What do you know about Metabolic health? If the answer is not much, that’s okay! Today we’re talking about how your metabolic health supports our overall health and wellbeing. Our metabolic health not only impacts our energy, but our memory, mood, skin, fertility, sexual health, and immune system.
By understanding the basics of how our body uses energy and how we can support it, we can optimize our ability to defend against the persistence of viral infections like the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Let’s dive in.
What is Metabolic Health and Why Should you Care?
Metabolism is the process by which we convert food into energy. When our metabolism is healthy, we have energy, normal blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, and limited inflammation. When our metabolic process becomes impaired our cells don’t function optimally and we are more vulnerable to developing disease.
It is important to pay attention to our metabolic health because poor metabolic health underlies many chronic diseases, including persistent HPV infections.
Unfortunately, poor metabolic health is more common than you think–you likely know friends or family members with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, or high cholesterol.
It is estimated that 88% of the American population shows some signs of metabolic dysfunction. Around 33% of adults in the United States have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Metabolic syndrome is associated with an increase in chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, two factors that increase the risk of cancer and persistent HPV infections.
Where Things Can Become Imbalanced
The modern lifestyle is largely to blame for the high rates of metabolic dysfunction. Our diets are higher in processed and sugary foods, we are more sedentary than ever, get less quality sleep, and many of us live with chronic daily stressors that cause further hormonal and metabolic imbalance. All these factors and more, make it important to be aware of our metabolic health and how we can actively work to support it.
One of the main ways our metabolism can become impaired is through our diet. When the body is taxed with large amounts of dietary carbohydrates, it can throw off our hormone balance and metabolism.
Blood sugar is one of our best markers to monitor metabolic health daily. Glucose is the primary fuel source for our cells. We obtain glucose when we break down carbohydrates and proteins from the diet. Glucose then signals the pancreas to secrete a hormone called insulin. Insulin is responsible for shuttling the glucose into our cells to be used as energy. The body stores some of this glucose in the muscles and liver for a backup energy supply. Some glucose also is stored in fat cells and processed by triglycerides.
One of the impacts high blood sugars can have over time is a process called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when our cells become desensitized to insulin, preventing glucose from getting into our cells. Instead, the sugar remains elevated in the bloodstream. Excess glucose in the bloodstream leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, and can harden blood vessels over time.
For optimal health, we want steady blood glucose and insulin levels over time.
Are you ready to respond to HPV?
How Does Metabolic Health Impact HPV?
You might wonder, how does this all play into HPV? Well, turns out the health of our cells influences many of the factors that put us at risk for HPV.
As we’ve mentioned, inflammation and oxidative stress are increased when metabolism is dysfunctional. Metabolic dysfunction can also throw off our hormones and immune system. We know the immune system is so important for HPV clearance so when the system is impaired, it will be harder for the body to defend against viral invaders.
Research has found some associations between poor metabolic health and HPV. A study looking at the relationship between blood glucose levels and cervical cancer cases found higher blood sugar was associated with a poorer prognosis of cervical cancer. There is also some evidence that suggests individuals with diabetes require more treatment for genital warts from HPV.
How do I Assess my Metabolic Health?
We typically measure our metabolism using five biomarkers: blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. Your doctor has probably screened you for some of these at some point.
Many metabolic assessments are included in regular screening and medical check-ups. Obtaining regular blood pressure screening and labs is the best way to assess metabolic health over time.
Basic blood tests to help assess your metabolic health:
- Cholesterol Panel: A cholesterol panel is commonly used to assess cardiovascular risk. The panel measures cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Triglycerides are a part of lipid or fat, when elevated they can be a sign of prediabetes. High sugar and carbs intake can impact cholesterol levels.
- HbA1c: This measure captures a 2–3-month average blood sugar level and is used to assess risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
- Fasting insulin and fasting glucose: these measures can be used to calculate HOMA-IR, a measure of how well your cells are responding to insulin.
What to do to support our metabolic health
Supporting our metabolic health is just like training a muscle. It is the consistent things we do every day that add up to the overall picture of metabolic health. Supporting our metabolic health involves making smart dietary choices, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, engaging in physical activity, and reducing exposure to environmental toxins.
- Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates: these can quickly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to a crash later in the day.
- Pair carbohydrates with proteins, fats, and fiber to reduce glucose spike: Always combine starches with protein, fat, and fiber to help maintain a level blood sugar. If you plan to eat something sugary, have it after your meal instead of on an empty stomach to lower the glucose spike.
- Eat fiber-rich foods: Fiber helps slow the breakdown of glucose into the bloodstream. Fibers also help feed the beneficial microbes that live in the gut. Supporting the gut microbiome can help improve insulin sensitivity and our response to glucose-rich foods.
- Engage in regular exercise: Exercise can help regulate our blood sugar levels and improve our insulin response. Aim for 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes on most days. Even taking a 10–15-minute brisk walk after meals have been found to help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Get 7-8 hours of adequate sleep per night: Sleep can also play a role in our metabolic health. Poor sleep can lead to less clearance of glucose from our blood stream and higher insulin levels. When we don’t get good sleep, we may be more likely to make poor dietary choices and crave simple carbohydrates.
- Meditation and Stress management: Stress can also impair our metabolism and throw off our insulin levels. When we are stressed, we produce more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can attract glucose stored in the muscles and liver into the bloodstream, increasing blood glucose levels. It also shuts off insulin production. As a result, we have more sugar floating in the bloodstream. Meditation is a great way to help reduce your overall stress.