potato, carrot and peas/beans). Inflammatory seed oils (think canola and vegetable) have snuck into most processed foods too, contributing significantly to the development of metabolic disease.
Many of my patients have tried a variety of diet and exercise regimes hoping for an easy solution to their problems, but, as you no doubt already know, most plans out there really are too good to be true because they aren’t sustainable in the longer term. In fact, many exclude whole food groups, are devoid of key nutrients and advocate high-intensity exercise which can be incredibly inflammatory for a large proportion of people (myself included), increasing their risk of developing disease.
Metabolic diseases are the leading cause of mortality in Australia. And guess what? They are primarily driven by diet and lifestyle, which means they are reversible if you are prepared to take action and make some changes to improve your health. It might not be easy – breaking habits of a lifetime can be a huge challenge for many – but it will be worth it.
The impact of your genetics on health
Before I launch into the impact of diet and lifestyle, it would be remiss of me not to mention the role of genetics in metabolic disease (and let’s face it, I’m a giant genetics nerd so I can’t help myself).
My family has a strong history of metabolic disease including hypertension, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. My own personal genetic profile shows I have a number of genetic variants that increase my risk. BUT knowledge is power and understanding this has enabled me to tweak my diet and lifestyle and choose the right supplements to offset the risk. It is powerful stuff.
The link between diet, gut health and metabolic disease
I am a big fan of a good diagram and this one is excellent. It is from the team at Cell-Logic who designed the Gut Ecology and Metabolic Modulation (GEMM) protocol.
Reproduced with permission: The G.E.M.M. Protocol© Cell-Logic Australia – 2020
Let me break it down for you.
Everything you eat affects your gut epithelial cells. These are what form your gut barrier and protect you from harmful microbes, toxins and foods that don’t agree with you. Keeping this barrier intact is a priority of treatment. The typical SAD diet (discussed above) also feeds some of our non-beneficial gut bacteria, producing lipopolysaccharides. This sets off the inflammatory cascade, a normal response because your body is trying to protect itself from foods that are not great for it. Your body is smart.
If you only dabble in these types of foods on occasion, then it is probably not going to be a big deal for you. However, when you are eating these foods daily, that is when you can end up with chronic low-grade inflammation.
Chronic low-grade inflammation leads to damage to the cells, tissues and organs and the development of disease. It specifically impacts blood vessels, liver, blood glucose regulation, fat metabolism, clot formation, altered brain structure and function and joint disease, to name just a few.
Why do some people experience certain conditions and not others? It comes back to your genetics. Look to your family history to give you a clue about how your diet and lifestyle may impact your health as you age.
What to eat for optimal health
What you eat, think and do has more of an impact on your health and wellbeing than many people realise. We all know we should eat more vegetables, but do you know why they are so important?
Tip: It is not just about vitamins and minerals; it is also about phytochemicals and plant fibres.
The phytochemicals found in plants act as signalling molecules. This means they have the power to switch genes and enzymes on or off, impacting inflammation in a positive way. Phytochemicals have taken a back seat to vitamins and minerals for years, but they deserve a seat at the table too.
Many plant foods are prebiotic fibres, meaning they feed our gut bacteria. A diverse microbiome equals optimal health. The more plant foods you eat, the happier your gut bugs will be. These will down-regulate inflammation and protect your body from damage to cells, tissue and organs.
Eat those vegetables!
What else can you do?
If you have a strong family history but currently do not have any early warning signs or symptoms, then changing your diet to a Mediterranean style of eating is the single best thing you can do for your health.
If you have developed an early sign of metabolic disease such as high cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar, then now is the time to act. Some people will be able to reverse their symptoms simply by making the appropriate dietary changes, while others may need additional support to restore their gut health.
If you have been diagnosed with a metabolic condition such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver disease, PCOS (yes, this is a metabolic disease) or heart disease, then I strongly recommend seeing a practitioner who can work with you to improve your metabolic function and gut health, and your overall quality of life.
If you would like to know more about metabolic disease or think you may have a metabolic condition, make a booking with one of our naturopaths. Bookings available here.
Written by Denise Berry BHSc