Human metabolism is the foundation of our health. It’s the mechanism that supplies our bodies with energy and directly ties to the success of the immune system in fighting off infections and moderating inflammation.
What is Metabolic Dysfunction?
Metabolic dysfunction (or a malfunctioning metabolism) is any disorder or condition that affects the metabolism. Metabolic Dysfunction can lead to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, diabetes, and high fasting insulin levels. Metabolic dysfunction also manifests as issues with gaining or losing weight.
There are many factors that contribute to metabolic health, more than we can cover thoroughly in a single blog post. Food, lifestyle, genetics, injury, and even non-metabolic disease can lead to metabolic issues down the road (for example: gallstones and gall-bladder removal can make it harder for your body to digest fat).
In this blog we’ll explore the basics of metabolic dysfunction, insulin resistance and share tips for restoring your metabolic health.
What this article covers…
- Insulin resistance
- The underlying cause of metabolic dysfunction
- The dangers of omega-6 PUFAs
- 8 Tips for building metabolic health
NOTE ON MEDICAL ADVICE: This article is not written to provide specific medical advice to treat any medical condition. That conversation needs to happen between you and your medical care team.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Your pancreas makes the hormone insulin as a signal to your cells to absorb glucose (blood sugar) from your bloodstream. If your cells stop “listening” to that signal, your pancreas “shouts” and pours out more insulin to force the issue.
Insulin resistance is akin to cellular deafness that prevents your body from properly processing nutrients and turning them into energy.
Said differently, there is an optimal range of insulin sensitivity, and once your body stops “listening” to insulin, you begin moving towards the disease known as diabetes, where your body stops making insulin. Insulin resistance is a metabolic dysfunction and one that affects as many as 4 in 10 adults aged 18-44 (1), indicating that it is not just a condition affecting older or overweight people.
The good news is, the effects of insulin resistance and diabetes can be lessened or reversed with the right mix of diet and lifestyle changes. For people with genetically inherited insulin resistance or diabetes, diet and lifestyle can still help alleviate the symptoms.
Based on the scientific literature, there is a strong connection between insulin resistance and a number of other health issues.
The Underlying Cause of Metabolic Dysfunction
Although science has not conclusively identified the cause of insulin resistance and diabetes, it’s clear that diet, lifestyle, and genetics are three of the biggest factors. Of those, diet and lifestyle are things we can take control of and improve.
One popular theory is that consuming excess carbohydrates leads to metabolic dysfunction, but this theory lacks evidence of a root cause. On the other hand, we do believe that moderating carbohydrate consumption down to 50-75 g per day is a good starting place if you’re trying to reduce your fasting insulin levels (how much insulin your body produces outside of your digestion window).
Based on a growing body of evidence, we believe another culprit is to blame for the growing number of people suffering from insulin resistance: omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), chiefly linoleic acid.
The Real Culprit: Omega-6 PUFAs
Before we dive too deep into the topic of linoleic acid, it’s important to address a controversy: the accepted medical wisdom on omega-6 fatty acids, and specifically linoleic acid, is that they prevent heart disease and should be consumed in place of saturated fats such as those derived from animals (2).
We disagree with this premise and can point to research that implicates excess linoleic acid consumption as a driving force of insulin resistance and obesity across the developed world.
Let’s dive in and look at the facts:
- Your body needs omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Your body cannot synthesize these PUFAs, so they’re called essential fatty acids.
- The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 acids varies widely by diet.
Consuming a diet with a near 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 PUFAs can be beneficial, reducing the risk and severity of certain health issues (3). By contrast, the typical Western diet delivers roughly a 15:1 ratio of these fats.
One of the issues with omega-6 PUFAs is that they compete with the healthy omega-3 PUFAs for enzymes in our bodies (4). That means that you can overwhelm your body with omega-6 PUFAs to the point where you aren’t getting the benefit of the omega-3s in your diet.
Subsequently, excess linoleic acid can cause our fat cells (“adipocytes”) to grow based on how our cellular mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) use the fat molecule.
When fat cells of the visceral adipose tissue (the fat surrounding our organs) get too large (there’s a unique individual threshold for this), they begin releasing excess free fatty acids into the blood which signal the rest of the body to become pathologically insulin resistant. Metabolic dysfunction ensues, eventually leading to pre-diabetes, diabetes, and all of its complications (heart disease, hypertension, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, etc.).
