Boost Metabolic Health: Simple Habits, Glucose Monitoring & More

The Impact of Metabolism on Health and Well-being

Means explains that metabolism is the foundation of health and is being crushed in modern America, underlying nine of the top ten causes of death. 93% of American adults have suboptimal metabolism.

Metabolism converts food energy into cellular energy, powering every chemical reaction in the body. Dysfunctional metabolism leads to underpowered cells, causing various symptoms depending on the cell type affected.

Western healthcare ignores metabolic health, focusing instead on downstream symptoms. This specialization approach has resulted in the worst chronic disease epidemic and lowest life expectancy among high-income countries.

Mitochondria are the cellular structures that convert food into usable energy. Modern environmental factors like processed food, lack of sleep, and chronic stress synergistically damage mitochondria, leading to dysfunction.

When mitochondria are dysfunctional, cells initiate an inflammatory response and release damaging oxidative stress byproducts. This “trifecta of bad energy” underlies many chronic diseases.

Means emphasizes that tools and tests are available to assess metabolic health and improve it through lifestyle changes, offering an optimistic outlook for taking control of one’s health.

Metabolic Dysfunction and Chronic Disease in the United States

Means paints a grim picture of the state of chronic disease in the United States. She notes that any country where the standard American diet has been exported is starting to see the same rates of chronic disease.

The United States has the worst chronic disease rates and the lowest life expectancy among high-income countries, despite spending twice as much on healthcare as the second-highest spending country. Means attributes this failure to the siloing of conditions into different specialties and not focusing on the root cause.

She points out that 75% of American adults are overweight or obese, 50% have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, 40% have a mental health diagnosis, and cancer rates are set to reach 2 million cases in 2024. Alzheimer’s, fatty liver disease, autoimmune disease, and infertility are also on the rise.

Means emphasizes that these diseases trace back to metabolic dysfunction caused by the environment, which cannot be addressed by traditional medical interventions alone without addressing the environmental factors.

Improving Mitochondrial Function and Metabolic Capacity

Drs. Huberman and Means discuss the root cause of insulin resistance and how to improve metabolic health. Means explains that the problem lies within the cell, where dysfunctional mitochondria are unable to efficiently convert potential energy into usable energy. This leads to the body storing excess energy as toxic fats and blocking insulin receptors, resulting in insulin resistance.

To increase metabolic capacity, Means suggests focusing on three key aspects: creating more mitochondria, making each mitochondrion more functional, and processing more energy substrates. This can be achieved through promoting mitophagy (recycling old mitochondria), mitochondrial biogenesis (building new mitochondria), and increasing the oxidative capacity of individual mitochondria.

Simple lifestyle habits can help improve mitochondrial function. Endurance exercise, high-intensity interval training, and compounds like urolithin A promote mitophagy. Resistance training helps build more mitochondria, while sprint workouts improve oxidative capacity. Walking, although not a great signal for biogenesis or mitophagy, is an excellent glucose disposal signal. Incorporating these habits can significantly improve the cell’s ability to convert potential energy into usable energy, leading to better overall metabolic health.

The Power of Walking: Transforming Health with Simple Steps

Dr. Means and Huberman discuss the importance of regular movement throughout the day for optimal health and metabolic function. Means recommends aiming for at least 7,000 steps per day, which has been associated with significant reductions in all-cause mortality and chronic diseases.

She emphasizes that it’s not just about the total number of steps, but rather the regular muscle contractions that occur when walking or doing light exercises like air squats. These contractions stimulate glucose uptake by the cells, leading to better glucose regulation. Short movement breaks every 30 minutes throughout the day can be more beneficial than a single hour-long workout.

Means and Huberman also discuss the benefits of different types of exercise, such as resistance training, high-intensity interval training, and endurance exercise, each of which has a unique impact on mitochondrial function. They recommend following government guidelines for exercise, which include resistance training for major muscle groups 2-3 times per week and 75-150 minutes of moderate to strenuous activity per week.

Means is a strong proponent of under-desk treadmills, which can help people easily incorporate more movement into their daily routines. Huberman also mentions the potential benefits of “soleus pushups,” which involve pressing the toes against the ground and raising the heels while seated. This simple exercise may help mobilize blood glucose and improve metabolism.

The Importance of Movement and Simple Health Habits

Means discusses how movement was naturally built into everyday life 100 years ago, but now we have taken away movement at every level. She believes the way out of the chronic disease epidemic is through simple habits like walking more throughout the day, getting outside, and eating clean food.

