Most people believe that just maintaining a healthy weight is enough to ensure metabolic health. This view has led our society to fight obesity through a weight-centered approach. In actuality, only 12% of American adults are in good metabolic health, which we now know relates to many factors — blood glucose, insulin, cholesterol, fatty acids, inflammatory status — and not just weight. But what is metabolic health, exactly, and how do you improve your metabolic health?
What is metabolic health?
While no consensus definition of metabolic health exists, generally, metabolic health is defined as having a waist circumference, cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides all within a healthy range. If one of these numbers is out of line, then doctors may be concerned, but if multiple of these metrics are out of whack, you're significantly more at risk of developing disorders like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Here are the five signs of metabolic health, why they’re important, and what you can do to improve them.
Five signs of metabolic health
Physicians can measure multiple variables to see whether you have metabolic syndrome. A landmark 2003 study determined that people with metabolic syndrome face a greater risk of multiple disorders such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) and other diseases. With that in mind, we provide five of the most common markers doctors measure to assess your metabolic health.
Blood sugar: Blood sugar levels are a strong indicator of insulin resistance. As you eat and drink, your body digests and turns them into sugars (glucose). As glucose circulates in your bloodstream, your body produces a chemical messenger (a hormone called insulin) so your cells can take in the sugar. If sugar is constantly dumped into the bloodstream, your pancreas overproduces insulin to the point that your cells stop responding to it. That’s called insulin resistance. When your body reaches this state, you put yourself at greater risk of diabetes. A healthy blood sugar level should be between 70 and 100 mg/dL after an overnight fast.
Waist circumference: This measure is a simple one, yet multiple studies show its usefulness in indicating metabolic syndrome. For example, a 2018 study showed that waist circumference, combined with abdominal volume index, are strong indicators of metabolic syndrome among Spanish adolescents. Similar results were observed in a 2021 study, but waist circumference measures had to be combined with handgrip strength. To measure your waist circumference, just take some measuring tape and wrap it all the way around your waist. Ideally, you want a waist circumference of less than 40 inches for men and less than 34.6 inches for women.
Blood pressure: Blood pressure is reported as two numbers separated by a slash. The number before the slash indicates systolic pressure, while the number after the slash represents diastolic pressure. Both indicate the pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls during and between your heartbeats, respectively. You want your blood pressure numbers to be lower than 120/80. Numbers higher than these indicate high blood pressure — which typically occurs because of plaque buildup that damages your arteries. The presence of plaque also indicates high cholesterol levels and increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
Cholesterol: As discussed above, high cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease. In support of this, a 2020 study showed that high levels of triglyceride-rich lipoprotein cholesterol (TRL-C) and small-dense low-density lipoprotein (sdLDL) are associated with worsened cardiovascular disease (CVD) outcomes. These outcomes include myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, and peripheral artery disease. On the other hand, higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease due to HDL’s antioxidant activity and association with improved glucose metabolism. Thus, you should endeavor to keep your LDL cholesterol as low as possible, and your HDL should be at least as high as 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women.
- Triglycerides: The most common kind of fat circulating in your body, triglycerides act as your body’s energy-storage molecules, setting aside unused calories for future use. When combined with low HDL, high LDL levels, and a lack of exercise, elevated triglyceride concentrations drive the buildup of fatty acid deposits in your arteries. This development leads to atherosclerosis, further increasing heart disease risk. You ideally want to keep your triglyceride levels below 150 mg/dL.
When you’re beyond the healthy range in three or more of the above five factors, you have metabolic syndrome and are considered at significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and all-cause mortality.
What are the benefits of having good metabolic health?
Keeping your metabolic health in top shape gives you myriad health benefits:
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D): Preventing high blood sugar levels from occurring reduces the risk of your body becoming insulin resistant. Moreover, excess triglyceride levels are a predictor of T2D among middle-aged and older adults, according to a 2019 study. Scientists have also posited that insulin resistance is a protective mechanism for your body’s tissues (e.g., your heart muscles) against insulin-induced metabolic stress. More research needs to be conducted to affirm this possibility, however. The postulation also does not change insulin resistance being a biomarker of poor health.
Reduced risk of liver disease: Excess fat can also accumulate in your liver (especially from a calorie-rich diet), which can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and irreversible liver damage from inflammation. An updated meta-analysis of 33 observational studies identified that NAFLD patients have about twice the risk of T2D. Thus, improving your metabolic health reduces the risk of fat accumulating in your liver.
Enhanced cognition: Although your brain accounts for just 2% of your body’s weight, it consumes a fifth of all glucose-derived body energy. It stands to reason, therefore, that metabolically healthy people are more likely to demonstrate better memory recall. Furthermore, people with poor glucose control are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease because of oxidative stress driving brain damage. Ensuring your metabolic health should therefore also help you retain strong brain function.
