Why Our Metabolic System Holds the Keys to Our Goals
You Are a Transformer - the Metabolic System
Your body is an incredible machine that is able to take the energy from the food we eat, and transform it into energy our cells can use. Simply put, the combined reactions that make up this process is our metabolic system, also termed metabolism. Our metabolism is not just how fast or how slow we burn calories (aka our metabolic rate).
We often think that absorbing the food we’re eating is one step, but in fact, we transform the energy from our food- plants and animals that eat plants- it’s almost magical. Through photosynthesis, plants harness the power of the sun to build their cells, this in turn fuels our cells similarly. In a way, we’re like Superman – fuelled by the sun (just with more intermediate steps).
There are many intermediary steps. At a high level, we can break our metabolic system into two overriding categories: the breakdown of energy and nutrients (catabolism), and the building of tissues and energy stores (anabolism). The breakdown of food during digestion would be a catabolic reaction, while the storage of fuel in the form of fat would be an anabolic reaction. Our body is in a constant flux between these states depending on a wide range of factors like our nutrient status, the time of day, what we’re doing at the moment, hormone balance etc.
There are thousands of reactions involved in our metabolism; from breaking down the energy from food to converting that energy to fuel for our cells, and finally, clearing out waste products. Three of the most important pathways for energy production are:
Glycolysis starts with the simple sugar molecule, glucose. This reaction creates energy in the form of 2 ATP molecules per reaction but even more importantly, it forms two molecules of pyruvate which can enter the mitochondria in our cells to make more energy via the citric acid cycle.
The Citric Acid Cycle (Krebs Cycle)
This cycle utilizes products from glycolysis to make energy in the form of ATP. For the two cycles, ATP (x2) plus energy-rich NADH (x8) and FADH2 (x2) are formed. NADH and FADH2 get passed along to the electron transport chain – the main energy producer.
The Electron Transport Chain
The electron transport chain also occurs in the mitochondria. It passes electrons down an electrochemical gradient to release the highest amount of energy. By using reactants NADH, FADH2, and oxygen, it produces a whopping 32 molecules of ATP and water as a by-product.
Fortifying Metabolic Integrity
These small but mighty molecules of ATP then go on to power virtually everything we do: from making new cells to tissue repair to brain power to movement! Now we know how important our metabolic system is, what are the keys to keeping it healthy, or what scientists call ‘metabolic integrity’?
To answer this question we need to take a step back and think of where the metabolic system might go wrong. It could be when we eat our food – that the nutrients and energy from our food isn’t getting broken down or absorbed properly. It could be that those elemental nutrients are not getting where they need to go in the body, such as to the cycles that produce energy. Or perhaps within the cell, energy isn’t being utilized and converted into what we’re asking our body to do.
Indicators of Metabolic Integrity:
Metabolism starts with the breakdown and extraction of energy and nutrients from food. A well-oiled digestive process will ensure that those nutrients (such as glucose, which we know is the substrate for glycolysis) are feeding our metabolic pathways for energy.
High Mitochondrial Function
Our mitochondria are termed the “energy powerhouses of the cell”, and for good reason. So many key processes like the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain rely on the machinery of the mitochondria. If these intracellular organelles are not working optimally, then the energy from our food won’t be efficiently converted into energy that we can use.
Balanced Blood Sugar Levels
Our body carefully tracks how much glucose is available and regulates blood sugar accordingly. Higher glucose (such as after eating) will be metabolised and stored, while lower glucose (such as fasting or after exercise) stimulates our cells to tap into our stores. As glucose is so key to our metabolic pathways, our blood sugar balance is essential for maintaining a healthy metabolic system.
Balanced Hormone Levels
Hormones like insulin, estrogen, testosterone and growth hormone are the signals to when we should store energy (and where and how) as well as when we should breakdown our stores and shuttle those nutrients into our metabolic pathways. Dysregulation can occur due to many internal factors as well as our lifestyle habits.
Balanced Neurotransmitter Levels
Neurotransmitters also provide signals that direct our metabolic processes. Unlike hormones, neurotransmitters can have faster but short-lived effects. Epinephrine and norepinephrine act as neurotransmitters that regulate the body's “fight or flight” response. This involves preparing the body with the energy it may need in response to stressors.
Proper Excretion of Waste
Our metabolic pathways supply our cells with the nutrients and energy they need. However, these pathways will often create waste products that our body has no use of and must excrete in a safe and timely manner. Metabolic waste products include carbon dioxide (CO2), urea, and ammonia. Backlogs in excretion processes can leave us feeling very poorly, and over time can severely damage our excretion organs and overall health.
It might seem like a lot can go wrong and sabotage your metabolic system. In a way, that’s true, but we have a remarkable ability to biohack our metabolism, and a responsibility to keep it working in top condition. Our everyday lifestyle choices affect each and every one of these indications.
In Functional Medicine, there are many indicators of sub-optimal metabolic health. Some of these may present as noticeable symptoms like fatigue, inconsistent energy, unexpected changes in weight, hair loss, frequently feeling cold, dry skin, low mood, headaches, and brain fog. Laboratory testing is essential to checking your metabolic health helping to pinpoint the specific pathways that can be optimized.
The best test to assess metabolic integrity is an Organic Acids Test (OAT). With a simple urine sample, this test analyses chemical by-products of key metabolic reactions to illustrate how well your body is regulating blood sugar, producing hormones, digesting and absorbing nutrients, excreting waste and more. It also is used to discover nutritional insufficiencies, inborn genetic factors, and the presence of pathogenic overgrowths that may be sabotaging your metabolic health. Together, this data provides an insightful survey of your metabolic integrity and points to the areas that need to be optimized for better health.
Other testing options that can provide insights into your metabolic health include a 3D body scan to show the rate at which carbohydrates are utilized, and personalized tracking systems such as the continuous glucose monitor or breath-data monitoring apps.
Our HUM2N 2.0 Health Programmes are an essential step towards optimising your metabolism. Whether you want to perform in the boardroom or the bedroom, raising kids, or raising weights, our program provides focussed functional laboratory testing and personalised recommendations for you to excel. At the end of the day, everything is about energy - it is the limiting factor for how far you push yourself and how well you want to feel every day. Take the time to invest in supporting your metabolism and see the results for yourself!
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