Metabolism has become a buzzword, and everyone seems to be talking about it for the right reasons, but what most people don't understand is that metabolism is beyond obesity, digestion, and fat gain. Even people who appear healthy on the outside can have a metabolic dysfunction brewing on the inside. Every single function in our body relates to our metabolic health.
Metabolic dysfunction is abnormal regulation of blood sugar, lipids, or chronic inflammation that can lead to disease later on and manifest as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, metabolism syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and a lot more. Even if one develops one or two of these, it is a perfect cocktail to pave the way for others. What may start as diabetes can eventually lead to the development of hypertension and cardiovascular condition. All of this, for something that went wrong at a cellular level, which is the inability of cells to either metabolise sugar, lipids or handle inflammation.
What role does metabolism play in keeping you healthy this monsoon?
There is no better example than Covid-19. The world saw that those with symptoms of metabolic dysregulation (high sugar levels, lipids, and blood pressure) were prone to the virus and infection, and capable of falling severely ill compared to those with a healthy metabolism. Thus, our immune system is driven by our metabolic health too, and this is a scientifically documented fact.
How can you fine-tune your metabolism?
People go from pillar to post, finding ways to boost metabolism, buy metabolism-enhancing teas or powders, some thank their genes. All of us want our metabolism to be efficient, but what determines your metabolism in the first place? It’s a lifestyle and the daily choices you make around food, exercise, sleep, and other habits.
Two drivers of metabolic health
• Mitochondrial health
This is the most critical aspect, as your metabolism is directly dependent on your mitochondrial health. Mitochondria – the tiny cellular engines that create energy for the body – are central to our metabolism and digestion. How quickly and efficiently the mitochondria can turn nutrients such as glucose into energy reflects metabolic health. If your mitochondria are inefficient, you store glucose as fat. This is what a sluggish metabolism does. Unfortunately, mitochondrial health is susceptible to lifestyle habits. Unhealthy eating, no exercise, lack of sleep, unmanaged stress, all affect mitochondrial health.
• Thyroid health
This is primary. Everything connected to metabolism revolves around your thyroid health. An under-active thyroid gland could lead to a weak metabolism, which is why one of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain. When your thyroxine falls, the body gets the signal to slow down, which means slowing down your metabolism. Thus, it is necessary to keep your thyroid health in shape through nutrition, exercise, sleep, and emotional health. It's also necessary to take care of micronutrient deficiencies like selenium, iodine, magnesium to keep it working well.
7 lifestyle changes to improve your metabolism
1. Deep sleep
Lack of sleep is the easiest way to crash your metabolism. It can slow down nearly every single function in the body as it doesn't give our body and cells enough time to rest and rejuvenate, resulting in slow function. Sleep is when we also undergo the detoxification process, so a lack of sleep means toxin overload. A toxic body is bound to have a slow metabolism. Lack of sleep can also increase inflammation in the body, which is another red flag for port metabolic health.
2. Living by the circadian rhythm
Eating in alignment with our circadian rhythm can also hugely support our metabolism. According to the circadian rhythm, our metabolism is at its peak during the afternoon, and hence it's easier for us to digest and metabolise a meal (lunch) around noon. However, as the day proceeds, our metabolism starts to dip, towards evening and night. So, if one wishes to eat an indulgent meal or a dessert, the best time to do so is lunchtime. On the other hand, a heavy meal towards the night can be an uphill task for our body to digest because our metabolism doesn't support it.
This is also why, fasting according to our circadian rhythm, wherein one starts the fast just after sunset and continues until sunrise is one of the most strategic ways to eat to aid your metabolism.
3. Adequate water intake
Even a one per cent drop in your hydration status can cripple your metabolism and slow you down. Keep yourself adequately hydrated. Take it a step further and drink warm water. Warm water increases the body temperature, which therefore increases the metabolic rate. An increase in metabolic rate will allow your body to burn more calories.
4. Build lean muscle mass
Muscle is metabolically active tissue. The more muscle you have, the more your body produces a hormone called HGH which is a human growth hormone, and the more you have of that the higher your metabolic rate is. This is why you will constantly burn fat at any given period when you have that amount of lean mass or muscle fibre.
5. Eat good fats
Your body needs fats, the good ones to maintain optimal metabolism. In fact, good fats like ghee, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados, help produce more energy because it is your mitochondria's most preferred fuel. MCT-rich oils like coconut oil are fantastic for that. The quantity and type can obviously vary based on health conditions and goals, but some good quality fats boost metabolism.
6. High-intensity interval workouts
HIIT to spike your metabolism. Interval workouts can truly put your body in a fat-burning mode by activating your metabolism. The beauty of such workouts is that they can keep your metabolism high for quite some time compared to a workout done at a steady rate. For example: Tabata and the 4-minute Japanese workout.
7. Good quality supplements
While this is never a replacement for lifestyle choices, if there is a serious clinical condition where metabolism has taken a hit and boosting it will help an underlying condition, then the preferable supplements are Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, carnitine, B-complex vitamins, and omega-3 fats.
What cripples your metabolism?
Any sort of crash or fad dieting that asks you to 'starve' your way to weight loss can break down your metabolism into bits. Grain-free diets, for example, can be detrimental as grains are rich in B- vitamins that are key to an effective metabolism. Ask someone who has tried every fad/crash diet under the sun and how their metabolism has taken a hit. You'd clearly get an idea.
The right lifestyle changes can improve your metabolism whereas the wrong ones can cripple it. From your eating patterns and habits to activity levels and the way you train (exercise), water intake, sleep habits, and even your emotional health hugely impact your metabolism, directly and indirectly.
So, if there was ever a time to start paying attention to your metabolic health, it's now. Do not wait for the next season or the next round of blood work. Move to action now. We bet it will be the smartest investment, not just for this monsoon, but for a lifetime.
Please note: Always discuss with your health expert before consuming any supplement/food.
Luke Coutinho is a holistic lifestyle coach - integrative and lifestyle medicine, and the founder of YouCare - All about YOU by Luke Coutinho.