Metabolism 101

Your body’s energy system is well over 300,000 years old

VIV Research
September 20, 2021

We didn’t evolve to live in a world of tweets and Twinkies. Our ancestors didn’t have set times for eating, sleeping, and working, and they certainly didn’t have their attention pulled in all directions throughout their waking hours. Instead, they ate, slept, moved, and rested as warranted by available resources.

Over many thousands of years, humans’ bodies evolved to regulate energy for this way of life. When our ancestors ate, their blood glucose levels rose. (Blood glucose is what many people call “blood sugar.”) This rise triggered their bodies to release insulin, a hormone that enables the body’s cells to absorb glucose in the blood stream and convert it to energy.

Until just over 10,000 years ago, when agriculture started to become widespread, our ancestors’ main sources of calories came from the animals they hunted to provide protein and fat. These nutrients cause a smaller blood glucose spike, and a subsequent smaller insulin release, than do carbohydrates. As a result, our ancestors’ blood glucose levels tended to stay within a narrow range, providing a steady, stable source of energy.

Fight or flight?

Simultaneously, our ancestors had also evolved the fight-or-flight mechanism. When they perceived a threat, their bodies released adrenaline, a hormone that triggers an increase in blood glucose levels. This rise in blood glucose provided quick energy to deal with the threat, either by encountering it (fight) or escaping it (flight).

These bodily systems are still with us, but the environment in which they evolved isn’t. Most of us have access to more than enough calories to meet our energy needs. Many of our calories come from processed foods and simple carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar, that cause much greater fluctuations in blood glucose levels than was typical for our ancestors. As a result, our energy levels often crash and boom, interfering with our work, leisure, and sleep.

Modern life can also cause our adrenaline levels to spike several times a day, even though the “threats” are usually things like car horns and endlessly pinging phones. Small-scale but regular stress can throw our blood glucose levels out of whack.

Of course, you can’t—and probably don’t want to—live like it’s the Stone Age. You have 21st-Century responsibilities and goals. The solution is manage your blood glucose levels so that you can best navigate the modern world with your ancient energy-management system.

This is where VIV can help, by tracking them in real time, and offering analytics and actionable advice on the best times to eat, exercise and sleep.