Metabolism is the sum of all catabolic (break down) and anabolic (synthesis) reactions in the body. The metabolic rate measures the amount of energy used to maintain life. An organism must ingest a sufficient amount of food to maintain its metabolic rate if the organism is to stay alive for very long.
Catabolic reactions break down larger molecules, such as carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins from ingested food, into their constituent smaller parts. They also include the breakdown of ATP, which releases the energy needed for metabolic processes in all cells throughout the body.
Anabolic reactions, or biosynthetic reactions, synthesize larger molecules from smaller constituent parts, using ATP as the energy source for these reactions. Anabolic reactions build bone, muscle mass, and new proteins, fats, and nucleic acids. Oxidation-reduction reactions transfer electrons across molecules by oxidizing one molecule and reducing another, and collecting the released energy to convert Pi and ADP into ATP. Errors in metabolism alter the processing of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, and can result in a number of disease states.
Metabolic enzymes catalyze catabolic reactions that break down carbohydrates contained in food. The energy released is used to power the cells and systems that make up your body. Excess or unutilized energy is stored as fat or glycogen for later use. Carbohydrate metabolism begins in the mouth, where the enzyme salivary amylase begins to break down complex sugars into monosaccharides. These can then be transported across the intestinal membrane into the bloodstream and then to body tissues. In the cells, glucose, a six-carbon sugar, is processed through a sequence of reactions into smaller sugars, and the energy stored inside the molecule is released. The first step of carbohydrate catabolism is glycolysis, which produces pyruvate, NADH, and ATP. Under anaerobic conditions, the pyruvate can be converted into lactate to keep glycolysis working. Under aerobic conditions, pyruvate enters the Krebs cycle, also called the citric acid cycle or tricarboxylic acid cycle. In addition to ATP, the Krebs cycle produces high-energy FADH2 and NADH molecules, which provide electrons to the oxidative phosphorylation process that generates more high-energy ATP molecules. For each molecule of glucose that is processed in glycolysis, a net of 36 ATPs can be created by aerobic respiration.
Under anaerobic conditions, ATP production is limited to those generated by glycolysis. While a total of four ATPs are produced by glycolysis, two are needed to begin glycolysis, so there is a net yield of two ATP molecules.
In conditions of low glucose, such as fasting, starvation, or low carbohydrate diets, glucose can be synthesized from lactate, pyruvate, glycerol, alanine, or glutamate. This process, called gluconeogenesis, is almost the reverse of glycolysis and serves to create glucose molecules for glucose-dependent organs, such as the brain, when glucose levels fall below normal.
Lipids are available to the body from three sources. They can be ingested in the diet, stored in the adipose tissue of the body, or synthesized in the liver. Fats ingested in the diet are digested in the small intestine. The triglycerides are broken down into monoglycerides and free fatty acids, then imported across the intestinal mucosa. Once across, the triglycerides are resynthesized and transported to the liver or adipose tissue. Fatty acids are oxidized through fatty acid or β-oxidation into two-carbon acetyl CoA molecules, which can then enter the Krebs cycle to generate ATP. If excess acetyl CoA is created and overloads the capacity of the Krebs cycle, the acetyl CoA can be used to synthesize ketone bodies. When glucose is limited, ketone bodies can be oxidized and used for fuel. Excess acetyl CoA generated from excess glucose or carbohydrate ingestion can be used for fatty acid synthesis or lipogenesis. Acetyl CoA is used to create lipids, triglycerides, steroid hormones, cholesterol, and bile salts. Lipolysis is the breakdown of triglycerides into glycerol and fatty acids, making them easier for the body to process.
Digestion of proteins begins in the stomach, where HCl and pepsin begin the process of breaking down proteins into their constituent amino acids. As the chyme enters the small intestine, it mixes with bicarbonate and digestive enzymes. The bicarbonate neutralizes the acidic HCl, and the digestive enzymes break down the proteins into smaller peptides and amino acids. Digestive hormones secretin and CCK are released from the small intestine to aid in digestive processes, and digestive proenzymes are released from the pancreas (trypsinogen and chymotrypsinogen). Enterokinase, an enzyme located in the wall of the small intestine, activates trypsin, which in turn activates chymotrypsin. These enzymes liberate the individual amino acids that are then transported via sodium-amino acid transporters across the intestinal wall into the cell. The amino acids are then transported into the bloodstream for dispersal to the liver and cells throughout the body to be used to create new proteins. When in excess, the amino acids are processed and stored as glucose or ketones. The nitrogen waste that is liberated in this process is converted to urea in the urea acid cycle and eliminated in the urine. In times of starvation, amino acids can be used as an energy source and processed through the Krebs cycle.
There are three main metabolic states of the body: absorptive (fed), postabsorptive (fasting), and starvation. During any given day, your metabolism switches between absorptive and postabsorptive states. Starvation states happen very rarely in generally well-nourished individuals. When the body is fed, glucose, fats, and proteins are absorbed across the intestinal membrane and enter the bloodstream and lymphatic system to be used immediately for fuel. Any excess is stored for later fasting stages. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin to stimulate the uptake of glucose by hepatocytes in the liver, muscle cells/fibers, and adipocytes (fat cells), and to promote its conversion to glycogen. As the postabsorptive state begins, glucose levels drop, and there is a corresponding drop in insulin levels. Falling glucose levels trigger the pancreas to release glucagon to turn off glycogen synthesis in the liver and stimulate its breakdown into glucose. The glucose is released into the bloodstream to serve as a fuel source for cells throughout the body. If glycogen stores are depleted during fasting, alternative sources, including fatty acids and proteins, can be metabolized and used as fuel. When the body once again enters the absorptive state after fasting, fats and proteins are digested and used to replenish fat and protein stores, whereas glucose is processed and used first to replenish the glycogen stores in the peripheral tissues, then in the liver. If the fast is not broken and starvation begins to set in, during the initial days, glucose produced from gluconeogenesis is still used by the brain and organs. After a few days, however, ketone bodies are created from fats and serve as the preferential fuel source for the heart and other organs, so that the brain can still use glucose. Once these stores are depleted, proteins will be catabolized first from the organs with fast turnover, such as the intestinal lining. Muscle will be spared to prevent the wasting of muscle tissue; however, these proteins will be used if alternative stores are not available.
Some of the energy from the food that is ingested is used to maintain the core temperature of the body. Most of the energy derived from the food is released as heat. The core temperature is kept around 36.5–37.5 °C (97.7–99.5 °F). This is tightly regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain, which senses changes in the core temperature and operates like a thermostat to increase sweating or shivering, or inducing other mechanisms to return the temperature to its normal range. The body can also gain or lose heat through mechanisms of heat exchange. Conduction transfers heat from one object to another through physical contact. Convection transfers heat to air or water. Radiation transfers heat via infrared radiation. Evaporation transfers heat as water changes state from a liquid to a gas.
Nutrition and diet affect your metabolism. More energy is required to break down fats and proteins than carbohydrates; however, all excess calories that are ingested will be stored as fat in the body. On average, a person requires 1500 to 2000 calories for normal daily activity, although routine exercise will increase that amount. If you ingest more than that, the remainder is stored for later use. Conversely, if you ingest less than that, the energy stores in your body will be depleted. Both the quantity and quality of the food you eat affect your metabolism and can affect your overall health. Eating too much or too little can result in serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Vitamins and minerals are essential parts of the diet. They are needed for the proper function of metabolic pathways in the body. Vitamins are not stored in the body, so they must be obtained from the diet or synthesized from precursors available in the diet. Minerals are also obtained from the diet, but they are also stored, primarily in skeletal tissues.