| bioenergetic theory bioenergetic theory of health

Are You Healthy?

By Tyler Woodward

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” right? Today, the attitude seems that everyone’s healthy until they’re not… But are we really a genetic “time bond” waiting for these health “defects” to set in or are we a product of our environment?

The World Health Organization defines being healthy as, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. While I think this definition might be adequate for most, I’d argue that it’s lacking. In the article, “The Meanings of Health and its Promotion, by Norman Sartorius he separates what it means to be healthy into into three schools of thought:

  1. Health is the absence of any disease or impairment.
  2. Health is a state that allows the individual to adequately cope with all demands of daily life (implying also the absence of disease and impairment). 
  3. Health is a state of balance, an equilibrium that an individual has established within himself and between himself and his social and physical environment.

Definition

These first two definitions are valid, but they imply the idea that being “healthy” is surviving, the real-life equivalent to keeping your head above water. If your goal is to survive, then by all means stop reading, it’d be a waste of your time, but if you’re like me and your goal is to Thrive then this article is for you. If you read my article, “What Does It Mean To Be Healthy”, this last definition might sound familiar, as it closely resembles the definition of homeostasis: 

The ability of the body and its cells to maintain a condition of equilibrium. – A stable internal environment —as it deals with external changes.

Health in my opinion is not just a state of treading water, but more so the ability to float. Being able to handle the stresses of life both physically, mentally and emotionally without compromising your ability to remain in balance or “float”. 

We all know that stress takes a toll on the body from physical wear and tear on your joints to the emotional drain that we experience during difficult periods of our life. We also know that stress often increases our energy levels. If you’ve ever experienced the phenomenon known as ‘runners high’ you’ve seen this in action. Your body reacts to the physical stress being placed on it and releases “endorphins” that make everything feel effortless, inducing a literal natural high. A similar phenomena happens when you had a poor night of sleep and all of a sudden mid-day you get that ‘second wind’ of energy that propels you through the rest of the day.

What Can We Gather From This?

are you healthy

First, that our body is a surviving machine, extremely capable and willing to survive. Second, that our body not only wants to survive, but to thrive.

We also know that stress physically increases our energy demands, the amount of energy you need to survive. You may recall hearing of Michael Phelps’ diet as he prepared for the Olympics. Phelps consumed about 8,000 calories daily and drank gallons of milk to adequately fuel himself for his extreme physical exertion. In us normal people,  many get extremely hungry after exercising or in times of emotional stress, so called “stress eating”. 

What you may not know is that stress also increases our nutrient demands. 

Calories (energy) on their own are useless. The body cannot burn these calories to produce energy without enough nutrients. The more calories you burn, the more nutrients you need to keep up. You can have all the raw materials you want to build a house, but if you don’t have the nails to put everything together, the materials by themselves are useless.

Read More: The Cellular Stress Connection

Here’s the thing, you and your body often don’t see stress eye to eye...

Many of us experience excess stress in our lives today. Whether it's from overly hectic lifestyles, trying relationships, “unhealthy foods”, or a rough day at work. To the body ‘stress is stress’, it’s an interruption to homeostasis. And the body processes it more or less in the same way, releasing stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and estrogen in order to combat this stress and return to homeostasis or balance. The cravings that stress often induces, whether it's general hunger or for specific foods, aren't your body’s way of “tricking you”, they’re your body’s way of telling you it needs certain nutrients. Think about it…

