How important is it to keep up with your Metabolic Health?
Metabolic health is a crucial component of overall health and wellness and determines the risk factors for metabolic diseases.
Metabolism refers to the chemical processes that occur within the body to convert food into energy and maintain vital bodily functions. In order to support metabolic health, it’s important to consume a well-balanced and nutritious diet that includes a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, as well as herbs and foods that have been shown to support thyroid function and blood sugar balance.
General Dietary Considerations For Blood Sugar Balance And Insulin Receptor Sensitivity
Blood sugar balance is an important aspect of metabolic health. Consuming a diet that is high in carbohydrates, such as sugar and flour, can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and reduce the sensitivity of insulin receptors, leading to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Fiber, such as those found in high water content vegetables, along with raw nuts and seeds are essential foods for maintaining blood sugar balances and keeping insulin receptors working correctly.
Leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes have been shown to support blood sugar balance by slowing down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. For some, legumes need to be monitored using a blood sugar meter and some of them can cause rapid elevation of blood sugar, while others tend to protect against blood sugar spikes. Lentils have the most research as a supportive food here.
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients in February 2022, lentil consumption consistently lowers blood glucose and insulin response when compared to starchy control foods. The mechanism by which lentils lower postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels are not clear at present, but it’s postulated that the effect may be linked to macronutrients and/or the number of lentils consumed.
The studies reviewed suggest that approximately 110g of cooked lentils tend to reduce post-prandial glucose by 20%. Larger lentil serving sizes were found to moderately influence relative reductions in peak blood glucose concentrations, however, no clear relationship was identified between serving size and relative reductions in the postprandial glucose response, so it’s something each person needs to establish.
Thyroid Support for Optimal Metabolic Health
Thyroid function is a critical component of metabolic health. Thyroid hormones influence oxygen utilization by cells and thus control metabolism and energy levels. To support thyroid function, foods that are high in iodine, such as seafood and seaweed, can be helpful, although many clinicians warn against the excessive intake of iodine in people who have autoimmune thyroiditis, aka Hashimoto’s. I am not a fan of iodine supplementation unless you do an iodine test, such as the iodine load test, as discussed in my podcast episode about lab testing but for most people, its way too hard to overdose on sea vegetables like kelp.
Foods rich in tyrosine can be helpful for thyroid function. Many sea vegetables support thyroid function because they contain both iodine and tyrosine. Other foods high in tyrosine that are also low glycemic and low allergenic are almonds, avocados, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Dairy and soy products are also high in tyrosine, but not recommended for thyroid health because they are among the top 6 allergens,
A particular form of kelp, laminaria digitata has both tyrosine and iodine, the constituents of thyroid hormone so have been used by herbalists to support thyroid function.
It has been shown that almost two-thirds of the population of Western and Central Europe are iodine deficient, therefore adding sea vegetables to the diet is usually a good move. If you add sea vegetables and your thyroid symptoms worsen, consider that you have an excess of iodine and that's triggering an autoimmune response.
Vitamins And Minerals That Support Metabolism and Regulate Glucose And Insulin Balance
Specific vitamins and minerals are also crucial for supporting metabolic health.
B vitamins, particularly B6 and B12, play a key role in metabolism, while minerals such as magnesium and chromium have been shown to support blood sugar balance.
Minerals Involved in Metabolic Health
1- Magnesium plays an important role in insulin sensitivity. It’s required for insulin to carry glucose across the receptor and into the cells. It helps regulate insulin secretion. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to insulin resistance. In addition, magnesium helps regulate metabolism and energy levels, which can impact the production of thyroid hormones if levels are low.
2- Selenium is a critical component of the enzyme that converts T4 to T3, and a lack of selenium can lead to a reduction in the production of this active form of thyroid hormone.
3- Iron is involved in the production of thyroxine, T4, one of the two main hormones produced by the thyroid gland. In addition, a lack of iron can lead to anemia, which can affect the production of thyroid hormones.
4- Chromium is a mineral that helps regulate insulin sensitivity by improving the way the body processes glucose. Chromium is required to transport glucose and insulin into cells, and high carbohydrate diets tend to deplete chromium stores. Supplementation has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.
Vitamins and Metabolic Health
1- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps regulate insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Vitamin D reduces insulin resistance probably through its effect on calcium and phosphorus metabolism and through the upregulation of the insulin receptor gene.
One study on 5,677 subjects with impaired glucose tolerance showed that vitamin D supplementation increased insulin sensitivity by 54%.
Another study suggested that vitamin D deficiency had a negative effect on ?-cell function in pancreatic ?-cells
2- Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps regulate insulin sensitivity. As a coenzyme, it’s essential for the synthesis and secretion of insulin, and its level decreases in diabetes. It appears to have a role in the function of Glut2, a glucose transporter in pancreatic cells whose inactivation leads to impaired insulin secretion.
3- Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps regulate insulin sensitivity. Pyridoxine deficiency has been linked to insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor for approximately 150 reactions that regulate the metabolism of glucose, lipids, amino acids, DNA, and neurotransmitters. In addition, it plays the role of antioxidant by counteracting the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). Epidemiological and experimental studies a clear protective effect of vitamin B6 on diabetic complications. B6 is also involved in the production of thyroid hormones and helps convert the inactive form of thyroid hormone, T4, into its active form, T3.
4- Vitamin B12 is involved in the metabolism of homocysteine, which can impact the production of thyroid hormones if elevated. Homocysteine also has been shown to impair the uptake of the thyroid into cells at the receptor level. Because B12 is a cofactor in the conversion of methylmalonic acid to succinylcholine, methylmalonic acid accumulates in B12 deficiency and causes an increase in fat production (lipogenesis) that can result in insulin resistance. In addition, Vitamin B12 is important in protecting against the microvascular and nerve tissue damage caused by elevated blood sugar.
6- Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps regulate insulin sensitivity and blood sugar balance. The antioxidant effect of Vitamin C protects the insulin receptors from damage. This article explores the finding of 28 studies and describes mechanisms.
The mechanism by which these vitamins and minerals support metabolic health is complex and interrelated. The mechanisms proposed here are supported by numerous studies, yet there is still more research needed.
Herbs that support Metabolic Function
Coleus forskohlii – has been shown to support thyroid function and may be beneficial for those with thyroid imbalances.
Ashwagandha – has been found to have a positive effect on thyroid function and cortisol levels, which can help regulate metabolism. It has actually been shown to help regulate the production of thyroid hormones, and as a result, reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety that can affect thyroid function.
Berberine – is an alkaloid compound found in certain herbs, such as Oregon grape root, goldenseal, and barberry, that has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels as well or better than metformin.
Olive Leaf Extract – is another herb found to be as effective as Metformin in balancing blood sugar levels,
Specific Foods That Support Metabolic Health
Sea Vegetables are important for improved metabolic health due to their rich mineral content, especially iodine.
Brazil Nuts, due to their abundance of Selenium, support the conversion of T4 to T3.
Cinnamon has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Fiber-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables and other high water content, colorful vegetables support healthy blood sugar levels. Fruits and whole grains are also fiber-rich but care must be taken about quantity, as many people are sensitive to these, leading to elevated blood sugar after consumption.
Bitter melon is a bitter-tasting fruit that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to manage blood sugar levels. Modern research suggests that it may help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.
For a more complete list of herbs and foods helpful for restoring insulin sensitivity.
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In conclusion, a balanced and nutritious diet that includes a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, as well as herbs and foods that have been shown to support thyroid function and blood sugar balance, is essential for supporting metabolic health. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for your individual needs, monitor your progress, and address any concerns or imbalances that may arise.
The intent of this article is to help you understand the interrelationship of food, nutrients, and metabolic health so you can take the steps necessary to improve your thyroid and insulin function. This is one of the many concepts I teach in my Sweet Spot Solution program and my Insulin Resistance Mastery Program for Health Practitioners, in which I walk you through the steps of metabolic recovery by measuring glucose and ketones and providing self-assessments, recipes, and nutritional and lifestyle strategies.
Do you have any favorite herbs and foods among those listed here? Share in the comments below how you plan to use them to support your metabolic health.
- Gupta, R., & Tiwari, R. (2017). Thyroid Function and Its Regulation by Nutritional Factors. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2017, 1-11.
- Anderson, R. A. (2002). Chromium, glucose intolerance, and diabetes. Biological Trace Element Research, 89(1-3), 277-287.
- Wang, Y., Liang, X., Zhang, D., & Li, D. (2017). Magnesium intake, diabetes, and metabolism: a systematic review. British Journal of Nutrition, 118(2), 103-113.
- Nieman, D. C., Gillitt, N. D., Henson, D. A., Kennerly, K., Shanely, R. A., Knab, A. M., … & Kambur, K. (2010). A high intake of antioxidant vitamins is associated with fewer symptoms of muscle damage after long-distance running. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92(1), 153-159.
- Kim, H. J., & Leonard, J. L. (2017). The role of vitamins and minerals in the management of thyroid disorders. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 36(5), 368-376.
- Di Leva, A., & Benvenga, S. (2017). Magnesium and the thyroid. Journal of Endocrine Investigations, 40(3), 275-281.
- Cravo, M., & Silva, J. (2016). The role of iron in the regulation of thyroid function. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 7, 50.
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