part 4: AGING AND THE METABOLIC CONTINUUM
Aging vs Accelerated Aging
People start life healthy and end up dead. How does this happen? In a word, aging! Over the last several decades we have learned a great deal about the aging process, what drives and accelerates it, and how to slow the process down. Perhaps the most important thing we have learned about aging is that human beings actually have a very high degree of influence, in fact, control, over how rapidly they age and the quality of their health during their lifetime. In short, YOU determine the rate at which you age!
It’s All About Your CellsIt is said that aging is just a state of mind – you are only as old as you think you are. While there is great truth in that statement, there is another, competing truth that you need to understand. That other truth is, that you are only as young as your cells are healthy. Think of this as your metabolic age versus your chronologic age. You cannot change your chronologic age, but you can change your metabolic age through changes to your nutrition and lifestyle habits. As you know, your body is made up of cells. Your organs, blood, muscles, skin, nerves, and glands are all comprised of cells. All of your cells have a function. Your health, in fact, your very survival, depends on your cells effectively performing their respective functions.
To do so, your cells must, first of all, be structurally intact, that is, undamaged. Also, they require certain biochemicals, such as enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters to perform their functions. Finally, they must have sufficient energy to fuel their performance. In short, your cells must have adequate structural, functional, and energy biochemicals to do their jobs.
From performing their various life-giving and sustaining functions, day in and day out, your cells become worn or damaged. The functional biochemicals they require get used up, and the energy biochemicals that power them get depleted. Therefore, to keep your body functioning optimally you have to constantly repair or replace cells, produce new functional biochemicals, and replenish your energy biochemicals. Living is a constant process of depleting and restoring — of Using and Building.
If damaged cells are not repaired or replaced and/or you don’t have sufficient functional or energy biochemicals to enable optimal cell performance, your body cannot Build sufficiently to fully offset Using. When there is more degeneration than regeneration, you end up with fewer “healthy” cells at work, trying to do their respective jobs (which include producing the functional biochemicals the body needs), and struggling to do so with less energy to fuel them. Now, you are in a breaking down process, what I refer to as “accelerated metabolic aging.”
Accelerated metabolic aging is a compounding process – problems beget more problems and your metabolic health unravels at an accelerating rate. For example, from the loss or degradation of its cells, your gastrointestinal tract does not perform as well. Therefore, you don’t digest food and absorb nutrients as well. As a result, you have fewer nutrients to Build with to repair and replace damaged cells and to replenish the depleted functional and energy biochemicals your body needs. Regeneration is not keeping pace with degeneration and you are breaking down. In the lifelong tug-of-war between Using and Building, Using first gains and then, over time, strengthens its upper hand.
As Using dominates Building, early on, we see evidence in the form of symptoms which, in time, evolve into conditions, which, if not effectively treated, further drive the degenerative process to a point of surrender called degenerative disease. Ultimately, in the throes of degenerative disease we reach a point at which the body can no longer sustain itself and we die.
The Metabolic Continuum
The progression from young and healthy to old (hopefully) and dead is what’s called a continuum. A continuum is defined as “a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.” That’s precisely what happens with health. You don’t go to sleep healthy and wake up with a degenerative disease.
What I want you to understand is that “natural aging,” the progression from healthy to dead, is inevitable. You have no control over whether it happens. What you do control is how quickly and aggressively it happens. In other words, you control the rate of accelerated metabolic aging.
Healthy ➞ At Risk ➞ Compromised ➞ Damaged ➞ Dead
Phase I: Healthy Metabolism
In the first phase of the Metabolic Continuum, all of your cells are healthy, all your hormone systems are functioning optimally, and all metabolic activity happens normally. With proper habits, your body is able to effectively perform all of the essential regenerative functions of Building that counteract the degenerative effects of Using. Thus, Building and Using are in parity — you have a balanced metabolism.
Phase II: At-Risk Metabolism
In this second phase, technically, your metabolism is still healthy – capable of performing all of its regenerative functions. However, because of chronic poor nutrition and lifestyle habits, it begins to struggle to do so. Your body has to work harder to sustain the necessary Building functions that enable it to keep pace with Using. It can still do so because your cells are still functional, but it is more of a strain on your cells and organ systems. You are beginning the breaking down process and you have begun to accelerate the normal aging process. Your metabolic health is now “at-risk.”
