Optimal metabolic health is crucial when it comes to reducing the risk of serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease — all of which rank among the top causes of death in the United States.
Recognizing when your metabolic health is at risk, however, can be tricky. There are some subtle signs that can signal poor metabolic function early on, giving you a chance to address the issue before it worsens.
Feeling tired or sluggish from time to time is normal, and it’s usually due to factors like stress, boredom, or lack of sleep. However, these energy slumps could also be linked to irregular blood sugar levels in your body.
Glucose, a primary energy source, can cause energy fluctuations when it spikes and crashes. After a blood sugar spike, your body releases insulin, leading to a drop in blood sugar –a condition known as reactive hypoglycemia. Many people experience fatigue and cravings for carbohydrates when this happens.
Trouble Losing Weight
Gaining weight that won’t budge can be an early warning sign of poor metabolic function. Unlike other symptoms of metabolic syndrome, you can observe this one without medical tests.
Research has shown that being overweight or obese is the main reason behind metabolic syndrome in nearly 30-40% of people by the age of 65. Losing even a modest 5-10%, (for a 140-pound person, that’s 7–14 pounds), of your body weight can substantially reduce your risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
However, when you gain a lot of weight, shedding even a few pounds can be challenging. That’s because metabolic syndrome often involves insulin resistance, which hampers your body’s ability to burn fat.
Brain fog can be used to describe mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating, and memory issues, and can be caused by various factors like lack of sleep, stress, depression, and even hormonal changes. Poor metabolic health may also contribute to feeling a bit foggy. Researchers believe that it can occur through two metabolic pathways: glucose dysregulation and neuroinflammation in the brain.
While our brains need glucose for optimal functioning, too much glucose in the bloodstream can impair our cognitive function. A study found that those who consumed more than 14 teaspoons of sugar daily were more than three times more likely to experience cognitive impairment than those who consumed less than 6 teaspoons. Additionally, high glucose spikes have been associated with lower scores on verbal memory tests too.
Poor metabolic health can have lasting effects on your mood – studies have found a link between signs of insulin resistance and a higher risk of developing depression. Research suggests that glucose levels can influence mood in the short and long term. When our blood sugar spikes after eating high-glycemic meals, this can lead to feelings of depression or sadness. Additionally, when glucose levels fall because you haven’t eaten in a while, it can trigger your brain to release stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, making you feel more irritable and agitated.
Acne isn’t just an issue you dealt with as a teenager – many adults struggle with it too. Stress, hormonal fluctuations, medications, and a diet that causes glucose spikes can all contribute to adult acne.
Studies have consistently shown that people who follow a low-glycemic diet have less acne and need less acne medication, whereas high-glycemic diets that cause frequent glucose spikes, can lead to inflammation throughout the body, triggering excess sebum production, the oily substance in your skin, and resulting in acne breakouts. Regardless of the weight, individuals with acne tend to have higher fasting insulin levels as a result, compared to those without acne.
What You Can Do To Improve Your Metabolic Health
If you’re experiencing one or more of the signs above that could indicate poor metabolic health, try following some of these strategies that have been shown to improve overall metabolic fitness.
Carbohydrate Management: Pay attention to your body’s response to carbohydrates. If high-sugar foods leave you fatigued, consider reducing or eliminating them from your diet altogether. You can gain insights into how specific foods affect your blood sugar with a device like Levels Health, allowing you to identify patterns in your blood glucose responses to help you tailor your meals and snacks.
Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night. Research has found that when individuals receive inadequate sleep (6 hours or less), it can disrupt glucose metabolism and elevate insulin levels.
Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to control glucose levels and enhance your mood. Moderate exercise, such as 30 minutes, 3-plus times a week, improves insulin resistance and glycemic control.
A 30-minute post-meal walk promotes stable glucose levels. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), like Levels Health, can help you track how exercise affects your blood sugar, enabling you to create an exercise routine that supports your metabolic goals. Additionally, prioritize foods that combat inflammation, including olive oil, green leafy vegetables, avocado, berries, nuts, tuna, and salmon. Polyphenols in teas and curcumin in turmeric can lower inflammatory markers.
Sunlight Exposure: Spend at least an hour outdoors in daylight. Sunlight not only boosts mood by increasing serotonin production but also helps regulate circadian rhythms, affecting food intake, glucose control, and energy expenditure within the metabolic system.
Want to learn more about your metabolic health?
Levels, the health tech company behind this blog, helps people improve their metabolic health by showing how food and lifestyle impact your blood sugar, using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), along with an app that offers personalized guidance and helps you build healthy habits. Click here to learn more about Levels.