Metabolism: Control it for good health

We often hear or read about the concept of, “metabolism.” Well, just what does the term metabolism refer to, and why should I be interested in learning about metabolism?

Human metabolism refers to any and all of the many things that affect how our body uses energy, both from taking in things to give us energy and also how we use up energy in the course of our daily living.

Here is the definition of human “metabolism.” Human metabolism is the total range of all biochemical processes going on in the human body to build up energy (called anabolism) and the breakdown of substances in the human body to obtain energy (catabolism).

Simply stated, metabolism is the overall process that refers to the breakdown of the food and drink we take in and its transformation into energy that we can then use for our current personal energy needs, or store for our future energy needs.

Both anabolism and catabolism are significantly regulated by multiple various hormones. Let’s look at just two hormones. One hormone that significantly impacts anabolism, or the building up of tissue, is insulin.

Insulin is our blood sugar level regulating hormone that is produced by the beta cells in our pancreas. Insulin is released by the pancreas in response to consuming sugar and any excess sugar not needed for current energy is stored primarily as body fat.

The hormone that regulates catabolism, or the breakdown and release of energy for our body to use, is glucagon. Glucagon is our hormone made by the alpha cells in the pancreas. It stimulates the breakdown of glycogen by the liver which causes blood sugar levels to rise, so we have fuel to be used for energy during personal physical activities.

Of course, our overall metabolism will have an impact on our body weight. Simply stated, our body weight is the result of the balance between how much potential energy sources we consume as food and drink, versus the amount of energy we use up every day.

If we take in excess energy that is not needed for current energy needs, it will always be stored either as body fat or as glycogen. This glycogen is then stored as a more readily available energy source in the liver and in our muscles.

It is also very important to know how our sleep habits relate to metabolism, and how our individual sleep pattern can impact our body weight and overall health and wellness.

Scientists from Columbia University found that sleeping less than seven hours per night decreases glucose tolerance and this will alter your body’s ability to properly use insulin.

They report that this will then increase our sympathetic nervous system activity and decrease our brain’s ability to properly use glucose. Glucose is extremely important for the brain, because it is the only energy source that the human brain can use.

The result is that a lack of sleep greatly increases the risk of gaining excess weight, as well as developing Type 2 Diabetes. Not only will you risk putting on weight for hormonal reasons caused by sleep deprivation, but you are also less likely to want to exercise.

It is also reported that that people who sleep too much (more than nine hours) have an overall higher risk of weight gain and of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Bottom line: Our personal metabolism is altered by what we choose to eat, whether or not we choose to exercise, and by our personal sleep pattern. Regarding sleep, get at least 7 hours but not more than 9 hours of sleep per night.

Your body and brain will thank you.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet,” has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged.