HealthSpan Wellness

If we’ve chatted about metabolism changing with age, you’ll know that the topic of insulin regulation and carbohydrate load in the diet dominates the conversation.

If we haven’t had this conversation before, this is the blog version:

Metabolism is regulated by hormones. Most of our hormones decline with age, except one.  And that’s insulin – a hormone associated with mid-section weight gain and inflammation.

As estrogen and testosterone declines, our cells become more resistant to insulin.  So with insulin increasing with age, and cells becoming more resistant to insulin, we end up storing carbohydrate calories more effectively as fat, than burning them as fuel.

This happens in men and women and is often amplified in women as they move into peri-menopause and menopause.  

 We know how aging affects metabolism so we can make some strategic shifts in diet and lifestyle habits to compensate. But here’s the thing – the strategic shifts required are very individual.

At this point our conversation would shift to considering an ultralow carbohydrate style of eating (keto), gradually titrating up carbohydrate load and adjusting fat, until weight loss stalls.  Then we know we’ve gone too far, and pull back slightly on the carbohydrate load and maintain it there.

Well now we have a different way.  We’re leveraging the power of technology to do things differently – and it’s a lot more fun and effective.

OK so let’s take a deeper dive into why insulin is important and why it’s a primary stumbling block to weight loss as we age

When we start with hormone balancing, we start with insulin. Insulin is a primary hormone in the body and levels closely mirror blood glucose levels.  Insulin is a pro-inflammatory hormone, and a storage hormone.  After we eat a meal, both insulin and glucose levels rise.  Carbohydrates will create the highest rise, protein a smaller rise, and fats not much.  Insulin allows blood sugar to migrate into the cells to produce energy, then fills the muscles and liver with glycogen for back-up energy.  If there’s excess carbohydrate calories, it’s shuttled to fat cells. This all happens within a matter of hours after a meal.  Whenever glucose and insulin are up, we’re not burning fat. In other words, to see a metabolic shift to fat-burning, we need to spend a good chunk of the day and night with low-normal glucose and insulin levels.  The magic of fat burning happens between meals and overnight.

Your MECL (maximum effective carbohydrate load) is the maximum amount of carbohydrate you can consume at meals that will maintain glucose and insulin levels within a relatively narrow range. And MECL decreases with age.  We want enough carbohydrate to fuel activity and achieve a variety of nutrients in the diet, but not more than what our metabolism can handle.  If we eat beyond our MECL we’re left feeling hungry all the time, tired, gaining weight, moody, having other signs of hormone imbalance such as hot flashes, or having problems losing weight despite best efforts.

MECL is dependent on age, gender, activity level, genetics, muscle mass, sleep quality, and probably other factors we haven’t discovered yet! When it seems like ‘metabolism is broken’ and what used to work for weight loss isn’t working anymore, we need to reevaluate the MECL and shift the diet to compensate.

This is where continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) comes in

With CGM you can monitor, in real time, your body’s metabolic response to food, sleep, activity and stress. Using this information you can adapt your diet and lifestyle routine into a highly customized series of habits for your age and stage.

This utilizes wearable technology – a small glucose sensor that’s worn 24/7 for 4 weeks on the back of the arm (and in case you’re wondering…it doesn’t hurt to apply or wear). Several times a day you’ll check your blood glucose level by scanning the sensor with your phone. Since insulin levels correlate closely with blood sugar, you receive real time feedback on how your metabolism is handling the food you just ate, the exercise you just did, the stress you’re experiencing, or the sleep you just had. This isn’t just a matter of staying out of diabetic range, we’re learning what it takes to optimize your glucose and insulin levels through the day for best metabolism, mood, focus, inflammation control and energy levels. Tight glycemic control also ensures we have periodic times in the day and night where we access body fat stores.

What makes this interesting – different bodies respond differently to foods.  For example, bananas for some people will create a high glucose/insulin surge, but for others they won’t.  So, as your program evolves, it will become as individual as you.