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Metabo-what?

Growing up, I heard the term metabolism and understood that if it was low, I would gain weight and if it was high I would lose weight. While this isn't far from the truth, I have learned there is a tremendous amount more to it than just "high and low". If we reduce metabolism to just "high and low", we are pretty much reducing us down to wood burning stoves where wood , oxygen and a spark is all you need to burn. I don't know how nuclear reactors work but I have to imagine it's quite a bit more complex than burning wood. There are reactions that occur amongst hormones, receptors and enzymes that aren't accounted for in the "wood burning stove" model of metabolism and Insulin is central to that complexity.


Insulin is crucial in the body's metabolism, I like to think of it as a head coach on a team; the individual players do their own work but once the coach benches them, they are way less productive. For example, in the case of insulin resistance, where the cells resist insulin's effect, the body is often also leptin resistant. This means that the cells no longer respond all that well to leptin, this isn't cool because leptin is crucial for feeling full. Without leptin functioning at the cellular level, our appetite can become uncontrollable. One more example of insulin's effect is that when the body has high levels of insulin surging, it turns off all fat burning capabilities; thanks Insulin.


Another example of metabolism is that the body has the capability to turn up the heat or cool it down whenever it wants. If you happen to be stuck on an island without much food, your body will naturally turn down the heat and you will burn way less calories, despite most likely doing more work; what with building a shelter and trying to catch fish and all. Kinda cool, right? Most seasoned multi-day fasters will tell you that after a long fast, they stop feeling hungry and their energy is quite normal, which is the exact opposite of what I was taught growing up. I'm pretty sure I was under the impression that I would die if I didn't eat something within a week or so. Even if metabolism didn't diminish due to the decrease in energy consumption, the amount of "fat energy" your body would have to eat up, would take months to devour, but the cool thing is your body knows what to do.


The vast majority of our chronic diseases are all driven heavily by "poor" metabolism. Again, notice I don't say "low" metabolism. A metabolism that is burning hot doesn't necessarily mean healthy; it just means it's burning a lot of calories. For example, if an individual has congestive heart disease and type II diabetes, we would never apply a healthy stamp on their metabolism but they usually have a pretty rapid basal metabolic rate due to breathing issues related to the heart disease.


Instead of thinking of metabolism as an up and down linear issue, try to think of it as a 3D model of health or disease. If your hormones, enzymes, receptors ect. are churning appropriately with good cellular reception, your metabolism is doing its job. Again, I'm not a nuclear physicist and I probably botched the nuclear reactor analogy, but just know, we are pretty darn complex and a wood burning stove doesn't quite explain how we operate.

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