Metabolic Syndrome, Fasting, and Exercise

I spent most of the day yesterday trying to read this article on metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress. I found it an incredibly interesting although very challenging read.

I am fascinated with how our bodies cope with the food we feed it and how we can maximize health and longevity through working within the systems our bodies have evolved into over millions of years. Our modern society is so wonderful but when it comes to food we have literally started down a path that is killing us and we need to change this. Look at the people around you. Look around at all the fat children and fat parents. Look around at all the people eating McDonalds or all the people eating "healthy" food like low-fat yogurt full of sugar or whole wheat bread full of high fructose corn syrup.

How crazy is it that I went to a restaurant yesterday that now has a whole separate menu of "Healthy Choices", including sandwiches with processed meat (but low fat, sigh), egg white omelets (again, low fat), mini muffins (crap in a smaller package), and salmon with a sweet and sour glaze on it. Um, no. I ordered off the regular menu (shrimp and asparagus) because it was HEALTHIER than the stuff on the healthy menu! Fat is not the enemy! When was the last time you craved something that was JUST fattening and didn't also have sugar in it?

Anyway, I am ranting. Let's talk about this article I read. I copied some of the best thoughts from it here, and there is some stuff I also don't write understand or agree with that I will talk about, mostly regarding FAT again!! (If you don't know what metabolic syndrome is, start here. It's basically a pre-cursor to Type 2 Diabetes and it's becoming incredibly common in our country. We are broken!)

The article's premise is that our bodies are designed to operate at optimal health and efficiency when they are moderately stressed. Mild stressors ( they call them hormetic stimuli) help strengthen our cell's ability to clean themselves up and become more efficient. It illustrates a very simple, common sense approach that isn't very exciting and won't help exercise and fitness experts sell their products: everything in moderation. Too much of any of the stressors will cause poor health, while eliminating the stressors (which may seem like a good idea) will also lead to poor health. Your cells need the right level of challenge, just like your brain does, in order to maintain top health.

The metabolic syndrome may have its origins in thriftiness, insulin resistance and one of the most ancient of all signalling systems, redox. Thriftiness results from an evolutionarily-driven propensity to minimise energy expenditure. This has to be balanced with the need to resist the oxidative stress from cellular signalling and pathogen resistance, giving rise to something we call 'redox-thriftiness' Ultimately, thriftiness is good for us as long as we have hormetic stimuli; unfortunately, mankind is attempting to remove all hormetic (stressful) stimuli from his environment.

In other words, our culture of overeating and lack of mild physical stressors (fasting, exercise, and temperature extremes are some examples they gave) have led to a system failure: metabolic syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes among a large percentage of the population.

The ultimate conclusion from this may be that 'thriftiness' is only bad for us without hormetic stimuli; a situation that very rarely occurred in prehistoric times – until humans made their environment almost totally risk and hormetic stress free. It is likely that any level of hormesis is better than none: this may be critical in reintroducing 'postive hormetic stressors' into a modern lifestyle.
The metabolic syndrome is a continuum and may sit at the opposite end of the oxidative stress spectrum to the long-lived phenotype induced by calorie restriction.
Physical activity is probably one of the strongest positive stressors, as is fasting: alternate day calorie restriction (fasting) can invoke many of the beneficial effects of calorie restriction in both animals and humans

What does this mean? That we could probably all benefit from SOME exercise and some intermittent fasting but that too much will have a negative effect. Also, this is all about how our bodies process the food we eat and how much of it. What should we eat? How much of it should we eat? According to the article:

excessive calorie intake, especially of high glycaemic index carbohydrate, might induce the anorexic circuit to fail or down regulate to protect itself, leaving the orexigenic one intact, as it has better oxidative stress resistance; it would also be more likely to function during starvation, when lipids become the predominant fuel in the body. It would also support the use of low carbohydrate diets, which can often reverse many symptoms of the metabolic syndrome.

This is the part that I don't fully agree with:

It is therefore of interest that a high fat diet can induce a pro-inflammatory response in the hypothalamus and insulin resistance [71], while chronically elevated levels of leptin can also induce leptin resistance – which may be part of an obesity-driven vicious cycle [72]. These observations could be partly explained by FOXO activity.
Altogether, this does suggest that a diet high in saturated fat is more likely to induce insulin resistance. Data does tend to support the notion that reverting to diet more like that of our ancestors by reducing saturated fat, but increasing unsaturated fats, with a high omega-3/omega-6 ratio may improve insulin sensitivity. Certainly, a diet high in saturated fat can lead to obesity, while epidemiological data does imply that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat can improve many symptoms of the metabolic syndrome, including insulin sensitivity. The above suggest that excessive saturated fat may be non-hormetic and inflammatory.
I think saturated fat has a bad reputation that is doesn't really deserve. It's also debatable how much saturated fats our ancestors ate. I am researching this further but for now I will say that perhaps it goes back to what I said earlier: there are no clear good guys and bad guys. Some staturated fat is vital to a healthy diet. Maybe there is a tipping point with SF just like there is with other mild stressors (too much exercise, too much fasting or starvation, too much heat or cold, etc). We have to stop looking for answers in absolutes. Like it says above, EXCESSIVE amounts of some things may have the opposite effect that mild amounts have. It's like a flu shot...a little dose (vaccine) will strengthen you, while a big dose will make you sick.
What we are battling is our body's survival mechanisms through insulin resistance:
We propose that temporal and tissue specific insulin resistance is a friend as long as you live within your hormetic zone, but it may become your enemy in a modern sedentary environment.
fasting would improve resistance to oxidative stress and the ability to store fat safely (more, smaller adipocytes), whereas both physical activity and cold would induce mechanisms to burn fat safely (e.g. mitochondrial biogenesis), as well as also improving the potential to store energy. Under normal circumstances, all of these would combine to ensure optimum adaptability. However, without these, continual calorie intake would exceed the ability of the organism to deal with the extra lipids beyond its hormetic adaptability zone, resulting in excessive oxidative stress and inflammation.