  • Salty Foods - Increased adrenal activity (think adrenaline, the stress hormones/stress nervous system) increases the amount of sodium or salt that we use and expel. 
  • Chocolate - The more stress you’re under the more magnesium you burn (increased magnesium burn rate). The cacao plant which chocolate is derived from happens to be a rich source of magnesium.
  • Sugary Foods - This one’s bad, avoid this, is probably what you’ve been told your entire life. Sugar, as glucose, is your body’s primary source of energy. Eating sugar helps to lower the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and allows your body to get back to its “thriving state”. And I don’t just mean sugar in the form of fruits or starches, but good ol’ table sugar too. It’s not the sugar that’s to blame for all the health problems associated with it, but the other ingredients that are often found in “sugary” foods and the prevalent micronutrient deficiencies found in modern society.
    • Vitamin C found in citrus fruits is also one of the body’s primary sources of copper, a trace mineral that is necessary for your cells to be able to use oxygen to produce energy.
  • Meat -  Meat is a rich source of a plethora of essential vitamins and minerals, including protein and amino acids, zinc, iron, vitamins B6 and B12. I’d point this one to Vitamin B12 which is an essential cofactor needed to use carbs, proteins or fats for energy and coincidentally is depleted in times of stress. Zinc is also necessary for metabolism and again is depleted by excess stress.
  • Dairy - Dairy as you know is a rich source of calcium, which guess what, is also depleted in times of stress.
    • Ice Cream - Many people no longer consume milk in its unaltered form, “whole milk” because of its high fat content. Well the fat content of milk also happens to be a rich source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K that the majority of people are deficient in. Ice cream is likely one of the few sources people still consume these vitamins through because it generally has a high fat content. Yes, low-fat milks are fortified with vitamins A & D, not K, but these are synthetic versions of these vitamins that require more energy to be used by the body. When you’re already in an overly stressed state, the likelihood of your body being able to convert these inactive vitamins into their active form is diminished.

Starts to make a lot more sense why pregnant women are filled with cravings being that they physically need to supply the nutrients for both themselves and their unborn child. Maybe cravings aren’t a bad thing, but a warning sign?

The Energy Production Feedback Loop:

How your body works becomes much simpler when you view it in terms of energy production. 

  1. You eat, your blood sugar rises from the ingestion of carbohydrates and your body releases insulin to signal to your cells to absorb glucose to be used as fuel.
  2. A few hours after eating your blood sugar levels begin to drop. Your body then releases glucagon to signal to your liver to break down its stored sugars, glycogen, to release into the bloodstream to be used as fuel.
  3. Following the release of glucagon, your body releases adrenaline to break down fat tissue to make up for your low blood sugar levels.
    1. The release of Ghrelin, the so-called “hunger hormone”, is also increased by glucagon and adrenaline. quite literally your body telling you to eat some sugar.
  4. Last, but not least your body releases cortisol to break down its protein stores releasing amino acids to be converted into sugar by the liver.

The same hormones that are released from physical stress like exercise are the same hormones released from emotional or psychological stress. 

What Does This Have To Do With Being Healthy?:

Virtually every ailment, symptom or disease that your body is confronted with is metabolic in nature. Metabolic meaning it has to do with your body’s ability to produce energy or as I like to think about it, your cells ability to breathe. When your cells are overrun with stressors and no longer have the energy or the materials (nutrients) to cope, disease ensues. Eventually (oxidative) stress wins the battle, after all life is inherently an uphill task as we're all aging and fighting against the clock, but this is not to say that we can’t rally the troops.

We’ve been led to believe today that our body’s working against us. That our body wants to store excess body fat, that cravings are our body’s way of tricking us into eating “bad” foods, but maybe our body’s working for us. Our body wants not only to survive, but it wants to thrive, reproduce and enjoy life on the way. 

But the question remains... 

Are You Healthy?:

Technically, the easiest way to find out whether or not you’re healthy is to go see a doctor, have them run a full scale blood and lipid panel, hormone test, micronutrient test, and the list goes on. While modern medicine has made large strides in assessing your state of health, your body’s had a couple thousand years to evolve some warning signs.

