foundation series

part 6: WHAT KEEPS you alive & Healthy

The Building Side of your metabolism

Now that you have a basic understanding of the Using Side of your metabolism, it’s time to become better acquainted with its metabolic counterpart, the Building Side.

The role of the Building Side of your metabolism is to counteract Using. As you now know, just by being alive and active, each day you wear out or damage your structural biochemicals. You also deplete your functional and energy biochemicals. To keep pace with all this Using, you have to repair or replace your structural biochemicals and replenish your functional and energy biochemicals, what I refer to as Restorative Building.

To put a finer point on this, the job of Restorative Building is to support cellular activity. It does so by ensuring that your cells are healthy, that they have all the energy they need, and that there are plenty of functional biochemicals floating around to enable them to do their respective jobs. Remember, life happens inside your cells. If your cells aren’t functioning correctly, nothing is. You’ve got serious problems, which manifest in the form of symptoms, conditions, and ultimately degenerative disease.

Unfortunately, Restorative Building doesn’t just magically happen. It is a complex process with numerous interdependent variables and “moving parts” that I want to take just a few minutes to acquaint you with at a very high level.

In order to Restoratively Build, you need the right building materials and the right conditions. You get your building materials from the nutrients in the food you eat. Your food provides both “macronutrients” and “micronutrients.” Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. The macronutrients provide the Building materials. The micronutrients support Building by facilitating the biochemical reactions needed for Restorative Building.

Of course, just eating food isn’t enough to ensure Building. Food has to be digested, nutrients must be absorbed into your bloodstream, transported to your cells, taken in by your cells, and finally utilized by your cells as instructed by your Building Hormones.

Once inside your cells, provided they are functioning correctly, your cells will use the various nutrients for energy needs, store them for later use, and use them to replenish your functional and structural biochemicals. What actually happens depends on what food you ate and the net effect of the hormones in play at the time. The specifics of everything that happens and exactly how it happens are beyond our focus and our needs right now. But, I will give you a quick working understanding of the basics.

Let’s Start by Digesting Digestion and Absorption

Once ingested, in order to be absorbed and utilized, the macronutrients – the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins – must be broken down (digested) into their respective components, specifically, glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids. The conversion of food into these useable, absorbable “building blocks” is accomplished in the digestive tract, which consists of your mouth, your stomach, and your small intestine.

Once the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are broken down into glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids in the small intestine, some of these building blocks are absorbed into your portal vein and transported to your liver. The liver then processes those building blocks based on two factors — what arrives – the mix (proportions) of glucose, fatty acids, and/or amino acids — and which hormones accompany them. Which hormones arrive and the amounts of the respective hormones, determine what your body will do with the building blocks.

Now, Onto Your Cells

Once the building blocks are processed by your liver, some are released into the bloodstream and transported to your cells where the Restorative Building process continues. What happens with the building blocks – how they get used — depends on two factors — the hormone and electrical instructions your cells receive and how they respond to those instructions.

The first factor that determines how the building blocks are processed is the various hormone and neurologic (think electrical) signals that are relayed to your cells. Hormones (chemicals) are not the only source of instructions for cells. Electrical signals from the nervous system also regulate cell behavior. However, to keep things simpler, for now, we’ll just stay focused on hormones.

Recall that cells respond to the instructions of the dominant hormone(s) – the “louder voice.” If they receive more Building instructions than Using instructions they will Build. Otherwise the cells will Use.

The second factor is whether your cells are healthy. In other words, if they are not too old, are structurally intact, and are otherwise fully functional, they will be able to receive and respond to the various instructional signals and process the building blocks correctly.

What’s the Relevance of All of These Fun Facts?

The relevance of all of this is that you are the one who determines the dominant hormone voice. You do so based on what you eat, how you eat, and when you eat. Assuming your cells are healthy, the louder voice is based on the mix of macronutrients you eat – carbs, protein, and fat, the circumstances under which you do so – eating slowly, in a relaxed manner, and the frequency with which you eat. These factors also determine how completely and efficiently you will digest and absorb the food you eat.

However, if your cells are damaged or otherwise not fully functional, then they do not receive all of the instructional signals and, to the extent they do receive them, they are not able to follow them adequately. Therefore, your cells do not behave as needed and the intended (necessary) physiology does not occur.

Regarding Building, specifically, you will recall that insulin is the sole Major Building Hormone. Building depends on the extent to which your cells are able to fully receive and follow insulin’s instructions. If they can, you are what is known as “insulin sensitive.” If not, you are “insulin resistant.” Of course there are degrees of insulin sensitivity and resistance – it’s not an either/or situation. But, any amount of insulin resistance is a problem that will only get progressively worse over time and cause degenerative disease unless whatever is driving it is addressed.

By the way, whether your cells are healthy – whether you are insulin sensitive or resistant — depends on numerous factors, which we will have to discuss at another time.

For now, just keep in mind that, if you don’t Build enough to keep pace with all of the Using you do, your body will break itself down and Use itself up to meet its immediate needs. So, if you are insulin resistant, your metabolism is compromised. You cannot Build well, and it becomes more difficult and, ultimately, impossible to Build adequately to keep pace with Using – especially if you are living an active, engaged life.

A Time To Build

Before we wrap up I want to remind you that there is one other essential element of the Building Side of your metabolism – sleep! Sleep is the time your body does substantially all of its Restorative Building. You simply cannot Build optimally if you are not getting at least six to seven hours of uninterrupted deep sleep. You should also be aware that what you eat, how you eat, and when you eat have a significant impact on whether you are able to get six to seven hours of uninterrupted deep sleep. But, that will have to be a conversation for another day. For now, just remember, you need to sleep in order to Build and you need to Build in order to sleep.

To Build or Not to Build

As I hope you now appreciate, whether or not you can Restoratively Build sufficiently to keep pace with all of the Using you do, and how long your cells stay healthy and insulin sensitive is almost entirely up to you. The challenge you face in the constant quest for balancing Building and Using is that the body’s default behavior is Using. Using happens constantly and under almost all circumstances, whereas Restorative Building happens only under specific circumstances, which your body relies on you to create.

Indeed, it all comes down to your nutrition and other lifestyle habits and practices. In other words, you are ultimately responsible for your health and longevity, which, to me, is good news in that, to a very great extent, you are also in control of your health and longevity.

By learning how your body works, by understanding how your habits impact your health, by learning healthy alternatives to your current habits, you are taking control and significantly increasing the probability that you will, in fact, live a long and healthy life.