Metabolic Insight Series
Part 6 - The Building Side
What Keeps You Alive and Healthy
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 Building Side counteracts Using. It does so in two ways:
- It keeps your body from using itself to death, what we call “Anti-Wasting.”
- And, it repairs and replaces your structural biochemicals (think cells, bone, hair, etc.) and replenishes your energy and functional biochemicals, through processes we refer to as Restorative Building.
Let’s talk first about the Anti-Wasting Function
If your Using Side were left unchecked, you would literally Use yourself to death. Job one of the Building Side is to keep this from happening.
As I explained in Session 5, in the absence of sufficient energy to meet its current needs, the body cannibalizes itself. It breaks down lean body tissue – muscle, bone, connective tissue, etc., and converts these structural biochemicals into “sugar” for energy. If this breaking down and converting process continues unchecked, if the body does not come to its own rescue, you would literally waste away and die very quickly.
The Anti-Wasting function of the Building Side serves as a stopgap. Under normal circumstances, it keeps you from breaking down too much during brief intervals of low or no nutrition such as in between meals, when you are sleeping, and in times of more extreme Using, such as when doing strenuous exercise.
The Anti-Wasting mission is accomplished by cutting back on what we will call “non-essential” metabolic activity, including some brain function. Exactly what it does and how it does it is beyond the scope of this Session. We’ll talk about it some other day. For now, simply keep in mind that Anti-Wasting is a survival mechanism that keeps you alive, but not healthy over the long term. If it gets triggered only occasionally and briefly, no problem. If, instead, it has to kick in frequently and for extended periods, you are damaging your metabolism.
Now, let’s talk about the Restorative Building Function
The central role of the Building Side of your metabolism is to counteract Using by repairing or replacing structural biochemicals and replenishing your functional and energy biochemicals – this is what we mean by Restorative Building.
To put a finer point on this, the job of Restorative Building is to support cellular activity. 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 “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 the vitamins and minerals that facilitate 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 healthy, your cells will use the various nutrients for energy needs, store them for later use, and/or 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 loudest voice. The details are beyond our needs for right now, so I’ll just give you just a quick explanation of the basics.
Let’s Start by Digesting Digestion and Absorption
Once ingested, in order to be absorbed and utilized, the macronutrients – 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 usable, absorbable “building blocks” is accomplished in the digestive tract, which consists of your mouth, your stomach, and your small intestine.
Once digested, some of the building blocks are absorbed and transported to your liver where they are processed based on two factors — first, the mix (proportions) of glucose, fatty acids, and/or amino acids — and, second, the types and amounts of the hormones that accompany them. The hormones determine what your liver 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 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.
Because your cells respond to the instructions of the dominant hormone(s) – the “louder voices,” If they receive more Building instructions than Using instructions they will Build. Otherwise your cells will Use.
The second factor is how your cells respond to the instruction from your hormones. If 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 determined by:
- The mix of macronutrients you eat – carbs, protein, and fat,
- The circumstances under which you do so – did you eat slowly, in a relaxed manner? or hurriedly, while on the run?
- The amount of time since you last ate.
These factors also determine how completely and efficiently you will digest and absorb whatever you eat.
However, if your cells are damaged or otherwise not fully functional, then they don’t 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 don’t behave as needed and the necessary Building physiology doesn’t occur.
Since insulin is your only Major Building Hormone, your ability to restoratively Build 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 unless whatever is driving it is addressed.
By the way, 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 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 seven to eight 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 enough 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, therefore, 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 your 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.
By learning how your body works, by understanding how your habits impact your health, by learning healthy alternatives to your current habits, you can maximize Building and optimize Using, thereby significantly increasing the probability that you will live a long and healthy life.