Even if you’re in the middle of a deep sleep, or quietly reading a book, your body is always active. It never quite “shuts off,” because it’s always storing and consuming energy (from the food you eat) – and building up and breaking down molecules necessary to maintain your health.
This always-on process is called metabolism, which literally means “a state of change.” Your body relies on metabolism to carry out all its functions – whether it’s storing or burning fat, regulating sugar levels, or keeping your neurons firing – so metabolism has a huge impact on your health. (You can give your metabolism a checkup with EverlyWell's at-home Metabolism Test.)
When your metabolism is working as it should, you’ll have much more energy throughout the day – you won’t feel so sluggish and fatigued. You’ll also find it easier to gain muscle mass and lose fat, because your body will be sending the right hormone “signals” to your metabolic system. Even your mood will be brighter if your metabolism is well-balanced. On the flip side, scientists have discovered that metabolic disturbances are linked with major depressive disorder – a testament to the mighty affect metabolism can have on all aspects of your well-being.
Not surprisingly, then, your body tightly controls its metabolism. It does this through swarms of small-but-powerful signal molecules known as hormones – which travel throughout your body in different amounts. So by checking in on your hormone levels, you can get a good gauge of how healthy your metabolism is – and, ultimately, how healthy your whole body is. This is why understanding your metabolism is a key to better health.
If it weren’t for metabolism, all the good nutrients you eat wouldn’t do your body any good. Metabolism is how your body turns the nutrients in a delicious casserole or a tasty smoothie into energy – and into the raw materials your body needs to build muscles and repair tissues and organs.
Since metabolism has such a powerful impact on your body, you may be wondering what affects your metabolism. What factors can cause shifts in your metabolic health?
Without a doubt, your diet is one of the most important things that can alter your metabolism. Because many nutrients serve as the building blocks for the hormones that regulate metabolism, if you have a well-balanced diet – you’re getting the nutrients you need and in the right quantities – then your metabolism will most likely function properly. But say you’re eating lots of foods that are high in sugar. This excess sugar will disrupt your metabolism, and put you at risk of developing metabolic diseases.
Exercise, too, has a profound effect on your metabolic health. In fact, some research suggests that long-term physical training makes your metabolism work more efficiently – so you burn more calories even when you’re not being active.
Something else that affects your metabolism is your age: your metabolism “slows down” as you age, so your body accumulates fat more easily. Certain behaviors can also cause changes to your metabolism. For example, if you’re not getting enough sleep, then your metabolism will be negatively affected – which can contribute to weight gain.
You may recall that earlier we said that metabolism is controlled by signal molecules called hormones – and that you can gain insights into your metabolism and health by understanding your hormone levels. Hormones tell your metabolic system when to store or use energy – and when it should build or break down important nutrients. While your body produces many hormones, there are 3 hormones in particular that can give you incredible information about your health. These three hormones are the thyroid hormones, testosterone, and cortisol.
Nestled at the front of your windpipe is a gland called the thyroid. And although it’s small – only a few inches in length – it plays a big role in the body’s metabolism. This gland is responsible for secreting two important hormones: T3 and T4.
These two hormones travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolic system in many ways (for example, they let your cells know when to either break down fats or store more fats). Production of thyroid hormones is controlled by a tiny gland situated in your brain – the pituitary gland. This gland squirts out a hormone of its own – the aptly-named thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
If you have elevated TSH levels in your blood – which you can find out with EverlyWell’s Metabolism Test – then it’s very possible that your thyroid isn’t making enough hormones. (Your pituitary gland releases more TSH to send a strong signal to your thyroid that it’s time to make more thyroid hormones. When your thyroid hormone levels are too low – which can be caused by diseases of the thyroid gland, for instance – then your body starts making more fat than necessary. You’ll start gaining weight, and you might also experience fatigue and hair loss.
What happens if your bloodstream is flooded with way too much thyroid hormones? As you may have guessed, in this case your body will start rapidly breaking down fat. A healthy body requires some fat, but if your thyroid hormone levels are too high, then your body will eliminate too much of its fat. The result? Weight loss – along with some other not-very-desirable effects, such as higher blood pressure and sleep problems.
Though many people think of testosterone as only a male hormone, it’s incredibly important for a healthy metabolism in both men and women. Testosterone is crucial to well-balanced fat metabolism and muscle production. In fact, lower-than-normal levels of testosterone prompts your body to increase its fat mass.
On other hand, if a man has too much testosterone coursing through his body, then he may be more irritable and have a lower sperm count – among other negative consequences. Women with too much testosterone may gain more weight, have excess acne, and even male pattern baldness.
Testosterone also helps regulate sleep and mood, so for all these reasons (and more) it’s important that your testosterone levels are within a normal, healthy range.
Cortisol – dubbed the “stress hormone” – is released into your bloodstream when your body senses a threat or emergency. Cortisol causes your body to dump glucose (sugar molecules) into the bloodstream, providing you with the fuel you need to respond to the perceived threat. For example, if you’re out hiking and you suddenly encounter a fearsome predator – a bear, perhaps – then cortisol sparks a surge of glucose that gives you the energy to “fight or flight.”
But what if you’re always under stress? Maybe deadlines are always looming over your head, and the traffic congestion en route to the office doesn’t help matters. In situations like these – where you’re always stressed – cortisol will continue pumping you full of glucose. (Cortisol, after all, can’t distinguish the difference between a bear and an important deadline.)
Since your body won’t use all this excess glucose, it’ll turn the glucose into fat. Thus, chronic stress can lead to unhealthily high levels of cortisol – and result in weight gain. (Check for indicators of chronic stress with a cortisol test Everlywell offers.)
Since your metabolism underpins so much of your health, it’s important to get a good understanding of how well your metabolism is functioning. One of the most effective ways to do this is by testing your hormone levels. Thyroid hormones, testosterone, and cortisol all play a key role in regulating metabolism, so checking the levels of these hormones can give you a wealth of information about your well-being – and let you know if you need to take a deeper look at any hormone imbalances you discover. Fortunately, you can now check these levels from the comfort of home with EverlyWell’s Metabolism Test (you can also just check your T levels at home with a testosterone test).