Huberman agrees that simple solutions that hit multiple cellular pathways can make everybody healthier. He believes the biggest misconception in healthcare is that the way to get back to incredible health is complicated, when in reality it’s not that complicated.

Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring and Snapshot Testing

Huberman discusses the challenges of getting blood tests done in the past, particularly during his college years. He recounts his experience of being denied a blood test at the student health center despite being in good health and simply curious about his blood markers.

Nowadays, blood tests are more accessible, although they often come with a cost. However, thanks to innovative efforts in engineering, there are now ways to measure blood glucose levels continuously and through snapshots.

Essential Blood Tests for Metabolic Health

Means, a metabolic health expert, recommends seven basic blood tests that everyone should know: fasting glucose, fasting triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c, total cholesterol, waist circumference, and blood pressure.

Studies show that 93.2% of American adults have suboptimal metabolism based on these biomarkers. Means explains that these tests together provide a picture of what’s happening inside the cell and can indicate mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic overnutrition.

High fasting glucose and triglycerides suggest that cells are blocking the entry of glucose, leading to a rise in blood sugar and conversion to triglycerides for storage. Hemoglobin A1c measures the percentage of hemoglobin molecules with sugar stuck to them, providing an average of blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months.

Means emphasizes the importance of looking at optimal ranges rather than just the normal ranges, as values near the upper limit of normal can still indicate metabolic dysfunction.

The Link Between Blood Pressure and Cellular Health

Means explains the link between blood pressure and cellular health. When cells become insulin resistant, a compensatory mechanism for mitochondrial dysfunction, insulin levels rise in the blood as the body tries to overcome the insulin block to drive sugar into the cells.

Insulin is a key activator of nitric oxide, which dilates and relaxes blood vessels. When insulin resistance develops, there is less nitric oxide activity.

By examining basic, inexpensive biomarkers through the lens of cellular physiology, it becomes apparent that the body may be underpowered and experiencing mitochondrial issues.

Empowering Yourself with Regular Blood Tests and Biomarker Tracking

Means emphasizes the importance of getting regular blood tests to monitor key metabolic biomarkers, even if it means going outside the traditional healthcare system. She suggests using direct-to-consumer lab testing companies that offer affordable and comprehensive tests, allowing people to track their progress and make informed decisions about their health strategies.

By regularly testing biomarkers and aiming for optimal ranges, individuals can cut through the noise of conflicting health advice and trust their own data. Means believes that if someone’s metabolic biomarkers are optimal and they feel great, they are likely following the right strategy for their unique needs.

Huberman notes that people are increasingly sharing their health metrics on social media, alongside traditional before-and-after photos. This trend reflects a growing interest in a more quantitative approach to health and can be inspiring for others looking to improve their well-being.

The Power of Food: Shaping Our Health and Body Through Nutrition

Huberman and Means discuss the importance of making lifestyle changes to improve metabolic health. They emphasize the role of nutrition, sleep, movement, emotional health, toxins, light exposure, and temperature in influencing mitochondrial function and overall health.

Means highlights the significance of food, stating that our bodies are essentially made up of the nutrients we consume. She explains that the human body is a process rather than a fixed entity, constantly evolving based on the molecular building blocks provided by our diet.

The conversation emphasizes the hopeful message that individuals have the power to change their health outcomes by making conscious choices about their lifestyle factors, particularly focusing on the quality and composition of their diet.

The Root Cause of the Obesity Epidemic: Ultra-Processed Foods

Means argues that the root cause of the obesity and chronic disease epidemic is a toxic food supply that is no longer filled with the molecular information our bodies need to function properly and feel satiated. She believes that eating real, unprocessed food from good soil is the key to better health, regardless of dietary philosophy.

Means cites a study by Kevin Hall where participants ate 7,000 more calories in a two-week period when consuming ultra-processed food compared to unprocessed food. She emphasizes that telling people to eat fewer calories without addressing food quality doesn’t work, as nutrient-rich foods are necessary to stimulate satiety hormones and change reward circuitry.

Means suggests focusing on five main components in our diet: fiber, omega-3s, adequate healthy protein, probiotics, and high antioxidant sources. By incorporating these elements, she believes we can give our bodies what they need to reduce chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

Huberman adds that our brains drive us to forage for amino acids and micronutrients unconsciously, as they are essential for metabolic processes and tissue repair. He considers himself an omnivore, enjoying a variety of foods like meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and some starches in moderation.

