Healthy Metabolism

WHAT IS A HEALTHY BODY AND HEALTHY METABOLISM?

In practical, day-to-day terms, a healthy body is one that enables you to engage in activities of daily living that you have chosen to enhance your quality of life.  In the long-term, a healthy body is one that is able to live long as disease-free as practicable.  While death is inevitable, healthy living is possible.  Healthy living is a continuum from just “being alive” to optimal health along each of life’s stages.  Health is not necessarily an end in itself, but rather one mean to enhancing your quality of life.  A healthy body and healthy metabolism is a cornerstone for a long and productive life where you are able to optimally experience and do what you want to do.

In this section, I will review:

Understanding the need for balance, variety, synergy, and moderation

Water balance/hydration

Oxidant-antioxidant balance

Acid-base balance

Detoxification

Inflammation

Rest-activity balance

Body systems

Body composition

Body functions

Genetic and lifecycle variations

Metabolic disorders and diseases

Understanding the Need for Balance, Variety, Synergy, and Moderation

Your body’s physiology is an amazingly complex interrelationship of systems and biochemical reactions that work together to sustain life.  A healthy body is one that maintains “homeostasis” or balance. Given adequate food, water, rest, physical activity, and positive engagement with the world, your body will maintain thousands of vital functions without the direct assistance of your will (that is, unconsciously).  For better and worse, securing nutritious foods in our modern world requires you to have a fairly complex set of food-related skills and information.  Fortunately, you do not need to substitute advanced nutritional knowledge for your body’s wisdom.  A relatively small set of nutrition practices can carry you a long way toward optimal health — see Ten Commandments of Just Eating for Life.

You do not need to monitor and regulate the intake of every vitamin, mineral, and other nutrients, to be healthy.   In fact, this approach can be self-defeating.  A prime example of this is nutrient supplements, particularly if in larger quantities.  Supplementation can create imbalances with other nutrients, thus negatively affecting your physiology. Larger quantities of nutrient supplements can result in “pharmaceutical” side effects, those beyond normal functioning and metabolism. When the body cannot integrate large quantities of a limited set of nutrients into it’s normal metabolism, imbalances may occur. Too much of a “good” thing can be toxic; as they say “the dose is the poison.”  For instance, some antioxidants can actually become pro-oxidants when the normal sites of action are saturated. This is a key example of why variety is at the foundation of good nutrition. With thousands of regulated biochemical reactions, your body functions best with modest amounts of many different nutrients.  This is best achieved by eating a wide variety of wholesome foods.

A concept related to balance and variety is synergy.  Synergy is when the combination of two or more things creates an effect that is greater than the sum of both separately.  Because your body’s physiology is a complex interrelationship of systems and biochemical reactions that work together, a balanced supply of many nutrients produces the most optimal results. Consider the analogy of an assembly line.  You need raw materials, workers, and tools.  Raw materials, such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, are essential because without them the lights would go out in the factory, the assembly line machinery would be without power, and some of the basic ingredients of what the body needs to produce would be lacking.  Workers are like enzymes — enzymes make specific biochemical reactions happen with great speed and efficiency, typically about a million times faster than if the reactants/substrates were just hanging around together in the cell.  Thus, with about 3,000 enzymes in the body, there are as many specialized “workers.” Some “workers” assemble raw materials and some coordinate the assembly line production.  Most vitamins and minerals are essential co-factors needed to make certain enzymes work.  This is why they are essential: without them, the assembly line would stop, regardless of how many other raw materials or tools are available.  Lastly, many nutrients are tools.  For example, a “tool” may facilitate the worker’s job efficiency or improve the workers’ environment (such as affecting the temperature, pH, presence of “clutter” or toxins). Tools may not be essential for basic health, but they help optimize some part of the assembly line.  Implicit in all of this, is that rate-limiting biochemical reactions typically limit optimal health. Because any given assembly line is sequential, any deficiency of raw material, workers, or tools, will limit it’s optimal functioning, creating a “bottleneck.” A related concept is what I call the “lowest hanging fruit”  — getting the most benefit from the first of something.  As you get more and more of something, you get diminishing returns, less value for each additional amount added.  At some point, you will even get negative returns; that is, additional amounts will actually be harmful, causing imbalances or toxicity (as in the example of supplementation in above paragraph).   Considering this, and the huge variety of compounds contributing to optimal nutrition, it is easy to see how important a balance and variety of nutrients are to producing optimal health.

