When something is wrong with your health, it can be hard to pinpoint the source of your issues, especially when you have multiple symptoms. One area we might neglect to think about is our metabolism, or the system that converts food into energy. When your metabolism is working properly, it should hum along in the background like a computer's disk drive without you noticing much. But if it's out of whack, you may notice signs that your metabolism may be off. It might not be something we think about every day, but our metabolism is an important part of our health, fueling our body's necessary functions like energy and fatigue, your periods, or even your hair and skin health.
"Typically, when we’re talking about metabolism, you’re referring to your basal metabolic rate (BMR)," Brenna O'Malley, a registered dietitian and founder of The Wellfull, an intuitive eating coaching practice, tells Bustle. "This is the amount of energy your body uses at rest (like when you’re watching Netflix). Your BMR accounts for the majority of the energy you need throughout the day, which means [around] 65-75% of your caloric needs for the day go towards basic functions like keeping your heart pumping and lungs breathing."
And even though we talk a lot about metabolisms like it's a one and done deal, Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist, tells Bustle that everyone's metabolisms are different, so it's important to figure out what your "normal" looks like. "Genetics play a large role in metabolism. Everyone has different metabolisms and no matter what we eat or do, no two people will have the same metabolism," she tells Bustle.
Your metabolism, like everything else in your body, can be influenced by a lot of factors. "If the hormones that handle your metabolism in the thyroid are altered, due to things like illness or aging, your metabolic rate will actually underperform or overperform," says Jacqueline Stone, a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorder recovery, tells Bustle. Dysfunctional eating patterns, such as starvation, can also negatively impact your metabolism, Stone tells Bustle.
If things feel off, consider these eight signs that your metabolism could be out of whack.
1. You're Really, Really Tired
If you're tired, all the time, no matter what, it could be a sign of an underactive or slowed metabolism, Stone tells Bustle. When you have issues with your metabolism, it affects how fast your body burns food that gives you energy, especially if your metabolism slows down. When energy in your body isn’t being created fast enough, that’s when you often feel extra fatigued.
"Feeling tired, lethargic, and feeling down are all signs of a metabolism that isn’t working as well as before," Rumsey tells Bustle. "Our bodies are trying to tell us that something is wrong. If you are feeling run down, it’s most likely your body isn’t getting enough attention." Rumsey says that trying your best to get enough sleep is one way to set your metabolism back on the right track.
2. Your Moods Are Up & Down
Many of us have experienced negative moods when our hormones are changing (hello, menstrual cycle!), so we know that metabolism can play a role in our mood. Research shows that many neuropsychiatric disorders often co-occur with metabolic disturbances, and manipulating patients’ metabolism via injections of insulin can have striking effects on their mental state, according to The Scientist.
"If you aren’t eating enough, your body will slow down your metabolism in order to protect against starvation," Rumsey says. This is a case where dysfunctional eating may be having two separate effects that are two sides of the same coin: having mood swings as a result of not eating enough, could also signal that not eating enough may be affecting your metabolism.
If you aren’t eating enough, your body will slow down your metabolism in order to protect against starvation.
3. Your Period Is Irregular
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones that maintain the body's metabolism, and a symptom of a thyroid problem is irregular periods, according to the NHS. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as excessive exercise or stress can mess up both your period and your metabolism.
4. You're Feeling Depressed
Mood and psychiatric disorders are often closely tied to metabolic health, and depression could be a symptom of a slowed-down metabolism, Stone says. One study from University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences found that identifying and treating metabolic deficiencies in people with treatment-resistant depression can help improve, and sometimes even resolve, their symptoms, implying that there is a link between the two. If your depression becomes difficult to manage and you suspect it is because of irregularities with your metabolism, it is important to see both a general physician and mental health professional in order to figure out the best plan of action to help both issues.
5. You're Always Hungry
Because your metabolism regulates how what you eat is processed into energy, if your metabolism is accelerated or sped up, you might feel hungry all the time, even if you're eating and exercising as normal. "Sometimes you feel insatiable, or you're eating quite often, or you're just feeling hungry all the time," Stone says. It's worth talking to your GP about this change, especially if you haven't noticed any other changes, as it may be a sign of hyperthyroidism.
