Is Your Slow Metabolism Actually a Metabolic Disorder?

Updated 04/25/19
Urban Outfitters

Generally speaking, beginning in preteen years, metabolism becomes a topic of conversation. A lean person with a particularly large appetite is pegged as having a high metabolic rate—like it's a skillset. Once we reach our late teens and twenties, metabolism becomes less about speculation and more about our own insecurities. If we can't shed weight, we blame our metabolism (or lack thereof). It's a tricky subject—especially since the definition of metabolism is often misunderstood. It's not an internal Bunsen burner that melts away fat, as we'd like to think; it's the process our body uses to get or make energy from the food we eat. From there, the energy is either used immediately or stored within the body. However, in some cases, the body can't properly process essential components like fats, proteins, sugars, or nucleic acids. When this happens, it's considered a metabolic disorder.

Here's the thing: There are hundreds of metabolic disorders (just caused by genetics alone)—There are also those that are brought on by a deficiency in a certain hormone or enzyme, consuming too much of certain foods, or various other factors. So perhaps you recently gained a bit of weight and can't lose it and are thinking a metabolic disorder could be to blame. Here's what you need to know.

Metabolic Disorders Don't Just Affect Your Digestive System

Your metabolism is like the engine that helps your body run properly—if there's a glitch, several areas are impacted (in some ways more than others). The good news, however, is that most metabolic disorders are rare.

Kearns-Sayre syndrome is a rare neuromuscular disorder that occurs when there are mutated mitochondria inside a patient's cells. This condition, which primarily targets the eyes, is a metabolic disorder.

Maple syrup urine disease is caused by a deficiency of an enzyme needed to break down amino acids, which then increases toxic levels in the body. This could lead to brain and nerve damage. This is also a metabolic disorder.

Diabetes is the Most Common Metabolic Disease

The body's inability to properly metabolize essential substances could lead to diseases like diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, T cells attack and kill beta cells in the pancreas—these cells are responsible for producing insulin. When insulin resistance occurs (in conjunction with obesity), glucose levels in the blood rise, which is why diabetes is often referred to as metabolic syndrome.

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How to Diagnose and Treat

Because there are so many different kinds of metabolic disorders, it's hard to pinpoint the symptoms you should look out for. However, if you're exhibiting the signs of certain metabolic maladies, your doctor will likely conduct a blood or DNA test. From there, treatment will depend on the type of disorder; for example, for metabolic syndrome, your doctor will likely encourage you to change your diet, exercise, and stop smoking. Contact your physician immediately if you notice suspicious changes within your body, whether they end up being a metabolic disorder or not.

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