Water Balance/Hydration

Your body is comprised mostly of water.  Water comprises about two-thirds of the weight of a healthy body and almost 99% of the molecules in your body.  Water provides the essential solution for your body’s thousands of chemical reactions, as well as the optimal functioning of your circulatory system, kidneys, and digestion. Unfortunately, your body cannot store excess water.  So, you need a regular intake of water.  Without water, you would die within a matter of days. The quickness at which a severe nutrient deficiency appears is exceeded only by oxygen, of which a lack would kill you within minutes.

You breathe off moisture with each breath.  Your body expels water to urinate out unneeded compounds and to form bowel movements.  You lose water through skin evaporation and sweat.  Your daily water requirement will vary mostly by how much you sweat.  Moderate exercise can causes losses of 1-2 liters per hour, though in high temperatures this can exceed 2 liters per hour.

Consuming a couple of quarts of water a day is typically a good baseline, adding more based on your amount of exercise and the temperature.  Your body benefits from water whether it is drank plain, in beverages, or in food.  Most fresh fruits and vegetables are about 90% water.

A simple way to monitor good hydration is to drink enough so that you are urinating at least every few hours during the day.  If your urine is clear or very light colored, this can indicate that you are expelling mostly excess water, rather than “pulling” water out of your body to expel unneeded compounds.  Drinking liquids as soon as you get up for the day is a good way to start off the day with good hydration.  The sensation of thirst lags dehydration; if you are thirsty, then you are dehydrated.  So, don’t rely on thirst as your major way of monitoring good hydration.

There are some dietary components that affect your water requirements.  Carbohydrates produce water when they are metabolized, so they can help aid good hydration.  Any protein beyond what is needed as one of the basic building blocks of your body is metabolized into energy for use or storage as fat, and this process produces waste that must be excreted by your kidneys, resulting in increased water loss, which may negatively affect good hydration. Diuretics, compounds that cause you to urinate more water out, such as caffeine and alcohol, can lead to dehydration.  Fortunately, caffeine and alcohol are typically consumed in beverages with lots of water, so when consumed in moderation are a not usually a problem.  However, consuming high-caffeine, low-liquid-volume energy drinks, or high-alcohol, low-liquid volume alcoholic beverages, are more likely to be a problem.  Also, caffeine makes your bladder feel fuller and less capable of holding larger amounts of urine, both of which increase the urgency to urinate.

Effects of Hydration/Dehydration

Since water is essential for virtually every chemical reaction that occurs in your body, when you are dehydrated it slows these reactions slightly, with energy metabolism (burning calories) dropping a percent or two.  While this hardly qualities as some kind of water “diet” to lose weight, it signifies that your body’s metabolism is slightly impaired.  Your higher bodily functions, like cognitive function, are most sensitive to the effects of dehydration. Mild dehydration can impair alertness, concentration, reaction times, mood, and decision-making, as well as increase fatigue and headaches.  The thirst brought on by dehydration can also be mistaken for hunger and lead to overeating.  Dehydration is also a particular threat during physical exertion, partly because the risk for hydration is greatly increased with sweating.  During exercise, blood flow increases, especially to the muscles and skin.  Poor hydration can reduce blood volume, threatening athletic performance in particular and bodily well-being in general.  Exercise competes with digestion for both water and blood flow, so intense exercise soon after large meals may impair both digestion and physical performance. While exercise generally helps relieve constipation, poor hydration can increase constipation. Your kidneys are the main regulator of water balance. Dehydration can lead to kidney stones and gout by increasing the concentrations of compounds that must be excreted.  This increased concentration of compounds also leads to increased bladder cancer risk.  Similarly, dehydration causes increased concentrations of compounds in your digestive tract, particularly in your colon where water volumes vary the most, increasing colon cancer risk.  Dehydration affects your circulatory system by decreasing blood volume which increases blood thickness, causing a rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate.  High blood pressure and higher blood thickness are considered independent risk factors for heart disease.

The elderly, babies and small children are more prone to dehydration. Elderly have a reduced thirst response and their kidneys may not work efficiently.  The elderly may take medications that increase the risk for dehydration, perhaps intentionally limit fluid intake because they have a problem with incontinence, or may have a disease that makes going to the bathroom painful or exhausting.  Babies and small children have a larger portion of their bodies made of water.  Children also have a high metabolic rate, so their bodies use more water.  Also, a child’s kidneys are not as efficient and do not conserve water as well as an adults.