With diabetes (also known as pre-diabetes), fasting insulin rises because the cells throughout our body are resistant to its signals, and gluconeogenesis (the breakdown of non-carbohydrate substances into glucose) proceeds unchecked in the liver, leading to significantly elevated levels of glucose in the blood both during fasting and after meals.
It would be presumptive to say that all metabolic dysfunction results from insulin resistance brought on by excess linoleic acid consumption. However, as stated in this white paper by Zero Acre farms (5), “There is no tribe, population, or nation that has started consuming vegetable oils and not seen obesity rates climb.”
That leads us to believe that the best way to restore healthy metabolic function is to reduce harm from substances like excess omega-6 PUFA consumption and to focus on the positive factors you can control.
8 Diet and Lifestyle Tips to Restore Healthy Metabolic Function
Use the following tips to restore metabolic function.
1. Eliminate seed oils.
Processed vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, canola, peanut, grapeseed, sesame, etc.) contain high levels of linoleic acid (omega-6 PUFA). To counteract the superabundance of linoleic acid, we suggest replacing seed oils with tallow, ghee, butter, and other nourishing saturated fats. This also means reading ingredient labels and avoiding most packaged foods. Industrial food production relies on seed oils because they’re cheap and abundant. When dining out, you can request the kitchen to cook your food in butter or simply without vegetable oil.
It’s also important to source your olive oil and avocado oils from reputable sources. With no exaggeration, 79% of the brands you find at the grocery store cut their products with soybean, canola, or some other vegetable seed oil (6). Additionally, do your best to avoid fatty pork, chicken, duck, turkey, or other monogastric animals primarily fed corn and soy diets. Like humans, these animals will store excess linoleic acid in their fat cells, which is easily absorbed when we eat them.
2. Make grass-fed, grass-finished ruminant muscle meat and organs the center of your diet.
Incorporating unprocessed meats into your diet can be a delightful way to get the macro (protein, fat) and micro (vitamins, minerals, peptides) nutrients your body needs. We suggest you focus on meat and organs from grass-fed ruminant animals such as cattle, buffalo, goat, lamb, and deer. If you can find high-quality, fresh organ meat, start by eating the liver and heart.
If you choose to consume poultry, eggs, or pork, stick with free-range or pasture-raised options. Industrial farms rely on cheap corn and soy-based feeds to raise and fatten their animals. Even “organically raised” animals may be fed organic corn and soy — resulting in a buildup of linoleic acid in their fat tissues.
We also suggest consuming bone broth made from bones and connective tissue. High-quality bone broth contains an important amino acid called glycine, which plays several roles in our physiology (7). It functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and supports relaxation (8)!
3. Eliminate the most toxic plant foods.
As discussed in Paul Saladino, MD’s book, The Carnivore Code, there are common plant components that contain defense chemicals that can negatively trigger the immune system. Typically the most problematic ones are leaves, stems, seeds, nuts, grains, nightshades, and legumes.
Sources of low-toxicity carbohydrates are honey, berries, avocados, olives, squash, or other seasonal sweet and non-sweet fruit. Organic white rice and sweet potatoes can be good options as well. Aim to keep your daily consumption between 90-120 g of carbohydrates per day. Feel free to check out our animal-based infographic to see a breakdown of high and low-toxicity plant foods.
4. Adequately nourish your body.
Eating individually-sufficient amounts of animal-based fat, meat, organs, raw dairy, fruit, and other carbohydrates helps hormones, energy, mood, immunity, and digestion thrive.
In addition to organs, consuming lots of protein in the form of sustainably raised meat is essential. You also need sufficient fat and carbohydrates to achieve the best nutrition possible. The following formulas will help you assess the right macronutrient ratios for your body type. Only you and your medical care team can decide the right ratios for your optimal health and happiness.
- Protein = range of 1-1.2 grams x ideal body weight
- Fat = 0.8-1 grams x ideal body weight
- Carbs = 0.7-1.2 grams x ideal body weight
Goal body weight = 150lbs
- Protein = 150-180 grams
- Fat = 120-150 grams
- Carbohydrates = 105-180 grams
Regarding your fat and carbohydrate intake, if your total activity level is on the lower end of the spectrum, you should experiment with the lower end of the range, but if you are more active, try the higher end of the range.