- Improved sleep: Patients with diabetes are at greater risk of poor sleep quality. Several reports have shown that patients with T2D are at greater risk of poor sleep quality. The opposite may also be true, but more research is needed to affirm this finding.
How can you improve your metabolic health?
Here are four simple steps to improve your metabolic health:
Step 1 — Exercise often: Having a regular exercise regimen reduces the risk of insulin resistance and T2D, according to a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 studies. Exercise also facilitates substantial weight loss and abdominal fat reductions, according to a 2021 review of 149 studies and 12 systematic reviews. Reducing the levels of both markers helps with metabolic health.
Step 2 — Reduce fat and sugar consumption: Multiple diets that reduce the amount of fats, sugars, and processed foods you eat will go a long way to keeping your metabolic health in place. First, controlling the amount of carbohydrates you eat can reduce blood triglyceride and HDL levels. Also, consider replacing any saturated fats you eat with foods rich in unsaturated fats. Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids also improves your health by reducing gut inflammation and blood pressure. Some great omega-3-rich foods include fish and algae.
Step 3 — Eat more plant-based foods: A Mediterranean diet is a great place to start. This diet is rich with plant-based foods that have high fiber levels. Eating foods with high fiber levels induces feelings of fullness faster. High-fiber foods also help your gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help control your blood sugar levels, which may explain why overweight and obese people who adopt a Mediterranean diet have lower blood cholesterol levels. A Mediterranean diet is rich in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, which help lower your blood cholesterol level.
Step 4 — Adopt a healthy sleeping pattern: A 2010 meta-analysis of 10 studies determined that how much and how well you sleep can predict your risk of developing T2D. A subsequent 2023 study done on Korean participants also yielded similar results. As such, ensure that you adopt healthy sleeping patterns — such as minimizing blue light exposure, adopting a regular sleeping schedule, and consulting your doctor if you suffer from insomnia or some other sleeping disorder.
Best supplements for metabolic health
In addition to the above list of metabolic-health-improving strategies, when the dietary suggestions seem too great a challenge given your busy lifestyle, consider supplementing your healthy eating regimen with a metabolic supplement. (Before trying a supplement, speak to your medical professional; then, be an informed consumer and utilize resources available to you when shopping for the supplement that’s best for you: See our 3-Step guide: How to buy supplements.)
Eden’s Synbiotic Supplement is a 3-in-1 formulation comprised of prebiotics, probiotics, and polyphenols that can provide substantial benefits to your metabolic health:
Prebiotics comprise compounds that your gut microbes can use to grow and provide health benefits. Eden’s comprises a mixture of gums, oats/brans, and resistant starch, all of which can aid your metabolic health.
Resistant potato starch helps your body control blood glucose levels and may increase feelings of fullness.
Beta glucan intake has been shown to help in managing blood sugar levels, reduce hunger, decrease waist circumference and visceral fat, reduce harmful cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure in obese individuals.
Gums such as locust bean gum and guar gum also exert metabolic health benefits. Locust bean gum reduces cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Guar gum also encourages the production of short-chain fatty acids by your gut microbes, which confers protective effects against metabolic syndrome, according to a 2015 study.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits when enough live cells are administered. Eden’s contains two Lactobacillus species, L. rhamnosus GG and L. paracasei (LPC-37), that increase insulin sensitivity in mouse models and can improve cardiometabolic health among women with hypertension. Eden’s also contains a rod-shaped bacterium called Bacillus coagulans SC208, which can help lower triglyceride levels within a probiotic mix.
- Polyphenols reduce oxidative stress, which can cause long-term damage to your body’s cells. Eden’s contains polyphenols extracted from several sources, from kiwifruit to lychee and green tea. Each of these ingredients act as strong antioxidants, whose activity is associated with improved metabolic health and well-being. Consumption of polyphenols is also associated with reduced LDL-C levels and lowered CVD risk, according to a 2021 review.
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
What is metabolic health? Maintaining your metabolic health is an essential part of ensuring your well-being. The first step to doing that is knowing what your body’s metabolism looks like. Physicians can measure a wide range of markers to assess your metabolic health, including the five primary ones outlined in this report. If you find yourself at risk of metabolic disease after these measurements, you can act today. Change your diet by replacing saturated fats and sugars with plant-based foods and unsaturated fats. Adopt better sleeping habits and exercise for at least half an hour every day to keep your body operating optimally. Finally, consider a metabolic supplement, such as Eden’s, which is easy to take alongside your meals.