Excess Water Retention

Water retention, also called edema, is excess fluid retention in the spaces around cells and the lymphatic system which drains this fluid back into the blood stream.  Fluid retention is an imbalance in the body; it is not the opposite of dehydration.  Perhaps counter intuitively, water retention in tissues can also be present with dehydration elsewhere in the body, such as the bloodstream.  The most common dietary cause of fluid retention is excess salt (sodium) intake.  Obesity also aggravates fluid retention problems. Another common cause of fluid retention is lack of physical activity and/or standing without moving much for long periods of time.  Gravity and the lack of leg muscle contractions to pump fluids back into the bloodstream resulting fluid accumulating in one’s legs.  If this situation is chronic, then it may lead to varicose veins.

Systemic fluid retention is often the result of inflammation (acute or chronic).  Inflammation triggers the release of histamines, which causes the gaps between the cells of the capillary walls to widen, making them more leaky. The purpose of this is to make it easier for infection-fighting white blood cells to quickly get to the site of an inflammation where infection or injury may exist.  Unfortunately, chronic inflammation caused by poor diet represents a long-term assault of chronic injury, which is considered one of the underlying causes of many diseases and degenerative conditions.

The physical changes in pregnancy, and the hormonal changes in pregnancy and premenstrually, can also make women prone to fluid retention.

Nutrition-related remedies to water retention include cutting down on salt intake, losing weight if overweight, and eating a diet rich in phytonutrients which have anti-inflammatory effects.  Regular exercise is also a great companion in avoiding water retention.

Oxidation-Reduction Balance (The Role of Antioxidants)

Oxidation-reduction is the way energy is transferred in your body.  This is the most basic process in metabolism, essential for human life.  Oxidation and reduction are simply chemical (redox) reactions where electrons are exchanged.  Oxidants gain electrons; reductants lose electrons.

Plants and animals share in a cycle of energy transformation.  Plants secure solar energy into organic compounds, first as the sugar glucose, but eventually into other compounds such as starches, fats and proteins. Animals use these organic compounds for their stored energy (and as building blocks for other needed compounds).  Plants build these compounds through the process of photosynthesis, combining carbon dioxide and water while releasing oxygen.  Animals do just the opposite, through respiration, taking these organic compounds and converting them back to carbon dioxide and water, which releases energy to power bodily processes.

Because of the plant-animal cycle of photosynthesis-respiration plants generate abundant reductants, while animals generate abundant oxidants. The many forms of reductants found abundantly in plants are often referred to as antioxidants.  The many forms of oxidants found abundantly in animals are often referred to as free radicals.  This is the basic reason why a diet rich in plant foods and sparse in animal products promotes a healthy oxidation-reduction balance.  Other sources of free radicals include air and food-borne pollutants (particularly smoking), drugs, metal ions (including some mineral supplements), radiation (including UV sun exposure), high intakes of polyunsaturated fats, and strenuous exercise.

Oxidants, or free radicals, come in many forms, but they all share a power to steal electrons from other compounds.  Without an adequate balance from antioxidants, oxidants can change the function and structure of compounds in your body.  For example, oxidants can damage DNA, make cholesterol more likely to clog your arteries, and create a host of cellular and chemical imbalances.  Antioxidants are not interchangeable or “one-size-fits all.” Each antioxidant has unique chemical behaviors and biological properties. In fact, the oxidation-reduction potential of a compound is only a crude measure of physiological potency or importance.  This is the reason why eating a variety of wholesome plant-based foods is the best way to get a balanced mix of antioxidant compounds.  Antioxidants can even act as pro-oxidants if present in isolation and in larger quantities.  This is the reason why supplements of large doses of a limited number of “antioxidants” may do more harm than good.

Acid-Base Balance

The acid-base balance of the fluids in your body is a key aspect in maintaining homeostasis (balance).  There is a very narrow range that is compatible with the proper biochemical functioning of life.  Acid-base balance is measured by pH.  Neutral pH is 7.  pH lower than 7 is acidic.  pH above 7 is alkaline or basic.  Your blood maintains a pH very close to 7.4, somewhat alkaline.

pH is related to oxidation-reduction balance in that acids are oxidizing agents and bases are reducing agents.  As discussed in the previous section, just using energy within our body is a major way oxidants are produced. Thus, normal metabolism produces acids (oxidants) that need to be neutralized (balanced) or eliminated.