The Brain’s Confusion with Highly Processed Foods

Huberman and Means discuss the stark contrast between whole, unprocessed foods and highly processed foods. They explain that while whole foods provide a clear mapping of taste, calories, micronutrients, and satiety signals, processed foods create confusion for the brain’s hunger and satiety circuits. Huberman compares processed food to polypharmacology, where multiple compounds are combined, making it difficult for the body to understand what it needs.

Means expands on this idea, suggesting that the insatiable hunger and chronic disease epidemic in the United States is largely due to “mass cellular confusion” caused by processed foods. She explains that the body has nutrient-sensing cells in the gut that, when stimulated appropriately by whole foods, secrete satiety hormones like GLP-1. However, processed foods fail to provide the necessary stimulation, leading to ongoing cravings and overeating.

The conversation highlights the importance of focusing on whole, unprocessed foods to support the body’s natural ability to regulate hunger and maintain health, rather than relying on processed foods or pharmaceutical interventions.

Boosting GLP-1 Levels Naturally Through Diet and Supplements

Means and Huberman discuss strategies to increase GLP-1 levels in the body, which can help with blood sugar control and weight management. They explain that GLP-1 can be increased by promoting the growth of L-cells in the gut, stimulating these cells to produce more GLP-1, and inhibiting the enzyme DPP-4, which breaks down GLP-1.

To increase L-cells, they recommend eating more fiber, consuming fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, maintaining stable blood sugar levels, and possibly supplementing with ginseng. To stimulate GLP-1 production, they suggest consuming protein-rich foods, especially those containing valine and glutamine, such as meat, turkey, and eggs.

Means also highlights the potential of thylakoids, a molecule found in the chloroplasts of plants, to significantly increase GLP-1 secretion. She cites a study showing that consuming 100 grams of spinach (about 3.5oz) daily for 12 weeks led to a two- to three-fold increase in GLP-1 secretion.

Simple Habits for Improving Metabolic Health and Mitochondrial Function

Huberman and Means discuss the importance of diet in regulating hunger and cravings. They highlight specific foods and compounds, such as spinach, fiber, amino acids, green tea, and curcumin, that stimulate GLP-1 secretion, promoting satiety. Huberman shares anecdotes of friends who successfully lost weight by focusing on high-quality protein, fruits, and vegetables while minimizing processed foods.

The conversation then shifts to the controversial use of GLP-1 analogs like Ozempic for weight loss. Means expresses concern about the high cost and potential long-term consequences of these medications, arguing that they fail to address the root cause of metabolic dysfunction. She emphasizes the importance of lifestyle changes, such as eating real food, walking, and getting sunlight, to improve mitochondrial function and overall health.

Means criticizes the pharmaceutical and processed food industries for promoting quick fixes like Ozempic while neglecting the power of simple, empowering habits. She suggests that improving metabolic health through lifestyle changes is the most disruptive approach to the current healthcare system.

The Challenges of Medicalizing Chronic Conditions

Means argues that throughout history, the increasing use of pharmaceuticals to treat chronic health conditions has been an abject failure. Despite the explosion of medications like SSRIs, metformin, and now drugs like Ozempic, rates of depression, type 2 diabetes, and obesity continue to rise.

Pharmaceutical companies are not expecting drugs like Ozempic to actually reduce the rates of obesity, as that wouldn’t align with their business model. These medications often manage symptoms without addressing the underlying root causes of the conditions, and in some cases, may even worsen the root cause physiology.

To truly impact chronic health issues, Means believes we need to focus on making gentle, multimodal changes to our daily habits and environment, rather than relying solely on medicalization.

The Benefits of Cold Exposure: Insights from Andrew Huberman

Huberman and Means discuss the potential health benefits of cold exposure, such as taking cold showers or plunges. Huberman enjoys the practice and feels great for many hours afterwards, despite some naysayers.

While not all the data on cold exposure are spectacular, and one paper was recently retracted, Huberman believes there is still a lot of terrific work supporting the health effects of deliberate cold exposure. However, he avoids cold exposure for at least 6 hours after resistance training, as some data suggest it may inhibit hypertrophy and strength adaptations.

Huberman keeps cold exposure mostly on days separate from resistance training. He acknowledges that more research is needed, but remains optimistic about the potential health benefits of deliberate cold exposure.

The Benefits of Cold and Heat Exposure on Mitochondrial Health

Huberman and Means discuss the benefits of cold exposure for mitochondrial health. Throughout human history, people were exposed to large temperature fluctuations, but modern living has removed this stimulus. Cold exposure can signal mitochondria to work harder and produce more heat, which is important as mitochondrial dysfunction is becoming more common.

The body produces about 88 pounds of ATP per day, constantly making and using it, releasing heat in the process. Cold exposure can help promote brown fat, which is mitochondrial-dense fat. Heat exposure can also be beneficial by activating heat shock proteins that upregulate antioxidant defense systems.

While deliberate cold exposure is controversial, it can lead to feeling more comfortable at cold temperatures as the body adapts. There is also an interesting relationship between light and temperature, with longer days typically corresponding to higher temperatures. Although not as critical as food intake and quality, cold exposure is another lever of autonomy for taking control of one’s health.

Timing of Eating: Compressing the Eating Window and Metabolic Health

Means discusses the benefits of compressing eating windows and matching eating times with our chronobiology. Studies show that eating the same amount of calories in a shorter window leads to better metabolic health. Eating later in the day results in higher glucose and insulin responses compared to eating earlier.

Huberman notes that studies should be peer-reviewed before being considered conclusive. He aims to consume carbohydrates later in the day for better sleep, unless he has done resistance training earlier. Both agree that listening to the body’s signals and monitoring biomarkers can help determine if fasting is working well for an individual.

Optimizing Blood Glucose Levels Through Diet and Lifestyle Adjustments

In the discussion between Huberman and Dr. Means, they explore the benefits of continuous glucose monitoring. Means explains that tracking glucose levels over time can provide valuable insights into metabolic health and help predict early signs of insulin resistance.

By wearing a glucose monitor, individuals can observe how different foods affect their blood sugar levels. Factors like adding fat and fiber to meals, food order, and even the timing of exercise can significantly impact glucose responses.

Means also highlights the importance of metrics like area under the curve (AUC) and glycemic variability in assessing metabolic health. She notes that even non-diabetic individuals can experience significant glucose spikes, which may indicate underlying dysfunction.

Ultimately, continuous glucose monitoring allows people to make more informed dietary and lifestyle choices based on their unique biochemical responses. This personalized approach can help optimize metabolic health and potentially prevent the development of chronic diseases.

Glucose Spikes and Crashes Linked to Cravings and Increased Energy Intake

TLDR:

Means discusses a study from last year that showed how spiking glucose levels with high carb foods can lead to a crash afterwards. This is because a big spike triggers a lot of insulin secretion, which then soaks up all the glucose and can cause levels to drop below baseline.

The extent of these post-meal dips was found to be predictive of 24-hour energy intake and cravings for carbohydrates. When glucose levels crash low, it signals the body to eat high-energy, carb-rich foods.

Means believes that one of the best ways to manage cravings is to lower the extent of glucose spikes, which in turn reduces the severity of the crashes. Huberman finds this insight fascinating and notes how CGMs can reveal not just immediate effects, but also downstream consequences.

The Future of Continuous Health Monitoring

Huberman and Means discuss the importance of sleep for maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that even dim light in a room during sleep can alter morning blood glucose levels. Missing out on the last hour or two of REM-dominant sleep in the morning can also affect resting blood glucose.

Throughout the night, our bodies cycle through different forms of metabolism, shifting between relying on sugars and ketones. Truncated sleep can disrupt daytime fuel regulation. Sufficient and quality sleep is key, and there are many behavioral changes people can make to improve their sleep without needing a gym membership or incurring extra costs.

Means also mentions that continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are evolving, with the latest generation featuring Bluetooth connectivity. Abbott has announced a new product called the lingo, which will be able to measure ketones, lactate, and alcohol continuously. Dexcom is also launching an over-the-counter, non-prescription version of a CGM called the Stella later this year.

Continuous monitoring is expanding to include hormones and other analytes, which is crucial for understanding how our dynamic systems function. This empowerment and understanding can help individuals make targeted choices to change their environment and promote cellular health, potentially helping to address the current healthcare crisis.

The Power of Nature in Overcoming Fear and Improving Metabolic Health

Means discusses the impact of mindset and psychology on metabolic health and chronic disease. She explains that stress and fear can cause the mitochondria in cells to divert resources towards defense and alarm, rather than repair and homeostasis. Means believes that spending time in nature is one of the best ways to combat this, as it can provide a sense of safety, abundance, and awe. She notes that the average American spends 93.7% of their time indoors, which can contribute to fear and a sense of scarcity.

Means suggests that by spending more time outdoors, people can reconnect with the fundamental harmony and beauty of the world, which can have a profoundly soothing effect on their psychology. She emphasizes the importance of understanding that humans are a part of nature and that all metabolism is ultimately derived from the sun’s energy. Means encourages people to find creative ways to spend more time outdoors, even if it means moving their work or daily activities outside.

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