A New Definition for Better Living Through Chemistry

Although I have had an interest in the subjects of health and fitness my entire life, I never pretend to be an expert on nutrition or physiology, or to understand the complexity of the science behind these subjects. However, it seems that when we look at either of these subjects at a basic level, it all comes down to body chemistry and how it influences us.

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Beyond disease, when it comes to maintaining health, aren’t our hormones and metabolism calling the shots? As pointed out in an article in the November issue of Men’s Journal, if you start your day with poor eating habits, you are likely to end your day with an unsatisfying night’s sleep. This is likely to be followed by continued poor eating habits the next day. This will affect your mood and energy, and make you less likely to exercise. In turn, you will be more susceptible to stress at work, which many folks treat with a few drinks and continued poor eating. It becomes a vicious cycle that can spiral into significant health issues.

Metabolism is a term used to describe all chemical reactions involved in maintaining body cells and the organism they support. Nutrition is the key to metabolism. The pathways of metabolism rely upon nutrients that are broken down in order to produce energy. Food provides a variety of substances essential to the building, upkeep and repair of body tissues, as well as the efficient functioning of the body.

When we habitually eat poorly there is a consequence. When we change these habits for the better, we can flip the hormone cycle in a positive direction.

There is no clearer example of the consequences of bad eating habits than childhood obesity, which is directly linked to the consumption of added sugars. Consider the results of a recent study conducted by the Benioff Children’s Hospital at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the study, researchers closely monitored 43 obese children and found that by reducing their consumption of added sugars — even while maintaining the same number of calories consumed — cutting sugar made these kids healthier in just 10 days. The researchers’ goal was to isolate the effect of added sugars on the children’s metabolism, while keeping all other dietary inputs the same.

“I have never seen results as striking or significant,” said Jean-Marc Schwarz, a professor at Touro University California and senior author of the paper that explains the study.

The term “added sugar” does not include sugars found naturally in food, such as the fructose or fruit sugar found in blueberries. It refers to sweeteners that are added to food to improve taste and extend the shelf life of processed products. A study published in 2012 found that of the approximately 600,000 items in the U.S. food supply, roughly 74 percent contain added sugar.

Meanwhile, in a study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers confirmed that eating more fruits and vegetables can help control weight, but it all depends on which fruits and vegetables you eat. The study found our nationwide fruit and vegetable intake to be made up of mostly fruit juices and potatoes. Researchers suggest that items such as apples, pears, berries and low-starch vegetables are better choices. In the study group, the leading contributors to cutting weight gain were daily servings of tofu or soy, as well as apples or pears.

Another link in the chain of flipping the hormone cycle in a positive direction, and maybe the easiest place to start, is with a good night’s sleep. The right amount of good, quality sleep is key to a healthy heart, according to researchers at the Center for Cohort Studies at Kangbuk Samsung Hospital and Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea.

Researchers studied more than 47,000 young and middle-aged men and women, with an average age of 41, and found that adults who slept fewer than five hours a night had 50 percent more calcium in their coronary arteries than those who slept seven hours. Sleep quality also seemed to make a big difference in outcomes. Study subjects who reported poor sleeping habits also had more calcium buildup in their arteries — roughly 20 percent more than those who said they slept well.

According to Dr. David Meyerson, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association, these results are profound. “You wouldn’t imagine that too little sleep, too much, or not sleeping well is going to influence your blood vessels so quickly or so early in life,” he says.

At the same time, guidelines just released by the National Sleep Foundation are recommending new, wider sleep ranges for children and teens, as well as specific sleep ranges for young, middle-aged and older adults. 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day are recommended for newborns. Young adults, ages 18 to 25, are recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night and older adults, ages 65 and older — 7 to 8 hours.

A full chart of the new recommendations is available on the website for the National Sleep Foundation.

Keep in mind that these are only guidelines. Some people may naturally sleep for shorter or longer periods than the recommendations call for, without experiencing adverse health consequences. For this reason, it’s recommended they be used as a starting point for individuals to discuss their sleep with their health care providers.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com.

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