In your body’s metabolism, some foods are acid-forming and some foods are base-forming. Somewhat confusingly, this has little to do with whether a food is acidic or alkaline when eaten.  It depends on the eventual end-products of metabolism.  Animal products (e.g., fish, meat, eggs, cheese and milk) are the predominant acid-forming foods in the human diet.  Grains
(and sugar) are also slightly acid-forming, mostly because of the high carbohydrate energy they provide.  Vegetables, fruits, and potatoes are the major base-forming foods.  In all, a plant-based diet, rich in vegetables and fruits, is the best dietary strategy to maintain a healthy acid-base balance within your metabolism.  To add some additional confusion, high colon acidity promotes lower rate of cancer and bowel disease.  High animal protein and low fiber diets raise your colon alkalinity (lower acidity).  Vegetables, fruits, and the high fiber in whole grains promote colon acidity.  Colon acidity favors healthy gut bacteria.  Fortunately, body alkalinity and colon acidity are promoted by a similar dietary strategy: eating wholesome, plant-based foods.

Fortunately, your body has sophisticated and robust ways of maintaining a healthy, slightly alkaline, pH.  Diet is not critical in the short run, from day to day.  However, a chronic acid-forming diet can push the body toward chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, muscle loss, kidney stones, bladder/urinary tract/vaginal infections, and chronic inflammation.
Osteoporosis and muscle loss are related to chronic stresses on the acid buffering (balancing) systems which can deplete bone minerals and muscle proteins.  Kidney stones and bladder/urinary tract/vaginal infections are related to chronic urine acidity and greater excretion of certain compounds. Chronic inflammation is related to the greater oxidative reactivity of
chronically high acid loads.

Detoxification

Your body is exposed to toxic compounds from your environment and as a byproduct of normal metabolic processes.  Environmental toxins can come from food and drink through your gastrointestinal tract, from air pollutants (including from smoking!) through your lungs, and can be absorbed through your skin.  Of course, the first line of defense is to limit exposure to toxins. Dietary-wise the most common and significant exposures to toxins are through: 1) residues of pesticides (particularly on fruits and vegetables) and industrial waste (often heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium); 2) drugs (prescription and non-prescription); 3) high intakes of alcohol; 4) animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy), due to bacterial toxins, which are particularly absorbable when present with saturated fats, and carcinogens produced through cooking meats at high temperatures; and 5) bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalate contamination from containers with recycling codes 3, 6 and 7 — particularly if foods are reheated in these plastic containers.  Pathogenic microbial contamination (often due to poor food storage, handling and/or preparation) leading to food poisoning is also common.  Heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (e.g., dioxin, PCB’s, and pesticides like DDT) accumulate in the food chain, so meat/animal products, and particularly seafood, can have higher concentrations.

Whether toxins come from your environment or as byproducts of normal metabolism, your body has three basic phases of detoxification: 1) phase I enzymes transform fat soluble toxins into more water-soluble compounds; 2) phase II enzymes further transform these compounds to make them even more water-soluble and detoxify them through a wide variety of chemical reactions; 3) detoxified compounds are transported out of the body through the intestines and kidneys.

Unfortunately, phase I intermediary products may be more toxic than before the process began!  Thus, to prevent an accumulation of these dangerous intermediary compounds, there must be adequately stimulated phase II enzymes and/or inhibition of phase I enzymes.  Nutritionally, phase II enzymes are stimulated by cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, kale), onions/garlic, turmeric, tea, berries, walnuts, pecans, and protein. Phase I enzymes are inhibited by cruciferous vegetables, turmeric, tea, citrus fruits (particularly grapefruit), berries, walnuts, pecans, hot peppers, cloves, sesame, onions, and dark red or blue fruits.  Phase I enzymes are stimulated by alcohol.  Dietary fiber aids detoxification by binding and diluting toxins.

Check here for more details on the body’s detoxification processes.

One significant way that toxins act as toxins is by inducing inflammation.

Inflammation

Acute inflammation is an immune system response that typically helps the body resolve exposure to distinct foreign  compounds or microbial pathogens. Acute inflammation tends to be local to the area exposed, and is often accompanied by an increased metabolic rate or fever.  Chronic, low-grade inflammation has systemic effects with less apparent inducers (causes). Chronic inflammation can perpetuate disease states, and is often accompanied by lowered metabolic rate, due to metabolic inefficiency.

Chronic inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, many types of cancer, and even depression and dementia. The primary dietary inducers of chronic inflammation are high calorie intake, high fat intake (particularly saturated and trans fats).  Obesity is commonly associated with chronic inflammation.  The primary anti-inflammatory dietary components are vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish. Other dietary inducers of chronic inflammation include high omega-6: omega-3 fat ratio (driven largely by high consumption of many commonly used vegetable oils), and the simple sugars fructose/glucose (such as found in high fructose corn syrup). Other protective dietary components include high fiber intake, moderate alcohol intake, and herbs/spices.