If you are insulin resistant, diabetic, or pre-diabetic, you may benefit from a 30-day trial of decreasing carbohydrate intake to around 50-75g per day. If you choose this approach, please consult with your physician to develop a plan that works for your unique medical needs.
5. Prioritize sleep and recovery.
There are very few things that are as simple, cost-effective, and beneficial as quality sleep. During sleep, our body builds, repairs, and heals from the various stressors of life. We suggest turning off devices with screens one to two hours before getting in bed (9), dimming the lights (Dr. Saladino’s podcast on light), being consistent with your bedtime, and aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep.
6. Move and exercise.
An inescapable key to health is physical stress. Good stress, such as exercise, triggers important processes and helps to regulate your hormones. Even the simple act of walking a few miles a day is beneficial. Ideally, you’re able to incorporate slow movement (like walking) with strength training and high-intensity movement like sprinting. Taking a short walk after meals can even help regulate your blood sugar (10).
Whatever you’ve heard about the dangers of sunlight, the reality is that our bodies use sunlight to produce vitamin D and nitric oxide (11), which also help regulate hormones, decrease blood pressure (12), and improve overall blood flow. Go outside, play in the sun, and enjoy nature while you’re at it. Daily sun exposure can also stimulate your natural circadian rhythm, promoting sleep (13), recovery, and muscle growth. It may even improve the alpha diversity of the gut (14)!
If you have limited access to natural sunlight, you can use a Sperti vitamin D lamp or spend 3-5 minutes in a tanning bed.
8. Manage your stress.
Everyone experiences some levels of stress on a daily or weekly basis. This is completely normal! If we want to create an optimal healing environment inside our bodies, we must take the time to take care of ourselves. We challenge everyone to engage in some stress management activity. Meditation, prayer, sitting down outside and connecting with nature, gardening, or even learning a new skill can all be enjoyable ways to reduce stress in our lives (15, 16, 17)
Supplementation for Metabolic Dysfunction
This is actually an extension of #2 (eat grass-fed meat and organs) on our list of lifestyle and diet suggestions. The reality is that most people have a difficult time sourcing high-quality meat and organs. Others dislike the taste or texture of organs.
For people dealing with metabolic dysfunction, the two organs we suggest for metabolic health are the heart and liver. These two organs supply a rich source of CoQ10, B12, riboflavin, and many other nutrients deemed fundamental to mitochondrial metabolism, energy production, and chronic inflammation reduction.
At Heart & Soil, we’ve developed supplements that preserve the nutritional benefits of raw organ meats in an encapsulated form that is shelf-stable and easy to take. We suggest the following supplements for anyone dealing with metabolic issues.
Endorsed and used by UFC Champion Georges St-Pierre, this supplement packs a powerful punch whether you’re an athlete or just trying to be more physically active. Warrior contains grass-fed, grass-finished, freeze-dried liver and heart. These two organs supply a rich source of CoQ10, riboflavin, anserine, carnosine, taurine, creatine, L-carnitine, choline, glutamine, iron, vitamins A, K2, B12, and folate. These nutrients are fundamental to mitochondrial metabolism, energy production, and the reduction of chronic inflammation.
2. Beef Organs
Next is the Beef Organs supplement. This blend contains vital nutrients and peptides to support overall health, vitality, and energy. By combining beef liver, heart, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys, we’ve created a complex that benefits those same systems in your body. Beef Organs provides you with the coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), anserine, taurine, and carnitine, along with peptides such as splenin, tuftsin, and splenopentin. It also contains critical B vitamins, such as folate, riboflavin, biotin, B6, and B12, as well as the minerals selenium, heme iron, and iodine. These nutrients provide essential building blocks for growth and tissue repair.
Despite what you may have heard, consuming high-quality fat is essential* for the healthy function of many bodily systems. It improves the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients found in our other supplements. It also improves energy production at the mitochondria level, enhancing fat utilization and improving metabolic function. Additionally, stearic acid—a fatty acid found in grass-fed suet—helps combat linoleic acid-induced obesity by signaling those same fat cells to shrink!
We believe that taking ownership of your health and the health of your family is one of the most radical and important steps you can take. We’re here to help you on that journey no matter what you end up deciding is right for your body.
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