Metabolism is the mechanism that all living beings have to sustain their life. (1) All metabolism is made up of two different processes. Catabolism is the process that breaks down organic matter (the food we eat) and anabolism is the process that creates new cells by using the proteins and the nucleic acids catabolized from food. (2) The human metabolism can use a variety of organic matter to make the processes come about. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are the elements used which are the most commonly found in our food. Other substances which are not necessarily organic in composition, but which our bodies still use in the metabolic process are minerals and vitamins.
The idea of increasing your body’s metabolism is a bit of a misnomer. In the public mind, ‘boosting one’s metabolism’ seems to be just a fancy way of saying ‘do things that make you healthy and feel good.’ For example, in this 2008 article on MSNBC, Samantha Keller gives several tips on what the best ‘metabolism boosters’ are. (3) Among those are listed, “stoke your system with B vitamins and magnesium,” “stop slashing calories” and exercise or working out. These have more to do with losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle than they do with metabolism.
In fact, your body’s metabolic rate is determined by your genetics. (4) On the other hand, some types of foods do have the potential to increase or decrease this rate, (5) while the level of physical exercise a person does is also part of the equation. (6) (7) A healthy, functioning human body with a good metabolism is fueled by a balanced diet and a lifestyle that involves regular exercise. Since metabolism is simply another way of describing the way your body creates energy, then by definition, the more energy your body requires, the more efficiently your metabolism will work. When people talk about ‘increasing their metabolism,’ what they really mean to say is that their bodies create energy more efficiently. Different types of foods have different types of energy creation mechanisms.
In essence, when you reorganize your lifestyle and adopt a healthy way of living that includes well-balanced meals and regular exercise, you’re not just increasing your metabolism as if that was some kind of a magical cure-all for health issues. What in fact you are doing is fixing your metabolism to be the way your genetics intended it to be. Obesity is largely environmental. A healthy, lean body full of energy is suggested by our genetics.
Up until relatively recently, modern science only knew about one particular type of metabolism in the human body; the type that uses glucose for most of its energy needs. Energy is created in the body through a very complex cycle, sometimes called the Krebs Cycle, or the citric acid cycle. (8) Glucose is given to the body through the consumption of carbohydrates and various types of sugars. (9) (10) Carbohydrates are broken down in the body into simple sugar molecules, while fructose (found in fruits) and sucrose (crystallized sugar extracted from various sweet plants) skips the metabolic process and enters the body in a more refined state. (11) Simple carbohydrates (found in vegetables and fruit) break down in the body relatively quickly while complex carbohydrates (found in grains, bread, pasta, potatoes) take longer. (12) Thus it can be said that more energy is needed by the body’s metabolism to break down complex carbohydrates than simple ones. (13)
On the surface this may seem like a good way to increase your body’s metabolism, but the truth is that the net result of this is that your brain becomes flooded with sugar that it cannot store. (14) As carbohydrates are essentially sugar, eating a lot of carbohydrates in addition to the fruit, sugar and honey that most people eat, you are in essence flooding your body with far more glucose than it needs. (15) The liver and the pancreas both come into play, releasing high levels of insulin to regulate this sugar surplus (16) and the net result is that you end up with too much glucose in your bloodstream, which is then converted into body fat. (17)
Proteins and fat
On the other hand, in very recent scientific studies, it has been discovered that eating more proteins and various healthy fats can change your body to a different type of metabolism, known as ketosis. (18) This is not that new and has been used anecdotally for many thousands of years, but studies have only really been able to show the science behind this recently. (19) If your body has a low carbohydrate intake (less than 100g per day), compared to a high carbohydrate diet (which can go up to even 750g per day), then it’s very likely that your metabolism will begin to use a different process, the one known as ketosis, to create energy. (20) Ketone is a molecule created from the conversion of fat and the process starts off much further along the Krebs Cycle. (21) Ketosis has been shown to significantly increase the amount of oxygen that can be taken around the body, thus resulting in more energy overall. (22) (23)
Furthermore, ketosis also has a pleasing side-effect, when coupled with regular exercise and workouts, to essentially start burning off your body-fat as a way to create energy. (24) This is a result of the lowered sugar levels in your bloodstream. (25) The weight-loss has been shown to be pretty dramatic, though results do vary and seem to taper off. (26) As with all true weight-loss programs, this is not a miracle fix, but encourages you to alter your complete lifestyle, as it won’t work without it. As an interesting side-note, ketosis has not only been used to increase your body’s natural metabolism, but it has also been used to successfully treat epilepsy, because ketones provide more oxygen for the brain which soothes epileptic symptoms. (27) (28)
Counting calories and carbs
Many people hate the fact that a diet always requires them to count their calorie- or carbohydrate intake, but unless you need to do this for some sort of an emergency reason, you can literally go at your own pace. The trick is to lower the amount of carbohydrates, and therefore sugar intake in your body. In practice this works very simply: forget anything made of grains, potatoes and other high-carb foods. Eat something made from protein, a little bit of fat and mostly fruit and vegetables, as paleolithic hunter-gatherers used to do millions of years ago. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan you can replace the animal protein with other sources of protein such as nuts, beans and if you can, fish. If you really crave something like a chocolate cake or a sugary dessert, explore the possibilities of flour made from nuts (coconut, almond, walnut) or natural sweeteners from plants (stevia).
So in essence then, increasing your metabolism is nothing more than thinking about and researching how the human body was designed to eat, work and play and switching to that healthy lifestyle.