'Tid-Bits' of Health

Sylvia Harral, left, and Michele Stewart

While we’re being concerned with the lack of rain and the abundance of heat in our environment right now, I would like to direct our attention to what’s happening under our skin during this time of year.

Here’s yet another sneak peek into how our body functions clear down there where our little cells hang out every day. Our cells are programmed to do long-range survival planning. Right now, as summer drifts into fall, they’re thinking about winter, a lack of nutrition, no fruit on the trees, no grapes on the vines, no green in the grass.

Human cells are not the only ones that are programmed like this. The cells of all the other animals have the same programming. They’re all thinking about the coming winter, too. They’re asking themselves what they’re going to do when there’s not enough nutrition available for their muscles to continue doing all the running around they’ve been doing all summer? They have a plan — store a few extra pounds of fuel, now, and it will be there when it’s needed this winter.

Not only are all the animals programmed to survive the winter, but the plants are programmed as well. Their job, as the source of nutrition and fuel for the animal kingdom, is to provide extra nutrients. They do this in the form of the seeds they put out for their own continued propagation. These seeds are something we all look forward to in the fall. We all love those peaches, grapes crisp apples, etc.

Here’s how it works. We have a hormone under our skin that is all about making sure the cells receive their nutrition. This hormone is actually one of three hormones that are all about nourishing and fueling our cells.

Let me stop for a moment and explain something about hormones. Hormones are “body messages.” Think of your cell phone. When you want to send a message to someone, you can pick up your cell phone and write a text message, then hit “send.”

The message is received by the other person’s cell phone. The hormone is the message itself. The body’s “cell-phones” are in the organs and in the cell walls. The organs and cells communicate with each other by sending hormone messages back and forth.

One message that gets sent is, “burn sugar.” That message is a hormone we call insulin. When sugar crawls out of the intestines into the bloodstream, sugar signals the pancreas to start sending everyone the insulin’s “burn sugar now” message.

There’s another message that cells receive. It’s “burn fat now.” This message has a hormone name that we call leptin. So how do insulin and leptin relate to each other? Why can’t we get leptin to be sent and received more?

Insulin has a second message that automatically gets sent along with its “burn sugar” message. That message is “store fat now.” So, a body that is storing fat is being commanded by insulin that is being signaled by sugar.

That brings us back to the plants that are producing seeds and fruits. Plants have been programmed to put a special, strong-signaling sugar into their fruits. This special sugar has the ability to strengthen insulin’s “store fat now” message. This signal helps everyone survive the winter. The bears can hibernate. The birds can migrate, and everyone else spends more time sleeping during the longer nights of winter. Yes. Our bodies (animals, birds, and humans) all burn fat while we sleep; unless, of course, they’re being signaled by insulin to “store fat now.” That special sugar that sends that strong “store fat” signal is fructose.

A few decades ago, someone discovered how to make fructose out of corn. It was really strong, sweet and cheap to make. Everyone loved the taste, so they started putting high fructose corn syrup in everything they could and the obesity statistic in America has been climbing ever since.

Let me present one more piece to this sugar and obesity puzzle. The hormone leptin has a second message as well. It is, “stop eating now. We have all the fat we need.” Here’s the bottom line: high fructose corn syrup signals insulin and insulin turns off the cell’s ability to hear leptin. The body stays hungry all the time and stores fat. Yikes! Can we really start reducing our intake of sugar?

Until next week, take charge. — Sylvia

Sylvia J. Harral is a digestive health specialist and Michele Stewart is a pilates master trainer. They each have more than 15 years experience. Send your questions by e-mail to familyhelm@hotmail.com; by mail to Family HELM Health Center, 379 N. Hockett St., Porterville, CA, 93257; or by phone at 202-9105.

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