According to News Medical Life Sciences, metabolism refers to all life-sustaining chemical reactions found in living organisms (16). Metabolic processes in the body are responsible for various tasks such as converting food to energy, regulating body temperature, controlling your energy levels, and eliminating metabolic wastes (11). With that in mind, what is slow metabolism, and is it dangerous?
Even at rest, the body still burns food into energy for normal metabolic processes such as breathing, cell repair, and digesting food (10). The minimum amount of energy needed to carry out these chemical processes is referred to as the basal metabolic rate (BMR), or metabolism. In other words, BMR is the total amount of energy required by an individual at rest in a neutral environment. This should be measured after the digestive system has been inactive for about 12 hours or estimated as the number of calories you need to accomplish most basic life-sustaining functions while at rest (5).
Understanding Slow Metabolism Symptoms
BMR is influenced by a number of factors such as genes, age, sex, diet, and body size (8) (13). For instance, according to the MayoClinic, the more muscles you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest (13). Younger people typically have a higher BMR because they tend to have more muscle than the elderly. Men tend to have more muscle than women of the same age and weight, and as such burn more calories (13). Metabolism works at different intensities (often referred to as fast, slow, or average) in different individuals. According to Harvard Health Publishing, how fast your metabolism works is in most cases determined by your genes (15).
What Is Slow Metabolism?
Now that you know what metabolism is, you are in a better position to understand slow BMR. A slow metabolism means that fewer calories are burnt than in comparison to the norm (15). What is my BMR? The BMR formula for men and women, according to Diabetes.co.uk, is (6):
- BMR for Women = 655.1 + (9.563 * weight [kg]) + (1.85 * size [cm]) − (4.676 * age [years]). For example, if you are a 20 year old weighing 80 kilograms and your height is 180 cm, your BMR will be about 1660 calories a day.
- BMR for Men = 66.47 + (13.75 * weight [kg]) + (5.003 * size [cm]) − (6.755 * age [years]). For example, if you are a 20 year old weighing 80 kilograms and your height is 180 cm, your BMR will be about 1931.91 calories a day.
This means that if your BMR is significantly less than the result given by the above formula, you have a slow metabolism, and if it is significantly more, your metabolism is high.
Causes Of Slow Metabolism
What makes metabolism slow down? Although men are less prone to slow metabolism, some factors can catalyze the symptoms of a slow metabolism. In men, for instance, this could be lack of exercise. Here are the typical causes of slow metabolism in both men and women (3):
- Health issues such as low thyroid activity or hypothyroidism
- Medicines especially antidepressants
- Unhealthy low-carb, very strict diets, or high-fat diets: Cutting out too many macronutrients from your weight loss diet may put the body into starvation mode, which may cause the body to slow metabolism down to keep running the essential operations.
- Chronic stress, lack of sleep, and being nocturnal
- Aging: The older you get, the slower the metabolism
- Insufficient calcium, taking non-iodized salt, and switching to decaf
- High-temperature settings in your environment and dehydration
- Little physical activity or too much exercise with little movement for longer periods because too much rest may make it difficult for the body to burn excess nutrients.
Symptoms That Your Metabolism Is Slow
What are the symptoms of slow metabolism? People can face symptoms of slow metabolism rate due to underlying medical conditions and lifestyle habits, among other reasons mentioned above. It may be difficult to tell when your body is experiencing a slow metabolism, but if you look close enough, you may notice a few signs and symptoms that precede a slow metabolism. Here are some signs that your metabolism is below normal.
Weight Gain And Loss
If you face extreme challenges while trying to lose weight despite putting a lot of effort into dieting, subjecting your body to a strength training plan or vigorous physical activities, or even carefully watching the calories you consume, you might be having slow metabolism. You may also gain weight much more quickly because the calorie-burn estimators assume that you have an average metabolism, therefore may overestimate your calorie requirements by up to 10% (14). As a result of a slow metabolism, you may take in more energy than you need, and the body stores the excess energy as fat.
That said, note that slow metabolism is not the main cause of weight gain. Poor eating habits and lifestyle choices can also contribute greatly to your weight gain.
Cold Hands And Feet
Low thyroid hormone levels, hypothyroidism, may slow down metabolism and decrease energy. An underactive thyroid may hinder the body from creating energy, and the decrease in the amount of heat your body produces is what is making you feel cold. Having cold feet, hands, or ears even when the surrounding is warm may be an indication that your body has a slow metabolism (9).
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General Body Weakness
The body’s immune system acts as natural protection against viruses and bacteria. Your immunity can be affected by the change in metabolism since your body converts food into nutrients for your organs and the immune system. However, when your body gets slow at converting the food to nutrients, you may be more susceptible to illness.
Fluid buildup around the muscles and joints may also occur due to slow metabolism. It causes general body weakness, excessive tiredness, stiffness around the neck and joints, and sometimes chronic pain.
