What is Metabolism?
Our discovery of the processes which allow for the animation of life is an incredible and ongoing journey. There is a lot that remains to be discovered; however, we have learned an incredible amount about metabolic processes. I believe it is important to understand this fundamental process for what it actually is. While I was exploring this incredible process, my current philosophy on health, fitness, and well-being took root. I find metabolism is commonly perceived as “how many calories I burn” or “if I am burning fat or sugar,” without actually knowing what that means or its relationship to health. Metabolism is about more than burning calories and fat, it is about the delicate exchange of energy between the universe and the living cell. All living things on earth are composed of one or more cells. I am going to give a brief overview of metabolism’s true roll in order to lay a foundation on which much of your actions towards increased health and happiness can be based.
Metabolism is the cell’s use of energy.
Metabolism, defined loosely, is the cellular actions which provide energy, allow for the use of energy, and use energy. Metabolism is coordinated through molecular and chemical interactions which make up the cell’s action and support all life. The actions of metabolism are categorized as either catabolic or anabolic. The catabolic actions are the break down of substances. The anabolic actions are the synthesis of substances. Both catabolic and anabolic actions are necessary for the cell’s survival and thus the entire organism’s. Metabolism effects the cell’s health. In a healthy cell, energy use is very efficient, allowing for optimal function and increased vitality. When a cell is presented by a survival challenge, energy use becomes less efficient, which detracts from the cells optimal function and decreases vitality. The optimal state of metabolism and cell function is found especially in the early stages of development and the body’s growth up until puberty. It is found in a nearly perfect state during the development of an embryo.
Metabolism requires environmental equilibrium both in and around the cell.
The stability of this cellular environment is a dynamic balance of minerals, fluids, and coordinated enzyme reactions. These directly and immediately affect the functional state of our cells. Your body has the ability to measure and regulate the internal environment which aids in maintaining optimal cellular function. If the environment is shifted outside of the optimal parameters, your body will act in order to deal with stresses and aid the cell’s function until natural balance returns. The cell itself is also able to adapt and resist environmental upset. This ability is more obvious and necessary in simple single celled organisms such as bacteria. Such single celled organisms don’t have a multitude of cells able to organize a more general adaptation of the entire organism and thus regulate the environment for the cells making up the organisms functioning parts.
The quality of a cell’s metabolism effects it’s ability to respond to any environmental challenge, and thus the entire organism’s ability to do so.
Metabolism is complex in a single celled organism, but becomes tremendously more complex the more complex the organism. This is due to the interrelated functions of many individual living cells, each one depending on the others to provide for the continued life of the whole organism. The actions of your cells as a human are various and depend on the type of cell being described. However, their primary function is to synthesize proteins and maintain the cell itself. You have hundreds of distinct cell types (roughly 300), each providing specific functions. There are large classifications such as nerve cells, immune cells, hormone excreting cells, and muscle cells. Each of these large groups has many individualized cells as well as some cells that would have diversified functions. The importance of metabolism is simply that without the energy provided to the cells and the ability to use it there would be no function, and thus no life. You can not eat, drink, sleep, breathe, think, or feel without the complex coordinated effort of your 100 trillion individual cells. The more optimal your environment, the more efficient the cell’s metabolism, and the more robust the cell’s metabolism, the more capable of optimal interaction with the external environment and any challenge encountered. Environmental influence over metabolism and the metabolism’s ability to aid in effective response to the environment is an essential correlation. This correlation has tremendous influence over every single aspect of the organism from digestion to emotional temperament, from sleep to the cognitive function.
Metabolism is easily influenced by what we ingest, breath, and are otherwise exposed to through our environment.
A more general way to describe your metabolism is your ability to obtain substances from your external environment and utilize what you obtain to support life. Basically, you eat, drink, and breathe, digest, absorb and transport the nutrients you obtain from your environment, then use them to support your actions as a living being. It is important that the air, water, food, and sunlight you are exposed to are full of the necessary substances to provide your body with the nutrition it needs. There is nothing more essential to you than the substances you obtain from your environment through digesting food, respiration, and absorption through the skin. These nutrients are important factors in determining the internal environment of your body. Since you require a specific internal environment to provide for optimal cellular function, any interruption to this environment will compromise your wellness. The interesting paradox is that living well is what provides the components necessary to maintain your optimal internal environment and thus your cellular function.
The most effective way to support metabolism and influence your environmental exposure is through regulating your diet.
The statement “you are what you eat” is at least 99% accurate if we also include the consumption of liquid. It is true that breathing and exposure to light are fundamental life giving factors and the quality of air and light we are exposed to have great effect on our metabolism. However, you have much more immediate control of what you eat and can significantly effect your metabolic state through regulating your diet. The overwhelming majority of the essential substances of our body is obtained through our diet. These substances are the structural components of our cells, the components of the intra- and extra-cellular environment that allow for cellular function. They are the fuel used by our cells to create the energy needed to carry out all cellular actions. By understanding what these substances are, we can better provide the nutritional foundation our body needs for optimal function. Our body produces many crucial components for metabolism. These substances include amino acids, carbohydrates, fatty acids, cholesterol, enzymes, acids, carbon dioxide, water, vitamins, hormones and other chemical compounds important to the vast number of reactions which occur in the process. Even though we can produce some of these substances ourselves, it does not mean we do not benefit from, or in some cases require, having these nutrients in our diet.
What I hope for you to take away from this post are these 5 key points.
1) Metabolism is the cell’s use of energy.
2) Metabolism requires environmental equilibrium both in and around the cell.
3) The quality of a cell’s metabolism effects its, and thus the entire organism’s, ability to respond to any environmental challenge.
4) Metabolism is easily influenced by what we ingest, breath, and and are otherwise exposed to through our environment.
5) The most effective way to support metabolism and influence your environmental exposure is through regulating your diet.
I will revisit the discussion of metabolism and elaborate on the regulation our body imposes in the presence of stress due to an environmental challenge, and how that coordinates with our health. However, so as not to bore you too badly with this scientific rigamarole, my next post will jump to a discussion of food. I will be addressing what I have found to be simple guidelines for an appropriate and even optimal human diet. This is a opportune segue as we have just discussed the importance of food as an environmental influence for our cellular environment.