Chronic inflammation has been proposed as an underlying mechanism for the bulk of modern chronic diseases.
Read here for more information on chronic inflammation.

Rest-Activity Balance

A healthy metabolism and a robust body depend on a balance between activity and rest, stimulation and recovery, breakdown and buildup.  Peaceful nights sleep and low stress days, punctuated with physical activity and positive mental and emotional engagement form a foundation for healthy living on par with good nutrition.  Much of this balance is mediated by your autonomic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that works automatically, unconsciously. Your autonomic nervous system is composed of two complimentary subsystems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  They work back and forth like a seesaw, activating and suppressing one another.  The sympathetic nervous system is activated during physical activity and stress.  The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for “fight or flight” responses, inducing increased blood sugar and increased heart rate/blood pressure to assure abundant blood flow to your muscles, so they get oxygen, fuel, and other nutrients. In sympathetic nervous system activation the body breaks down to supply nutrients to meet the physical, emotional, and mental challenges at hand. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated during rest and digestion. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for restoring and rebuilding your body, shifting blood flow to digestion, releasing hormones to rebuild tissues, and bolstering the immune system.

For most people living in modern societies, the imbalance that occurs is from a chronic over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.  This is typically due to inadequate sleep and chronic stress.  For many, inadequate physical activity leaves emotional stress remaining as the dominant stimulatory state.  For some, inadequate positive mental or emotional engagement reinforces such a sad state of affairs.  Chronic over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and inadequate stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system contributes to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, poor digestion, a weakened immune system, and poor peripheral blood circulation (e.g., to hands, feet, skin).  Of particular importance to good nutrition, the parasympathetic nervous system promotes good digestion by increasing blood flow to the digestive system, increasing digestive secretions, and increasing intestinal motility (peristalsis).

Body Systems

Digestive System

Digestion is the process where we change food taken into our body into nutrients which are absorbed.  There are five basic processes of digestion: 1) lubrication and movement of food; 2) mechanical and biochemical breakdown of food; 3) production of nutrients by friendly bacteria; 4) absorption of nutrients; and 5) the excretion of waste products.  Food is processed in a digestive tract about 30 feet long with the surface area of a football field. This process typically takes about a day with high fiber intake, or a few days with low fiber intake.  18-24 hours is ideal.  High fiber and adequate water intake assure healthy bowel movement.  Fiber dilutes and binds various toxins, and limits the time toxins can act in and on the gut.  Physical activity and an adequate rest-activity balance (see above section) also facilitate healthy bowel movement.  Large, soft, smooth stools indicate healthy digestion.

The digestive process actually starts with the brain, as smell, sight, and taste of food stimulates stomach secretions and digestive tract motility. In the oral cavity, teeth chew food into smaller pieces, with the tongue guiding food to be chewed and eventually swallowed.  Some foods, if inadequately chewed, will remain in chunks too large for complete digestion.  Food in the mouth stimulates saliva production (sour foods are particularly stimulatory).  Saliva consists of water, mucus, digestive enzymes, and antibacterial agents.  As food is chewed, it mixes with saliva, becoming moist and easier to swallow (as well as facilitating taste).

Upon swallowing, food travels through the esophagus, the tube to the stomach. Where the esophagus meets the stomach there is a sphincter (valve) that closes to prevent acid reflux damaging the esophagus (“heartburn”).  The main dietary factors leading to heartburn are large meals, fatty meals, caffeine, carbonated beverages, onions and garlic.  Also, obesity, tight-fitting clothes, and eating near bedtime (lying down versus being upright) can pressurize the stomach and contribute to acid reflux.

In the stomach, food is churned in an acid bath, a major chemical assault in breaking down food components.  Only a mucous coating lining the stomach keeps it from digesting itself (a failure of this mucous coating results in stomach ulcers).  The highly acidic environment kills many acid-sensitive microbes.  The stomach secretes digestive enzymes which begin protein breakdown into its constitutive parts, amino acids.  Acidity facilitates protein breakdown.  Alcohol is one of the few nutrients absorbed in the stomach.  About 20% of alcohol consumed is absorbed in the stomach.
Because alcohol is absorbed by simple diffusion, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach (therefore little dilution) speeds intoxication.  The stomach typically empties between 30 minutes and two hours.  Fat is the main factor slowing stomach emptying.  Sugary drinks like soda pop or clear juices when not eaten with anything else pass quickly through the stomach.

