Do you know what metabolism actually is? Metabolism is what keeps an organism alive and functioning. Healthy metabolism means a long and healthy life. Damaged metabolism means premature aging and a very high all-cause mortality risk. And you thought weight gain (or rapid unexplained weight loss) was the only metabolic problem to be concerned about! Do you want to find out more about metabolism? Do you want to know how you can optimize it and save yourself not only from excess body fat and unwanted break down of muscle but quite possibly from early death as well? Read the article below.
Metabolism – much more than just a weight control mechanism
Metabolism is the sum of the chemical reactions performed by the body to break down food and drinks into energy called ATP (short for adenosine triphosphate). It’s the mitochondria (cell organelles) that produce ATP and this can happen with or without oxygen. What is ATP used for? ATP is required for all processes and functions in a living organism including the formation of new cells, breathing, digestion, elimination, hormonal regulation, maintaining optimal body weight, etc. Normal cells produce ATP through respiration (i.e. in the presence of oxygen) while cancer cells produce ATP through fermentation (i.e. without oxygen). And you know what ferments, right? Of course, sugar does! Thus, sugar becomes a very convenient food for the proliferation of cancer cells.
Crucially, energy production through the break-down of food is only one side to metabolism. The other part of the metabolic equation is a process called autophagy – an act of ‘self-cannibalism’ whereby cells capture their own cytoplasm and organelles and consume them in lysosomes. The resulting breakdown products become inputs to cell metabolism through which energy is generated to build new proteins and membranes. Thus, autophagy is a mechanism used to preserve the health of cells and tissues by replacing outdated and damaged cellular proteins with new, healthy ones. This makes autophagy a powerful regulator of metabolic homeostasis at both the cellular and whole-body level as it prevents degeneration, aging and death. In fact, autophagy can clean up mitochondrial damage that blocks respiration (thus, of course, preventing the risk of developing cancer).
So to optimize metabolism we need to minimize mitochondrial damage and increase mitochondrial respiration (since mitochondria are in the centre of the metabolic action and they have to “breathe” for healthy metabolism), and we also need to increase autophagy (so the body keeps regenerating itself instead of degenerating). The result of healthy metabolism is good energy levels, clarity, focus, concentration, good memory and cognition, ease to maintain healthy body weight, good cardio-vascular health, stamina, good digestion and optimal hormonal balance, to name a few.
Conversely, damaged metabolism results in sluggishness, fatigue, brain fog, depression, a tendency to put on weight (or sometimes to lose a massive amount of weight rapidly), brittle nails, dry skin, wrinkles, thin hair (and sometimes thin/missing eye brows), depression, insomnia, constant cravings for sugar or salt, thirst, constipation, bloating, chronic pain, inflammation, mood swings, hormonal imbalances, increased risk of cancer formation, premature aging and early death. As you can see, even if you are not overweight, you’d still want to optimize your metabolism, right? Assuming your answer is in the affirmative, let’s look at ways you can optimize metabolic health.
The things you can do to optimize mitochondrial health and autophagy are all too known: reduce your stress (stress creates free radicals which damage mitochondria, among other things), optimize sleep, eat clean (no sugar or highly processed foods), exercise regularly, practice intermittent fasting (which promotes autophagy like no other thing), and correct for any vitamin or mineral deficiency. One other thing that increases mitochondrial health and function and encourages autophagy is your ability to synthesize wisdom from past experiences and move forward while letting go of old pain and hurt (this is the mental equivalent of respiration and autophagy, and as you probably already know, the body mirrors the mind).
Additionally, there are two other factors in metabolism that we need to talk about: thyroid function and insulin. Thyroid hormones act directly on the mitochondria and control the transformation of the energy produced through oxidation into usable fuel for the cells. Thus, a dysfunctional thyroid gland means damaged metabolism. To improve thyroid function, you need to keep chronic inflammation down to a minimum (to avoid auto-immune thyroid conditions), to exercise regularly (exercise improves the conversion of the inactive T4 into the active T3 thyroid hormone), to optimize your sleep (this keeps your cortisol in check and prevents the unwanted conversion of T4 into reverse T3) and to correct for any micro-nutrient deficiencies (to which the thyroid is very sensitive). Also, working on your communication skills and your ability to express your true desires and needs without any fear is another factor in thyroid health. Suppressed pain, uncommunicated feelings, lack of authenticity in relationships and fear of self-expression are all impacting on the thyroid function.
Insulin production is another mechanism involved in metabolic health. The liver and the pancreas are constantly working together to manage sugar metabolism. However, lack of sleep and exercise coupled with too much sugar and processed foods in your diet are making you less and less insulin sensitive and more and more insulin resistant. This means you require ever so greater amounts of insulin to process sugar, and the more insulin that is floating around the more inflammation and mitochondrial damage occurs, the less mitochondrial respiration, and the more energy production through fermentation (which, as already mentioned, feeds cancers). Thus, insulin resistance is at the heart of the so called metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions associated with increased risk of obesity, inflammation, diabetes, kidney failure, cardiac arrest, stroke, dementia, cancer and early death. Of course, the mind has its own contribution here as well. Mental stress due to lack of flexibility and inability to adapt to change is capable of compromising sugar metabolism and increasing insulin resistance. On the emotional level, worry and anxiety will do as much damage to your sugar metabolism as excess sugar consumption might. So yet again we see the importance to work on removing chronic stress and emotional reactivity as a way to optimize body weight and overall health through managing metabolic health.