Difficulty In Concentrating
The brain is the most powerful organ in the body as it controls all the other organs. Your brain lives off the nutrients your body receives from what you eat. The possibility of a sluggish metabolism might affect your normal brain function, concentration, and alertness.
Slow metabolism due to Cushing’s syndrome (too much of a stress hormone cortisol) may result in purple marks like stretch marks on the skin (14). The purple marks may be accompanied by excessive growth of body hair or irregular menstrual periods in women.
Other signs include (9):
- Constipation or poor gut health
- Slow movements, thought, and speech
- The sensation of pins and needles
- Breathlessness, dizziness, and palpitations
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Low basal temperature
- Loss of libido
- Dry or gritty eyes and a hoarse voice
- Slow growing nails
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hair loss and faded edges of the eyebrows
- Feeling lethargic or depressed.
Note: In older people slow metabolism signs and symptoms develop gradually because the muscle mass tends to decline as one ages, unless they visit the gym frequently. As one grows older, the metabolism reduces due to normal loss of muscle mass and increase in fat mass (12). However, some researchers believe that slow metabolism in older people is higher due to unavoidable loss of metabolically active organ tissue (12). This decline appears to be more rapid to adult men approaching their 40s and to women in their 50s, with the number of calories burned per day decreasing with an increase in age (12).
Ways To Rev Up Your Metabolism
Wondering how to speed up metabolism? Besides saving you from the symptoms mentioned above, a healthy metabolic rate bears several advantages, including aiding weight loss since the more calories you burn, the easier it gets to lose weight. A person with a high metabolism is considered at an advantage since his/her body produces sufficient energy for large and small tasks. Remember that you may not have a choice over your metabolic rate, especially if it is slow because of your genes (3). What you can control is the number of calories you burn through your level of activity or healthy lifestyle changes. The more active you are, the more calories you burn. Here is how to speed up metabolism:
Eat Plenty Of Proteins
One of the easiest ways to raise your metabolism is by adding high-protein foods to your diet. Remember, protein aids in building muscles, which in turn burns more calories. According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition & Metabolism, digestion of protein takes more energy than carbohydrate or fat, so eating more protein (but the same total number of calories) should increase the number of calories you burn in a day (4).
Drink Plenty Of Water
People who drink plenty of water in a day are likely to have a higher metabolic rate than people who drink sugary beverages like soda (2). Sugary drinks contain more calories than water, so when you shift your drinking habits to make room for drinking water, you reduce your calorie intake and better process these calories. One publication from East Central College reports that studies have shown that drinking 0.5 liters of water increases resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour, and the effect may be even greater if you drink cold water because the body uses energy to heat it up to body temperature (1).
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Hit The Gym
Some people with a slow metabolism have difficulty with gaining weight and this may very well be because they exercise frequently. Therefore, if your metabolic rate is slow genetically, then engage in more physical activity to avoid weight gain. Building muscle may help speed up one’s metabolism (2). Muscle tissue is considered more metabolically active than fats and takes more energy to maintain, therefore more muscle means more calories burned every day. Lifting weights may help you retain muscle mass. You can also engage in high-intensity training or aerobics to help you burn more fat, even after you are done with your workout sessions. Simple activities such as running, jogging, walking to the mall, cycling, and swimming are excellent ways to keep you active throughout the day, help build muscle, and improve circulation, therefore boost metabolism.
Speeding Up Your Metabolism With Beverages
Certain foods and drinks might help boost your metabolism (2). For instance, beverages such as green tea, coffee, energy drinks, and spices may help raise your metabolism. The only problem is that these drinks are not effective long-term solutions; with this in mind, they should not be your regular option for speeding up metabolic rate.
Slow metabolism symptoms are a sign that you need to do something to speed up your metabolism. Therefore, you should consider undertaking activities that keep your metabolic rate at a healthy level, whether you are trying to lose weight or not. It is important to talk to your doctor any time you notice signs that your metabolism is slowing down, and they will advise you on how to boost metabolism.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 10 Easy Ways To Boost Your Metabolism (Backed by Science) (n.d, eastcentral.edu)
- 10 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism (2019, webmd.com)
- 15 Things That Slow Your Metabolism (2020, webmd.com)
- A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Basal Metabolic Rate (n.d, sciencedirect.com)
- BMR Calculator (2019, diabetes.co.uk)
- Digestion vs. Metabolism (2013, health.usnews.com)
- FACTORS AFFECTING BASAL METABOLISM (1936, jamanetwork.com)
- From insomnia to cold hands and feet: The major signs of a slow metabolism – and how you can fix it (n.d, dailymail.co.uk)
- How can I speed up my metabolism?(2020, nhs.uk)
- Is a slow metabolism the reason I’m overweight? (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Is it true that metabolism decreases with age? (2012,acefitness.org)
- Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Symptoms of a Slow Metabolism (n.d, livestrong.com)
- The truth about metabolism (2021, health.harvard.edu)
- What is Metabolism? (2021, news-medical.net)