Your Body’s Warning Signs:

We’ll separate your body’s warning signs into three separate categories

  1. General Wellbeing
  2. Digestion
  3. Sleep

1. General Wellbeing

general well being

  • Cold Extremities - Having cold hands & feet throughout the day is a sign of having high stress levels. Stress causes your blood vessels to vasoconstrict or tighten to allow less blood to circulate. This often also hand in hand with a low thyroid state, as the stress hormones downregulate the activity of the thyroid. Additionally, when you have a slow metabolism your body does not produce enough energy and heat, which results in an overall lower body temperature and can also result in cold extremities.
  • Peeing Frequency - If you are peeing constantly throughout the day this is not a good thing. It likely means that you are either overhydrated or deficient in sodium. Your kidneys control the rate at which you pee throughout the day through your renin-aldosterone system. Urine is mostly water, but is also filled with electrolytes like sodium and magnesium which can lead to their depletion. Constantly having to pee can also be a sign of overactive adrenal glands, meaning you’re overstressed and filled with adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Libido - If you have no libido it’s a sign that your testosterone (men) and progesterone (women) levels are low.
  • Finger Nails & Hair Growth - The rate at which your hair and nails grow is a decent indicator of how active your thyroid/metabolism is. If you have to cut your nails once a week or have rather fast growing hair, it’s a good sign that your metabolism is working well. If you rarely have to cut your hair or nails this may be something worth considering.
  • Poor Mental Health - Many mental health conditions including; depression, autism, behavioral disorders, ADHD, & anxiety, have been linked to nutrient deficiencies causing an imbalance in the biochemistry of the brain. In the book, Nutrient Power,  Phd William J. Walsh describes his vast experiences with using nutrient therapy by administering relatively high doses of specific vitamins and minerals to counteract the chemical imbalance found in the brain in these individuals and the resulting improvement in their symptoms.
    • This is not to say that inadequate nutrition is the cause of developing these conditions, it’s normal in life to go through periods of hardship. But it’s important to recognize that when you’re going through these periods of stress your nutritional requirements likely increase and good nutrition can be an integral part of improving and recovering from these conditions.

2. Digestion

Digestion

    Digestion Frequency & Transit Time - While the amount of toilet visits you should have daily is up for debate, I’d argue that going #2 once daily at a minimum is necessary for optimal digestive health. Any less than this and your food is sitting in your intestinal tract for extended periods of time and allowing additional time for the bacteria in your colon to ferment. Over time this can contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and cause what is known as “leaky” gut. 

    Consistency of Stool - The consistency of your stool is a direct indicator of your digestive health. The Bristol Stool scale references what the ideal poop should look like, but generally you just want to refrain from being on either end of the spectrum. If you consistently have wet stools or diarrhea or on the other end of the spectrum small, hard stools your digestion could likely use some improvement. 

    3. Sleep

    Sleep

    • Sleep Quality - If after a full night of sleep you don’t wake up refreshed this is definitely something worth looking into. Poor sleep quality can be caused by a number of factors, but sleep is imperative to allow your body to restore itself overnight.
    • Continuous Sleep - You should not be consistently waking up in the middle of the night. If you’re waking up to go to the bathroom, as stated before this can often be from a sodium deficiency contributing to excess urination. If you’re waking up hungry this is a sign that your blood sugar has fallen due to low glycogen stores in your liver, causing the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Try consuming some sugar (like ice cream) before bed and you’ll very likely sleep soundly through the night.
    • Onset of Sleep & Insomnia - Unbeknownst to many it actually requires more energy to go into a state of relaxation. If  you have a hard time falling asleep due to insomnia, this can be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. I recently have added a magnesium bicarbonate supplement to my routine and have found myself falling asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow. Additionally, this can be caused by excess exposure to blue light which can blunt the production of melatonin. Wearing a pair of blue light blocking glasses, if you are looking at a screen after sunset can be extremely helpful for inducing sleep.

    Read More: The Last Guide You'll Ever Need For Sleep

    Happy, Hungry, Horny

    One of the best anecdotal measurements of your health is the old saying, “Happy, Hungry, Horny”. If you're happy, hungry, and horny more often than not, then you're probably in a pretty good state of health or you know it, "floating". This is not to say that you'll feel this way all the time, as we all know it's just not realistic, but more often than not we should aim to be in this state of mind (and health). If you consistently don't feel this way, then you're more so treading water, and it's likely that you have some work to do to get yourself back in balance. ...

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    Conclusion:

    My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.

    Thanks for reading!

    Until next time… be good

    ~Tyler Woodward