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.