6. You're Losing Hair
Our metabolism regulates nearly all of our bodily functions, including how quickly our hair grows — and, how quickly it sheds, Stone says. One 2018 study found that people with metabolic syndrome — a collection of disorders that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and other issues that can increase your risk for heart disease or Type 2 diabetes — were at elevated risk for androgenetic alopecia, a kind of hair loss that's often seen in people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Even though the study only looked at 100 people, it suggests a connection between the hormones that govern this kind of hair loss, and those that are connected to metabolic syndrome. While losing your hair can be attributable to all kinds of factors, it's worth talking to your doctor about these or any other changes to get to the bottom of it.
7. Your Body Temperature Is Off
The metabolic processes your body uses to convert energy into food are the ones that help your body generate heat. "Our metabolism does increase when we eat because it creates heat in order to burn those calories" for energy, Stone says. So when there are constant issues with your body temperature, this is potentially a sign that points to your metabolism as the issue.
Always feeling cold is a potential effect of dysfunctional eating, as your metabolism slows down in order to prevent starvation, and thus doesn't generate the body eat you're used to. On the flip side, Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates told Bustle for a previous article on metabolism changes that always feeling hot can be a symptom of an overactive metabolism, because it's working harder than usual to create energy, aka heat.
8. You're Breaking Out
Hormone production is part of metabolism, and so drastic changes in your metabolism can become visible on your skin. And although an energy imbalance would not directly cause acne, acne is often strongly associated with other metabolic issues, like PCOS. PCOS causes androgens, or male hormones, to increase count within the body and that this can lead to other more serious hormonal issues, which can eventually lead to difficult-to-treat acne, in addition to hair loss as noted above. If you believe your metabolism issues are more severe, it’s important to see your doctor or OB/GYN in order to test for possible metabolic issues like PCOS.
9. Your Heartbeat Is Rapid Or Irregular
Another potential impact of a too-fast metabolism is a rapid or irregular heartbeat, Stone says. "If the metabolism is much faster, that's when you feel those side effects of acceleration, such as irregular or rapid heartbeat." This is, again, because the rate at which your body is converting fuel into energy is higher than what's "normal" for you.
If you suspect anything may be wrong with your metabolism, it's best to go see a doctor, who can help you come up with the correct diagnosis and possible treatment. "If you've ruled out any underlying issues that may be affecting the metabolism or thyroid, routine exercise, especially anything that builds muscle mass, and eating at regular intervals really helps to keep your metabolism in check," Stone says.
O'Malley echoes Stone and adds that hydration can help keep one's metabolism in check. "The basics might be boring but they’re what keeps your body happy and functioning optimally. Adequate sleep and managing stress through activities like meditation or yoga can also maintain your metabolism."
At the end of the day, though, it's important to know what's "normal" for your body in terms of metabolism changes and their side effects. "Nobody has the same genetics," Rumsey says. "Some naturally have a faster metabolism and some have a slower metabolism, and both are just fine."
Pan, L. A., Martin, P., Zimmer, T., Segreti, A. M., Kassiff, S., Mckain, B. W., … Vockley, J. (2017). Neurometabolic Disorders: Potentially Treatable Abnormalities in Patients With Treatment-Refractory Depression and Suicidal Behavior. American Journal of Psychiatry, 174(1), 42–50. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15111500
Dharam Kumar, K. C., Kishan Kumar, Y. H., & Neladimmanahally, V. (2018). Association of Androgenetic Alopecia with Metabolic Syndrome: A Case-control Study on 100 Patients in a Tertiary Care Hospital in South India. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 22(2), 196–199. doi:10.4103/ijem.IJEM_650_17
Brenna O'Malley, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of The Wellfull
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, Nutrition Therapist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Jacqueline Stone, MS, RD, CEDRD, LD/N, a registered dietitian and founder of Healthy Rhythm Nutrition
Additional reporting by Syeda Saad
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