What all this means to me personally is that I will continue to exercise moderately (about 3 hours per week of kettlebell and bodyweight circuits) and I will continue intermittent fasting (14-20 hours 5 days a week). Both of these things help me lose weight, which is GREAT, but what is really motivating me to continue with this lifestyle is the health benefits. Can you say that about your diet and/or lifestyle? Is it helping you optimize your health while also allowing for weight loss? I realized this week that for the first time in my life I am losing weight on "accident", not because of any intentional dieting. I am losing weight as a result of my lifestyle rather than trying to create a lifestyle that focusing on weight loss. It's a huge difference in focus and it makes sense to me. Being healthy doesn't require hours in the gym or unpleasant food choices. Being healthy is about making rational decisions, enjoying things in moderation, and foregoing extremism for a more long-term lifestyle approach.

An Interesting Read on IF

I honestly can't remember where I found this, but I think someone put in up on twitter. It's about Intermittent Fasting and calorie restriction and their affects on glucose metabolism and protection from damage to the brain.

The part I want to emphasize most if that IF is not simply a weight loss is a way to improve you health and longevity. In fact, the study points out that IF mice did not weigh less than mice that ate a regular diet. They ate the same amount of average calories as the regular diet mice but received the benefits of calorie restriction. IF seems to offer more protection from neuronal damage than calorie restriction and also has a greater positive effect on insulin levels and IGF-1 concentrations.

There are so many benefits of IF that it's hard for me to understand why I had never heard of it until about 6 months ago. In our food-obsessed culture, anything that can change our addiction to food and eating is a GREAT thing. IF has made a big difference in my life. I no longer feel like I am tethered to the refrigerator all the time. I no longer feel I have to eat every few hours even if the choices are poor. I can choose NOT TO EAT and that is OK! It is such a relief to not always be thinking about my next meal, and the fact that IF can do that while ALSO offering so many other benefits to my health is awesome!

Human Growth Hormone is Your Friend

I found this article such an awesome introduction to hGH, fasting, and fat loss that I HAD to share it with you guys. PLEASE read it...growth hormone is your friend!

If you don't read it, at least read this: hGH is what triggers your body to use stored fat for energy. If you want to lose fat and not muscle, you need to trigger hGH release in your body as much as you can. You can do this by:

  • short, intense interval training (not long, slow cardio) like tabatas. The intensity is what matters, not the duration. If you are a cardio junkie like me, you can do a tabata protocol right before your cardio.
  • sleep - the more you sleep (try for 8 hours), the more hGH your pituitary gland releases each night
  • intermittent fasting (15-24 hours is good but longer than that isn't necessary). If going for 24 hours, once or twice a week is plenty.
  • don't eat for 2-3 hours before bed. hGH gets released in doses throughout the night but your largest dose is the first one of your sleep cycle. If you have a raised insulin level from eating within a few hour of bedtime, you will not get a maximized dose of hGH. High insulin level=lower hGH level.
I went to a 5K this morning out here in suburbia, so the crowd was mostly middle aged moms and dads. I saw a lot of people, mostly women, that were wearing marathon shirts or talking loudly about how they were going to run 8 more miles after the race in preparation for their upcoming 1/2 marathon or full marathon or whatever.

What interested me the most (as the obnoxious prostelitizer on fat loss/general conditioning/anti-cardio/strength training that I have recently become) was the bodies of these women. Most of them had an excess amount of bady fat. They weren't thin, they weren't muscular. They were chubby! There were a FEW exceptions out there. I saw one woman that appeared to be mostly muscle and there were a couple of women who were thin and also without that obvious runners body that is very thin but not at all muscular. However, in general the women out there today did not have healthy-looking bodies. I wonder if any of them ever look around at their peer group and wonder if perhaps they are all missing the point and that long distance running doesn't seem to be doing them much good as far as their health is concerned.

The truth is, they could all not give a shit about how much body fat they have and could be out there running because they LIKE it. I am all for people pursuing things that make their life enjoyable. I still love long distance running and will continue doing it but I won't have any false ideas about it being great for my body or my health. It is great for me only because I love it and it is a fulfilling activity.

I did hear one woman call herself fat twice this morning. I would like to have told her that maybe she shouldn't do that 8 miles after the 5K and should instead just run the 5K as fast as she could! And maybe think twice about the post-race nutrition (cookies and a pancake breakfast)!
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