Notably, in the early years of Phase II, you are not aware that you are at-risk. There are no obvious early warning signs. In fact, to the contrary. Ironically, Using and breaking down actually feel good. You actually feel more alive and healthy due to persistently increasing levels of the Using hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are often referred to as the “feel good” hormones. It is not until the later stages of this second phase that symptoms typically pop up – signs that you are in the early stages of damaging your metabolism. Examples of such symptoms are occasional headaches, heartburn, constipation, indigestion, flatulence, sleep disruption, and garden-variety aches and pains.
Phase III: Compromised Metabolism
The next stop on the continuum is a Compromised Metabolism. In Phase III you are either in the early stage of insulin resistance, which compromises the Building side of your metabolism, or you are in the early stage of adrenal fatigue, which compromises the Using side of your metabolism, or, possibly, both.
When you have a Compromised Metabolism, enough cellular impairment has occurred to either or both the Using and the Building side of your metabolism to compromise their functionality. Overall, depending on your Habits, you still have the ability to produce and secrete the hormones that are needed, but the amounts of the hormones that are produced and secreted may be too much or too little. As well, the body’s responses to the secreted hormones and the duration of those responses may also be too much or too little. As a result, your cells do not receive the correct hormone signals and/or, if they do, they are not able to optimally respond to those signals. In any case, you do not get the hormone effect that is necessary to enable your cells to keep your organ systems functioning optimally and keep you healthy.
Over time, a compromised metabolism becomes even more so. Increasingly, the right things do not happen under the right circumstances. People with a compromised metabolism can eat correctly, but not feel well. Even after a balanced meal, they may feel bloated, tired, and achy. They may gain weight, have trouble sleeping, feel sluggish throughout the day, or experience a number of other symptoms such as allergies, headaches, and irritability. Pre-existing symptoms worsen, new symptoms rear their ugly heads and, various medical conditions develop – conditions like abnormal cholesterol metabolism, inability to lose weight, hypertension, insomnia, anxiety disorders, depression, arthritis, chronic fatigue, and autoimmune issues.
Phase IV: Damaged Metabolism
A damaged metabolism is the last stop on the metabolic continuum. It occurs after years of metabolic imbalance and degradation of cellular function due to accelerated metabolic aging. Your hormone systems have become increasingly compromised. You are now in the advanced stages of insulin resistance, adrenal compromise, or both. When you have a damaged metabolism you have entered the world of degenerative disease. As in Phase III, but to a far greater degree, your cells do not respond correctly to even good habits. Neither do they respond correctly, to the right degree, or for the right amount of time to the hormones the body produces and secretes (or even to supplemental hormones prescribed by a doctor). With a Damaged Metabolism, essential metabolic functions are no longer happening in the way they must to keep you healthy.
Now in the throes of degenerative disease, in Phase IV more and more things go haywire. Problems experienced during Phase III are both multiplied and magnified — and at an accelerating pace. Previous symptoms and conditions are in full bloom and new problems manifest.
Salvaging a damaged metabolism is exceedingly challenging. Even if you suddenly begin to have all the right habits and do everything within your control to eat and sleep correctly, etc., because your cells and your hormone systems are damaged, your body will not respond to these good habits the way it would have if your metabolism were healthy. Sadly, years of poor habits have dug you into a “metabolic hole.”
As you begin to improve your habits to help heal your metabolism and climb out of the hole, you will most likely feel worse both physically and mentally. In fact you may think you are doing the wrong things and go back to your old habits, the ones that got you there in the first place. Of course, if you do, you only dig the hole deeper! It’s a terrible “Catch-22” — you know your old habits are only doing further harm, but when you try to “clean up your act” you feel worse!
As you can see from these explanations, the Metabolic Continuum is more exponential than linear. Over time, the degeneration that occurs picks up speed and increases both its scope and depth. Problems beget more, bigger, and more complex problems.
This is why it’s so important for you to recognize that YOU are the one who determines how quickly and aggressively you are moving through the Continuum. The key is understanding which of your Habits are driving you through the Continuum and changing those Habits. By doing so you can slow and even reverse your progression through the Metabolic Continuum.
Also, be sure to note that, as your metabolism degrades, when your cells and organs are not responding and performing as they should, it becomes increasingly difficult to turn things around. In other words, it will never be easier than it is today to take charge of your health. I realize this sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. The road back to improved health is long and difficult. Don’t make it even more so by waiting. We’re here to help.
In our next session, we are going to explore the Using Side of your metabolism.