Metabolism is the term used for all the physical and chemical reactions in the body. It includes converting nutrients from the foods we eat and transforming them to building blocks for our bodies. It is a balance of the anabolic (tissue building process – converting small molecules into larger molecules) and catabolic processes (processes which breakdown of substances in the body i.e, converting larger molecules into smaller molecules).
The metabolic code is a system designed to understand influences on person’s individual chemistry, and therefore all these processes. Anabolic hormones include insulin, IGF 1 (insulin like growth factors), testosterone, estrogen, and growth hormone. Catabolic hormones include glucagon, cortisol, catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine). Our bodies will regulate these processes in order to sustain life. Sometimes this compensation could be at the expense of other processes in the body. We may not have symptoms during this period, but over the long term, such compensation can cause damage to our bodies and result in chronic health conditions.
One of the essential factors influencing the body’s metabolism is glucose levels and regulation. Insulin is produced to insure that glucose levels do not go too high. The counter regulatory hormones (glucagon, cortisol, and the catecholamines) are life- sustaining hormones that insure the cells in the body have adequate glucose levels to sustain life. Through out the day, our bodies are constantly switching back and forth between these hormones to ensure constant levels. However, excessive activation of either extreme can cause an imbalance and ultimately, disease.
We are all familiar with high insulin levels, which lead to insulin resistance and our body not being able to use insulin efficiently (decreased insulin sensitivity). On the other side of that equation, low insulin levels result in high levels of the counter regulatory hormones, likewise create risk factors for future diseases. It does this by upregulating the GSK3 (glycogen synthase kinase 3pathway) which over the long term has been connected with increased microglia activation in the brain, inflammation, nerve death, tumor growth, loss in long-term potentiation of memory and beta amyloid 42 and tau phosphorylation (both risk markers for Alzheimer’s Disease). Insulin resistance, and low insulin levels both stimulate this pathway. Insulin and lithium have been found to decrease this pathway. 1, 2
It has now been confirmed that inefficient insulin signaling within the cells not only leads to diabetes it is also involved in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Some physicians have postulated that a high protein diet can potentially have the same effect as a high glucose diet due to the same response of the counter regulatory hormones. While a high protein diet has been shown to stabilize glucose levels in the short term, this could be a problem in Type 2 diabetics that have over production of glucagon when blood sugar levels drop. 2
Thyroid hormone increases the utilization of carbohydrates and fat from food and the rate of protein synthesis. It simulates the appetite and the movement of food through the digestive tract. Thyroid hormones help regulate glucose levels, increase the uptake of oxygen into the cells and increase the number of mitochondria within the cells. Aging, poor nutrition, stress and exposure to environmental toxins can all damage the thyroid gland and undermine its metabolic functions by decreasing thyroid hormone production or activity.
Low thyroid activity inhibits adequate hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. This can result in poor digestion, increased gut permeability and the development of food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases. Proper thyroid functioning depends on trace elements such as iodine, chromium, selenium, zinc, and the amino acid tyrosine. Substances that can interfere with thyroid functioning include environmental toxins, fluoride, chloride, bromides (which compete with iodine) the heavy metals mercury and lead. Cortisol also interferes with thyroid functioning as cortisol production requires tyrosine making it unavailable to produce thyroid hormones.
Important tests in assessing thyroid functioning include:
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone): this should be below 3. Some endocrinologists believe it should be under 2.
Thyroid binding globulins ,which bind thyroid hormones making them unavailable. (Estrogen can increase these, whereas testosterone can decrease them)
Free T 3 and Free T4
Cortisol, stress, low iron, low selenium can interfere with the conversion from T4 to T3.)
It is important to measure the conversion of free T 4 to free T3 as there are many factors that can interfere with this conversion such as those just mentioned. Antibodies and reverse T3 are also important.
Reverse T 3 (rT3)
This inactive form blocks the receptors from using the available free T 3. Stress, caloric restriction, low and high cortisol, free radical load, toxic metal exposure all can increase the percentage of rT3 produced.
Adrenal Gland Functioning
Thyroid metabolism cannot be adequately balanced until the adrenals are balanced.
When stressed, the adrenal glands produce catecholamines which result in the fight or flight autonomic nervous response. Prolonged stress has many adverse health effects including an increase in glucose and increased conversion of proteins to glucose. This can lead to an increase in food cravings especially for high fat, high sugar, high carbohydrate foods, and the stimulation of extra insulin release.
Excess cortisol can:
- retard regeneration of connective tissue resulting in a slow wound healing.
- increase tumor necrosis factor (TNF a ) and interleukin 6 (IL 6) which make the body’s immune response become hyperactive leading to autoimmune diseases
- decrease production of the thyroid glands (as it competes for tyrosine
- increase cholesterol and triglycerides,
- increase blood pressure
- decrease sex drive and increase sleep disturbances, and the destruction of neurological and brain tissue
Environmental toxins and a disturbed bowel terrain adversely affect adrenal function. Adrenal function can be measured through salivary tests or through blood pressure readings. Blood pressure can be taken while lying down and then again when standing. If you feel dizzy or the blood pressure drops upon standing, adrenal malfunction is suspected.
Effects of Free Radical and Inflammation
Free radical are molecules with an unpaired electron that can cause damage by taking an electron from neighboring cells. This creates a chain of events through oxidation reactions known as oxidative stress. This can damage cell walls so the cells cannot take in nutrients or communicate with other cells. This can damage enzymes and cause proteins to cross-link. These damaged cells lose their ability to communicate and to generate energy that can result in damaged DNA and cell death. Free radicals can disrupt the endocrine system, alter immune function and impair the nervous and digestive system. The most common diseases associated with increased oxidative stress are what we typically call the diseases of aging like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but damage and the downward spiral in health that results from it is also associated with neurological dysfunctions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson disease, as well as arthritis, disrupted immune function, macular degeneration, and obesity.
Sources of free radical damage include the electron transport chain in the mitochondria, cytokines and other substances produced by abdominal fat cells. Stress, high homocysteine levels, pollution, excess exercise, sunlight, cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, fertilizers and pesticides also contribute to free radical production. In the body’s attempt to detoxify these compounds via the P450 enzyme system in cells, free radicals are generated.
Oxidized and rancid fats in food are another source of free radicals. Exposure to heat and oxygen can cause unsaturated fats to oxidize. The worst offenders are deep fried foods, and cooking high fat foods in high heat should be limited.
Free radicals and inflammation are inter-connected. Each leads to the production of the other.
In summary the body’s metabolic process is an intricate symphony interconnected at many levels. Although this discussion only discusses a fraction of this symphony, it is clear that pharmaceutical interventions aimed at a specific pathway can disrupt the system at many levels, lifestyle and appropriate nutritional measures can dramatically improve and restore metabolic balance, leading to an improved quality of life and disease prevention. In fact, life style changes affect our genetic expression (epigenetics) Dr. LaValle is an expert in these areas and will discuss this further.
1. Jope RS (Apr-May 2007). Glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3): inflammation diseases, and therapeutics.” Neurochem Res 32 (4-5): 577-9.
2. Lectures from Diana Schwarzbein, A4m conference December 2012, Las Vegas
3. James Lavalle. Cracking the Metabolic Cde, Basic Health Publications 2004