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What is Metabolism?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The term metabolism, derived from the Greek language, simply means change or transformation. It relates to various processes within the body that convert food and other substances into energy and other metabolic byproducts used by the body. It is a necessary function that allows our bodies to use food and other resources to maintain the working parts, repair damage, heal injury and rid the body of toxins. In other words, metabolism is a necessary process, without which living organisms would die.

Metabolism aids in digestive function as well as absorption of nutrients. It is most affected by nutrition, hydration and physical activity. Each of these items is an imperative aspect of optimum metabolic health. When any one of these is lacking, the metabolic rate decreases. Consequently, weight loss and weight maintenance are directly related to healthy metabolism.

While lowering your calorie and fat intake may be important parts of weight loss, both decrease your metabolism. It is therefore essential to stimulate the metabolic rate through other means such as routine physical activity. It is not a good idea to skip meals or to reduce calories by an extreme amount, since decreased metabolism causes the body to burn fewer calories and less fat. It may also cause your body to store excess fat in reserve.

Metabolism is also the process the body uses to break down chemicals such as drugs. When you take medication, your body employs catabolic metabolism, to break down larger molecules into smaller ones that can be more readily absorbed. Anabolic metabolism is the opposite of catabolic. It uses enzymes to structure larger molecules from smaller ones.

Metabolism is an issue in regard to other substances such as nicotine. Nicotine tends to increase the metabolic rate, which is one of the reasons some people gain weight when they quit smoking. However, by stimulating the metabolic rate through other methods, weight gain may not be a threat. Quitting smoking is best for you, so look for other ways to increase your metabolism.

The body utilizes the many complex processes that make up metabolism to facilitate physical function, assist growth, aid in healing and in essence, support life.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon356599 — On Nov 26, 2013

Can anyone tell me a simpler definition of catabolic and anabolic metabolism, please?

By anon257664 — On Mar 28, 2012

Thank you for this information. I was trying to reduce my body fat by applying the method of starvation, up to three days. I saw a quick decrease in my weight, but I thought I was doing the right thing until I saw this. I am so desperate that I can barely lose my body fat. If there is any other method please tell me. I would be so grateful.

By anon166717 — On Apr 09, 2011

I am a 15 year old girl. I'm a slim girl and my metabolism is faster. How can you advice me on how to slow down my metabolism? and how to gain weight quickly? What are the foods I should eat to gain weight? Thanks!

By anon151175 — On Feb 09, 2011

If you want to burn fat up to nine times faster, do something called HIIT (High intensity interval training). It's a new concept out there that is proven to be effective. Look it up and do your own research to find out its benefits.

When you look into this topic, you will think as if god came alive on this page. Science Beats god. Check it out though.

By anon140880 — On Jan 08, 2011

I am 27 and weigh 157 lb. I do workouts but how can I know my metabolism rate is high or low. Instead of nicotine, are there any products which increase metabolism. Please let me know.

By anon82712 — On May 07, 2010

To the two young ladies who state they aren't overweight, but don't have flat stomachs: core exercises are probably your best bet. Dieting will not target specific areas.

To anon27376, who wants to gain weight: building muscles is great advice, but also try eating plenty of peanut butter, eggs and bananas, if you don't have any allergies to them. Lots of potassium and protein will help to build up those muscles and therefore gain the weight. Good luck to all!

By anon76981 — On Apr 12, 2010

I am 5'3 normal weight but don't have a flat stomach. i need help fast.

By anon75100 — On Apr 05, 2010

i am a 15 year old female and i'm not really fat -- i just have a stomach. i have been trying too lose at least 10 pounds for a while. can someone help me, and FAST?

By anon40502 — On Aug 09, 2009

Anon, about your high metabolism. Being a teenager, some gentlemen such as you and I sometimes have a really high metabolism. I have trouble gaining weight, and in rare occasions, keeping my weight. I know, some people would find that a dream come true... Not really. But besides that, if you would like to gain weight I would recommend working out or doing something to gain muscle, as muscle weighs more than fat. I'm no doctor, but that's just a recommendation

By anon27376 — On Feb 27, 2009

Hmm well i've got a really high metabolism and i'm 16 and i only weight 7 stone and 9 pounds and i'm 5'10". i eat loads of food, fruit and junk food. and i can't seem to gain any weight. any advice?

By bridgette — On Oct 20, 2008

if my TSH was initially 54.49, is that close to the coma state? Also, I am currently on levoxyl 125 mg twice a day. Isn't that considered a lot? I have a lot of muscle spasms, insomnia, arthritic pain to name a few.. is this from the meds?

By anon12447 — On May 06, 2008


I have heard that people eating wheat do not tend to have increased sugar levels and related problems in the body but those eating Rice do have problems. So, i have heard sometimes doctors recommend not to eat rice to people suffering from high sugar and cholesterol problem. So, my question is does Wheat or rice being taken in body related to the metabolism of the body?

Thanks, Roberts

By ostrich — On Mar 30, 2008

None of those contraptions that promise to increase your metabolism by increasing your body heat work, by the way. I don't think any of the pills or vitamins that say they will increase metabolism work either. Pretty much the only way to do it is the hard way - exercise and eating right.

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