Does it seem like when you hit a certain age, your metabolism is just not what it used to be? For me, I noticed a shift in my mid-30s. I doubled down on exercise and that worked, for a while.
Then another shift for me occurred around age 40 and exercise alone was no longer enough. I had to start honing my diet and that often didn’t give me the results I was hoping for.
Why is this? Why is what always worked before not working anymore?
Let’s break it down by looking at the root causes of a sluggish metabolism. Getting to the root cause, the why is always the way in functional medicine. The functional medicine approach is never the quick fix. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to be more interested in forever change than quick results that aren’t sustainable.
So . . . . . . What factors contribute to metabolism?
We are dealt a hand in life by our parents, and let’s face it, some of us were dealt an easier hand than others. However, lifestyle factors can influence what part of the gene is expressed. Your genes aren’t necessarily your destiny. This is called epigenetics. The entire gene you inherited isn’t expressed. Your lifestyle helps determine which part of the gene is expressed so you aren’t doomed even if diseases and poor health run in the family.
Also, there is the old nature vs. nurture debate. Are we like our parents because of the genes they gave us or because we adopt many of the same behaviors and eat many of the same foods they eat? I think both are true.
The bottom line is this: Your genetics aren’t your destiny. You can’t control everything, but you can control a lot. Focus on what you can control.
Making good choices when it comes to modifiable lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, sleep, mindset, and relationships) will help with favorable gene expression. For more info about these factors and how you can improve them check out my book, The Path of Intention: Five Habits to Optimize Your Health and Create a Life You Love.
2. The Thyroid & Adrenal Glands
This little butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in your neck affects your metabolism greatly. And guess what affects your thyroid greatly? Your adrenal glands are the small triangular glands that sit on top of both of your kidneys. When your body is under stress, it slows your metabolism down, on purpose. Your body does this not because it hates you, but because it is trying to protect you. The adrenals sense danger (from chronic stress) so they are helping you conserve energy for later use by purposefully slowing down your metabolism. This is great news if you are being chased by a tiger. However, it’s not such great news if your stress is your job, bills, kids, politics, laundry, etc.
The adrenals and the thyroid are in close communication with each other. When your adrenals are affected by chronic stress, you make a lot of reverse T3. This is a hormone that slows your metabolism down. The problem is that most doctors don’t check the reverse T3. They’ll check your TSH and if it’s normal, they tell you your thyroid is fine. You may have enough thyroid hormone overall, just not enough of the right kind of thyroid hormone. The reverse T3 is an emergency brake for your metabolism. A lot of it isn’t a good thing when it comes to a healthy metabolism.
The first step to fixing the thyroid is fixing the adrenals. This is our jam! Reach out and we can help!
3. The Mitochondria
Mitochondria are the powerhouse of our cells. It is in the mitochondria that your body takes fats, carbs, and proteins (the macronutrients) and converts them into energy. The reason we eat is to create energy. We need that energy to feel energetic (obviously), but we also need that energy to fuel all of the processes in our bodies. Our liver needs energy to process toxins. The brain needs energy to think clearly and process information. Our muscles need the energy to move our bodies. Our heart needs energy to pump blood throughout our body.
The pathways that occur inside the mitochondria to extract this energy from the food we eat are complex. A lot of nutrients are necessary for the body to utilize these optimal metabolic pathways. If you are deficient in just one key nutrient, the pathways can’t work like they are designed to and your body has to rely on a suboptimal metabolic pathway instead.
The food you choose to fuel your body with is super important, but it doesn’t stop there. You not only have to choose the right food, but you also have to break it down properly with your digestive system and the correct digestive enzymes, and then absorb it through the walls of a healthy gut.
On top of all of that, we have to make sure we aren’t exposed to too many toxins and that our body is equipped to process them effectively because if our toxic burden is too high, we can damage our mitochondria where all of this is taking place!
You Don’t Have to Live With A Sluggish Metabolism
If this sounds too overwhelming and dismal, I hear ya! It is a lot to take in. But the good news is: there are REASONS for a slow metabolism. While it is common for the metabolism to become super sluggish at 40 and beyond, it isn’t normal. There’s a difference. Common isn’t the same as normal.
So much has to go right to make things work as they should. Often by middle age, the accumulation of several of these problems add up over time to create a slow metabolism. It feels like it’s impossible to fix.
It seems helpless and bleak, I know. And yes, if you are looking for a fast easy fix, I don’t have it. But I do know that looking at each of these pieces of the puzzle one by one finding the imbalances and fixing them does reverse the problem. It often takes many years to develop these problems and it often takes many months to reverse them.
Finding the reason for your slow metabolism and fixing it results in forever change, not fast change. It can be done!
Give yourself grace and compassion as we figure it out and give grace and compassion to your body too–which is just trying to do the best it can with what it has been given.
If you suspect issues with your metabolism we’d love to help. This is what we do in Mitoboost. You can start today!