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Metabolism Myths vs. Reality: What Actually Boosts the Metabolism

October 06, 2019

When we think of metabolism, weight loss is the first thing that often comes to mind. That’s because we hear so many advertisers talk about diet pills and powders that claim to speed up metabolism, and help people lose weight. 

Taking a pill or eating certain foods to boost metabolism can sound like a promising and easy way to promote weight loss. However, many of these claims turn out too good to be true. How do we separate metabolism truth from myth? Read on to learn about what the metabolism really is, and clear up some metabolism truths and myths regarding weight loss.

Understanding Metabolism

According to an article entitled Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories, experts define metabolism as the process of converting what you eat and drink into energy. Metabolism for weight loss involves three things:

  • Resting metabolic rate (RMR), or calories burned at rest and calories burned during basic bodily processes.
  • Thermogenesis, or the calories burned during digestion, absorption, transport, and storage of the food you consume.
  • Physical activity.

Therefore, metabolism can vary greatly between individuals, depending on these factors.

The Real Relationship Between Metabolism And Weight Loss

Although many people equate metabolism with body weight, it’s not the only factor in weight management. Other factors like genetics, hormones, sleep, stress, and physical activity can impact body weight. Also, muscle burns more calories than fat tissue. Therefore, those with more muscle mass burn more calories, and in turn have a higher metabolism.

Factors That Impact Metabolism

Sleep

Dr. Woodson Merrell of Psychology Today Online reports that those who sleep less lose more muscle. As we mentioned before, less muscle mass means lower metabolism. Therefore, sleeping at least 8.5 hours each night can help you achieve optimal metabolic health benefits.

Stress

Another lifestyle factor that can impact metabolism is stress. Many of us experience stress every day caused by all kinds of things from traffic jams to work issues to financial strain and relationship trouble. Such stress, left unmanaged over time, can lead to a negative impact on glucose metabolism. Researchers report that stress-induced mental health conditions like depression are directly linked to abnormal glucose metabolism. This abnormal glucose metabolism can in turn increase risk of related conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Hormones

Finally, it’s important to understand that hormones can impact metabolism. For example, a 2018 study showed that dysfunction of thyroid hormones can impact lipid metabolism. In fact, those with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) are also at a higher risk for elevated blood fats, cholesterol, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because of this.

Top Metabolism Facts and Fiction 

Now that you know a bit about what metabolism is and what can impact metabolism, let’s look at some common metabolism assumptions. Read below to find out which are true, and which are myths.

Claim: Eating Peppers Can Boost Metabolism

True and False. Although the compound in hot peppers called capsaicin can boost metabolism a little, it’s not enough to make a significant difference. A 2017 study review by Zheng and colleagues reports that consuming 6 milligrams of capsaicin daily for 12 weeks results in 0.9 kilograms body weight lost. This was only 0.4 kilograms more than a placebo. This same report did show that capsaicin has significant antioxidant properties though. Therefore, although hot peppers won’t be the magic pill to boost metabolism, it may still be worth it to add some to your diet to boost your antioxidant intake.

Claim: Eating at Night Can Slow Down Your Metabolism

False. The experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics report that there is little evidence to support weight gain caused by eating after 8 p.m. However, they suggest that snacking mindlessly during this time could lead to overall increased calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain. Some studies demonstrate that those who consumed food at night may have a higher risk of increased body fat and body mass index. However, researchers do not yet fully understand the effects of night eating on metabolism. If you do eat at night, try to make more mindful choices like baby carrots instead of chips, or fiber-rich fruits instead of sugary snacks for your sweet tooth.

Claim: Metabolism Will Slow Down As You Age 

True and False. Your metabolism will slow as your body ages, but it’s not necessarily due to getting older. According to an article published last April in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the slowing of metabolism as you age is due to the loss of lean muscle mass that often accompanies aging. This in turn, can slow down your metabolism. However, you can delay or prevent muscle loss by adding resistance and strength training exercises at least twice weekly to your exercise routine. A 2018 study by Miller and colleagues showed that resistance training exercises can help increase levels of lean muscle mass. 

Claim: Consuming a Very-low Calorie Diet Can Jumpstart Your Metabolism

False. A 2018 study by Gomez-Arbelaez and colleagues shows that a very low-calorie diet did not significantly decrease or increase metabolism. Also, a 2017 study by Benton and Young reports that a very low-calorie diet will only have a short-term influence on weight loss. Over the long-term, they suggest that metabolic rate will slow down as a result of such low-calorie intake and in turn could lead to increased calorie intake and weight gain. 

Claim: Thin People Have Higher Metabolism Than Overweight People

False. Dr. Donald Hensrud from the Mayo Clinic reported in a February 21, 2019 article that people who weigh more are likely to burn more calories at rest than thinner individuals. This is because a portion of body weight is muscle, which as mentioned before, burns more calories than fat. So, in many cases, those who are thinner will have to consume fewer calories to maintain their weight than those who are overweight.

Claim: Exercise Can Boost Your Metabolism 

True. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, physical activity is an important factor in determining how many calories you burn each day. And since strength training and resistance exercises help build and maintain lean muscle mass, they can help preserve and boost metabolism.

Claim: Green Tea Can Boost Metabolism

True and False. A 2012 study by Cardoso and colleagues shows that green tea alone actually decreased resting metabolic rate. But when combined with resistance training, it helped boost metabolism compared to resistance training alone. This study shows that if green tea had any impact on metabolism, it was likely very small. Therefore, don’t rely on green tea for a significant metabolic boost. However, green tea does contain antioxidants like catechins that can reduce inflammation in the body. So, you can still reap health benefits from drinking green tea daily.

Claim: Drinking Alcohol Can Slow Metabolism

True. A 2019 report explained that the liver is responsible for fat metabolism and detoxification. When you consume alcohol, the liver stops breaking down fat and focuses on expelling the alcohol from your body. As a result, you lose precious fat-burning hours. In fact, Dr. Timothy Legg of Medical News Today, in the article How The Body Processes Alcohol explains that it takes the liver about one hour to process one ounce of alcohol. During this time, fat-burning decreases significantly.

Claim: Cooler Temperatures Can Boost Metabolism

True. A 2014 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Matters article reported that cooler temperature exposure for one month can increase metabolism. It does this by increasing brown fat in the body, which in turn boosts metabolism. A 2018 study confirms this finding, but further studies are required to confirm the exact role that cooler temperatures play in metabolism. 

Claim: Eating Multiple Small Meals Daily Can Boost Metabolism 

False. Experts at the U.S. National Library of Medicine report that there is very little evidence to support the theory that frequent small meals throughout the day boosts metabolism. However, this method of eating small healthy meals frequently may help you feel satisfied throughout the day and could prevent unhealthy snacking, which could result in better weight management.

Bottom Line

Metabolism is well known for its connection to weight loss, but its functions go far beyond weight management. The breaking down of nutrients into energy is vital to providing the fuel you need to get through the day. Hopefully the information above has helped clear up some metabolism confusion, and given you the tools you need to stay on the top of your metabolic game.

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