Aging and Metabolism: Keeping the Balance
What is aging? Simply put, aging is your body’s inability to regenerate itself fast enough to recover from the “wear and tear” of everyday life. We all experience aging as evidenced by thinning hair, loss of skin elasticity (wrinkles and sagging), loss of lean body tissues (decreased muscle and bone mass), slower wound healing, decreased energy levels, decreased brain function, difficulty sleeping, deterioration of organ function and increased susceptibility to degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s dementia, osteoporosis, etc.
While aging is inevitable, it is important to understand that the rate at which you age is very much within your control.
- The rate at which you age is determined by the health of your metabolism.
- Metabolic health is determined, primarily, by the balance of your various hormone systems.
- Provided all your hormone systems are intact, the state of your hormone systems is primarily determined by your nutrition and lifestyle habits.
Therefore, to slow your aging process, theoretically, all you need to do is improve your nutrition and lifestyle habits, which is what my three Schwarzbein Principle books are all about. However, this is only true provided all of your hormone systems are functioning properly so they can respond appropriately to the improvements you make. Otherwise, if one or more of your hormone systems is not functioning properly, as in the case of menopause:
- The benefits of good lifestyle habits are diminished
- The health of your other hormone systems is undermined
- You age more rapidly
- You are more likely to contract degenerative diseases at an earlier age
- You die younger
To fully understand menopause’s role in aging, you first need to understand the relationship between metabolism and hormones.
Understanding Your Metabolism
Your metabolism is the sum of all of the chemical processes that occur within your body to maintain life.
Metabolism is how your body does all of the amazing things it does – think, react, move, breathe, digest, fight off disease, etc.
Every day, cells in your body are destroyed or damaged by the wear and tear of living. And each day it is the job of your metabolism to regenerate or repair those cells.
There are two sides to your metabolism: the Building side and the using side. The building side, called anabolism, involves the building of:
- New tissues – body cells, hair, nails, skin, muscles bones etc.
- Cellular chemicals — hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies, enzymes, etc.
- Energy and energy chemicals in the form of sugar, glycogen and fats
The Using side, called catabolism, is the breaking down and consumption of the tissues, cellular chemicals, and energy stores, as needed by the body, to sustain life and perform all of its myriad functions.
In other words, your metabolism is the collective result of all of your body’s daily “building” and “using” biochemical reactions. To be healthy, these two sides must be kept in balance.
When you eat well and rest, your body turns into a building machine. When you are awake, active and doing things your body is a using machine.
To maintain peak health, your body must replace what it uses every day. In other words, your body must regenerate or repair your cells and tissues, replenish its energy stores and create new cellular chemicals to enable you to perform the tasks of daily living and to keep you alive and free from chronic diseases. A person with a healthy metabolism is capable of building at the same rate as using in order to offset the wear and tear of daily living.
If you are using more than you are building or you are building more than you are using, then you are metabolically “out of balance.”
If this imbalance persists for years, aging accelerates and you will actually damage your metabolism. When your metabolism becomes damaged, your body can no longer repair its tissues or repair and use its cellular chemicals and energy stores efficiently.
Furthermore, a damaged metabolism does not respond normally to stimuli, in other words, the way in which the body would have responded if the metabolism were healthy. For example, an overweight individual with a healthy metabolism who eats well and exercises moderately will lose fat weight and feel increased energy. In contrast, overweight individuals with a damaged metabolism will not have the same positive response. In fact, the opposite effects can occur; they may actually gain weight and feel more tired despite eating better and exercising! This is why I have been saying for years, “You don’t lose weight to get healthy; you get healthy to lose weight.
Weight loss and good energy are all that are compromised when your metabolism is damaged. All of the using and building reactions are reduced, which, over time, accelerates the downward spiral of aging that leads to degenerative diseases.
Maintaining a healthy metabolism –the ability to build and use efficiently– is the key to health and longevity. What you need to learn next is that keeping your metabolism healthy is dependent on keeping your hormone systems balanced. See: “Hormones and Their Role in Metabolism and Aging”.
To your health and happiness,
Diana Schwarzbein, MD