Patients, family, and friends are always asking me about metabolism. Usually the conversation is centered around someone’s inability to lose weight and/or a suspected low metabolism.
The information below answers some common questions about metabolism and metabolic health. It should prove to be helpful as you evaluate your personal eating and exercise habits. As always, it is best to speak with your healthcare provider about your specific health circumstance(s).
• What are some things people can do to help maintain a healthy metabolism?
Exercising regularly, centered around 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times weekly, and eating a balanced, consistent diet are things that people can do to maintain a healthy metabolism.
• What are some signs that the metabolism is not working properly and what are the most common causes of metabolic dysfunction?
Common signs that your metabolism is not working properly include changes in energy, heat or cold intolerance, changes in hair texture, unintentional weight gain or loss, and/or stool changes. Thyroid dysfunction is perhaps the most popular metabolic dysfunction in adults. However, conditions such as diabetes, pancreatic dysfunction, musculoskeletal issues, and small and large intestine dysfunction can also affect metabolism.
There are also several types of congenital metabolic diseases, termed inborn errors of metabolism. Inborn errors of metabolism are usually manifested by abnormalities in a baby’s development. Babies are usually screened for these at birth.
• If the metabolism is not working right, what can be done to treat the problem and bring it back to where it should be?
Correctly remedying organic causes of metabolic dysfunction is a matter of finding the root cause and either replacing a deficiency or minimizing the effects of an overactive organ. For example, hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, is treated by administering synthetic thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism, or over-active thyroid, is treated by alleviating symptoms in mild cases and removal of the gland in severe cases.
• Is it true that metabolism decreases with age and there is nothing to be done about this?
Essentially, decreased metabolism is inevitable as we age. As we get older, we lose muscle mass. Our vital organs also don’t require as much energy as they did when we were younger. Thus, more mature bodies do not burn calories as efficient as younger ones. This effect can be minimized by staying active and exercising regularly.
• What is the most important thing I should know about metabolic health?
As you age, make sure that you are seeing a healthcare provider on a regular basis. The most important thing that you can do for yourself is to eat a balanced diet, rich in vegetables and fruits, and get in the habit of exercising regularly.