Once food is released from the stomach, it enters the small intestine, where most nutrient absorption occurs.  First, the pancreas releases alkaline juices to neutralize the acids coming from the stomach.  In response to dietary fat, the gallbladder releases bile which dissolves the fat and makes it soluble and digestible.  Fat is the most difficult macronutrient to digest. Protein is the next most difficult.  Carbohydrates are the easiest to digest.  These alkaline juices and bile kill many alkali-sensitive and other microbes.  A few nutrients are fat-soluble (e.g., vitamins A, D, E) and while only a very small amount of fat is needed for their absorption, totally fat free meals should be avoided.

By the time food reaches the large intestine, the vast majority has been broken down to fibers indigestible by the gut.  The large intestine (colon) reabsorbs water and salts, and harbors the bulk of bacteria, typically several pounds worth, with a mass and bioactivity on par with the liver, the workhorse of nutrition-related processes.

The amount of bacteria grows as food moves through the intestines. There are ten times more bacterial cells in the gut than human cells in the entire body.  Perhaps not surprisingly, gut bacteria comprise a microbiome whose ecology profoundly affects human health.  This microbiome is the most concentrated and biodiverse place on earth, containing potentially tens of thousands of microbial species.  Because the gut has a huge surface area populated by microbes, most of your body’s immune response is directed to and by the gut. Prebiotics and probiotics can foster a healthy gut microbiome.  Prebiotics are the nutritive components that favor beneficial bacteria.  Probiotics are actual beneficial bacteria that “seed” the gut.  Prebiotics are forms of fiber that beneficial bacteria can digest well and thrive upon.  These prebiotic fibers most common sources are wheat, onions, and bananas.  Fiber in general provides a matrix for gut bacteria to thrive.  Plus, fiber spares the intestinal wall from undue contact with bacteria that may attack the intestinal wall as food or expose the intestinal wall to high concentrations of pathogens. The most commonly eaten probiotic food would be yogurt.  Other popular probiotic foods are fermented foods like kombucha tea, sauerkraut, tempeh, and aged cheeses.  Some foods may be harmful to the gut microbiome. High saturated fat, animal protein, refined sugar in particular and refined foods in general, push the gut microbiome ecology toward less beneficial bacteria and compromised immune status.  Some of this effect is simply the absence or shortage in these foods of phytonutrients which foster better gut health.  Quick, large changes in fiber intakes may result in excess gas production (flatulence). If your gut is only used to modest amounts of fiber,
you may want to increase your fiber intake gradually over several weeks. This will allow your gut microbiome to adjust more smoothly.

Finally, since digestion requires highly complex processes involving nervous system and hormonal regulation, the gut has the largest concentration of nerves outside the brain.  In fact, the gut has been referred to as our second brain.  It is little wonder that a healthy gut is a critical ingredient to a healthy body overall.

Kidneys and Urinary Tract

Your kidneys filter your blood (largely from waste products of protein metabolism), balance your blood’s fluids (water) and electrolytes (e.g., sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium), and help regulate your blood’s pH (acidity-alkalinity).

Sodium and potassium are sister nutrients with complementary functions in the body.  Sodium (salt) intake is typically much higher than potassium intake. This is due to both high intake of processed foods (almost no natural foods are high in sodium) and low intake of  fruits and vegetables (high in potassium).  Ideally, potassium intake should be higher than sodium intake, since potassium weighs more than sodium and a 1:1 molecular (molar) balance requires a greater weight of potassium.

Calcium and magnesium have competing roles as electrolytes.  Large amounts of one may produce adverse effects by pushing the other to imbalance. Magnesium intakes are often low due to a paucity of whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts in the diet.  Calcium supplementation is popular and my aggravate magnesium shortages.

High blood pressure itself also increases electrolyte losses, exacerbating this imbalance.

Caffeine increases electrolyte losses through the kidneys

Protein increases the load of waste products the kidney must excrete. This may not be a particular problem for the kidneys if there is adequate hydration (water).  However, protein also increases urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium and potassium, so high protein intakes may push these minerals toward imbalance.  This effect may be largely mediated by pushing the body’s acid-base balance toward acidity.

Acid-forming diets (see acid-base balance above) facilitate kidney stone formation and bladder/urinary tract/vaginal infections.

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