Genetics do have a role to play in our metabolism. Some people just have a naturally high metabolism, while for others it doesn’t work quite as fast. But before we get into the specifics of the causes of having a high or low metabolism and what can be done about either, let’s first discuss metabolism, so we have a better understanding of it.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is a biological process in most living organisms that break down food consumed so the body can use the nutrients as energy. It has two parts called reactions – catabolic and anabolic.
The catabolic reaction happens first as it breaks down food so the nutrients can get into your bloodstream and get eventually into your cells. The anabolic reaction occurs after the nutrients enter your cells and are used to build new tissue and repair your body.
The rate at which the catabolic and anabolic reactions happen is your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR plays a large part in how your weight is affected. A low rate means the food is broken down more slowly; a high rate more quickly.
Metabolism is a term that is used to describe all chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and the organism. Metabolism can be conveniently divided into two categories:
- Catabolism – the breakdown of molecules to obtain energy
- Anabolism – the synthesis of all compounds needed by the cells
Metabolism is closely linked to nutrition and the availability of nutrients. Bioenergetics is a term which describes the biochemical or metabolic pathways by which the cell ultimately obtains energy. Energy formation is one of the vital components of metabolism.
On the surface, it sounds great to have a high metabolism; in theory, you could eat whatever you want and not gain weight. But, it isn’t all that great because it can cause some serious health issues of its own.
People with high functioning metabolisms eat a lot of calories in a day just to keep from being hungry, but much of the food they eat not only tend to be high in calories but also high in saturated fat, sugar, salt – all things not good for them. This can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, strokes, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
While a high metabolism in many people is caused by their genetics, gender, and age, other causes can be an overactive thyroid, smoking, and stress. There isn’t much one can do about their genetics, but the other three are treatable and manageable.
A low functioning metabolism can be due to a hormone imbalance. As we age we lose testosterone which helps regulate muscle mass. The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn. To build more muscle, add a couple of days per week of strength training in addition to your cardio exercise routine.
Just as an overactive thyroid can cause a high metabolism, and underactive one can cause a slow metabolism. Your doctor may be able to reset your thyroid activity through thyroid therapy.
Stress can also cause a slow metabolism due to weight gain brought on by increased cortisol levels. Reduce the stress, and you’ll increase your metabolism.
But it occurs to me that I still don’t really know what metabolism actually means. The dictionary definition is uninspiring: “The chemical processes within a living organism in order to maintain life.” I mention it to my psychologist friend Nicole Sihera, who rings later that day. “Well, it’s easier to blame metabolism than take responsibility for ourselves, isn’t it? It’s called a self-serving bias,” she says.
“Of course, it does feel very unfair when you see someone’s Instagram account where they spring out of bed at 6am every day, citing the power of positivity and there’s not a bloated stomach or podgy arm in sight. It’s enough to make me reach for a pain au raisin and blame my metabolism, but I suspect there’s more at play.”
As you can see, having either a high or low functioning metabolism can cause health problems. If you think your metabolism is out of whack, and nothing you try is working to make it function more generally, see your doctor; many times they can help regain your metabolism on track.