On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

The Surprising Truth About Metabolism

Will drinking cold water or eating spicy food boost metabolism? Does metabolism really slow down with age? The most common metabolism myths debunked here!

The Surprising Truth About Metabolism

Metabolism is a hot but ultimately sensitive topic since it’s highly associated with weight. However, metabolism is poorly understood and numerous metabolism myths circulating the ether make it that much more confusing. 

Fret no more, we’re here to spill the tea on the most common metabolism myths. Learn if cold drinking cold water boosts metabolism, how age affects metabolism, and so much more!

Metabolism Myth #1: Metabolism Only Deals With Calories

Many people consider metabolism only under the scope of calories and weight. In reality, metabolism encompasses all the chemical reactions within the body. From the absorption of light to the creation of usable ATP energy, metabolism accounts for:

• Body temperature regulation
• Hormone production
• Fluid balance
• Circadian rhythm 
• …and so much more! (If it’s a function of the body, it’s likely related to metabolism in one way or another.)

Furthermore, while basic or resting metabolic rate technically accounts for the minimum amount of calories one needs to simply survive, it’s much more nuanced than that. Stress, sleep, diet, exercise, mental health, and comorbidities can alter metabolism and change caloric needs despite what a prediction equation or even machine spits out. 

Metabolism Myth #2: Metabolism Substantially Slows with Age

If asked what happens to your metabolism as you age, most people would respond that it naturally slows down and experience weight gain. While this is common because of decreased activity levels and losing muscle mass, a slowed metabolism is avoidable. In fact, many who reclaim their health finds their metabolism is higher at 40 than it was at age 20!

The hard and hot truth is that a slow metabolism is more related to poor lifestyle habits than to inevitability. Men and women, middle-aged or not, can maintain high metabolisms throughout their entire life by:

• Eating balanced, wholesome meals consistently
Exercising regularly, especially when prioritizing strength training
• Getting enough sleep
• Managing stress

Overall, the natural aging process may slow overall metabolism slightly but not enough to meaningfully affect the quality of life. 

Metabolism Myth #3: Metabolism Is Genetically Determined and Static

Unfortunately, many people don’t want to take responsibility for their health or quality of life and therefore blame sluggish metabolisms on genetics. Moreover, many people think that metabolism is static when it’s actually a very malleable physiological concept.

Indeed, genetics provide the predisposition or blueprint for metabolism and weight ranges to a much larger extent. However, environmental factors and lifestyle habits load the gun and pull the trigger so to speak. Meaning, that no matter the genes you are provided with, it’s always within your scope and ability to improve metabolic function. 

Solid starting places include:

1. Consistently eating balanced meals of high-quality carbs, protein and fat
2. Regularly exercising and including resistance training
3. Regulating circadian rhythm and getting enough high-quality sleep
4. Drinking enough water and getting enough minerals
5. Consuming enough sunshine and connecting with the earth (hello photons and electrons that literally drive metabolism!)
6. Maintaining meaningful relationships
7. Having a spiritual practice or developing a higher meaning

Metabolism Myth #4: Drinking Cold Water Boosts Metabolism

Oh, the infamous cold water metabolism myth. A majority of people drink cold water daily, so if chilly H20 was a real solution for improving metabolic health, there would be a lot less metabolic dysfunction in the world. Alas, there is not.

In fact, drinking cold water is known to disrupt digestion! Despite common belief, it does not magically make cells more efficient and tends to make them less so because cells thrive within a small temperature range. For this reason, cells can have a harder time producing digestive juices, which creates nutrient malabsorption problems and can lead to digestive upset like bloating and gas.

Drinking lukewarm water is actually most metabolically sound, though it might take some time to get used to. 

Another pointer on fluids - avoid drinking water 30 min before and after meals to optimize digestive juices and maximize nutrient absorption (aka metabolism). You are not what you eat, you are what you absorb!

It should be noted that submerging in frigid water whether through ice bath, cold showers, or jumping into tundras is known to increase brown fat, which is highly metabolically active. Practicing the Wim Hof method and/or regularly taking cold showers is one way to meaningfully improve metabolism. 

Metabolism Myth #5: Eating Spicy Foods Increase Metabolism

Spicy foods contain a compound called capsaicin that may temporarily increase body heat and thus metabolism. However, the effects are so small that it is hardly meaningful for the big picture. 

Green tea and caffeine are also known to elicit comparable benefits as capsaicin, Similarly, though the effects are hardly consequential for more than a few minutes.

Humans want to reduce metabolic solutions to one or two concepts because that’s easy. However, affecting metabolism in any substantial way involves intention, dedication, accountability and sound knowledge. It’s not as simple as “add this one thing” or “remove this other thing.” 

Metabolism is a synergistic effort and sustainable, effective metabolic solutions require that same synergy.

Metabolism Myth #6: Carbohydrates Slow Metabolism

Will carbs ever stop being vilified? We can’t say for sure, but one thing is certain - carbs don’t inherently slow metabolism. 

Screaming from the top of the highest mountain, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source! Say it again.

Cells literally want to be able to use carbs as fuel. It’s efficient and how the body was intended to function. As has been the theme throughout the article, poor lifestyle factors - like lack of movement and high refined sugar intake - can create a physiologic environment where the body has a decreased ability to burn carbs. In other words, this is known as insulin resistance.

If someone is insulin resistant, they’ll have a harder time regulating blood sugar and glucose won’t be able to get into cells. This causes metabolic disruption, generally in the form of slowing. However, improving blood sugar management and insulin resistance can restore metabolism and the utilization of carbohydrates.

Note that a certain amount of carbohydrates are needed for proper hormone production, which is why insulin resistance typically leads to a slew of additional hormone imbalances (PCOS we’re looking at you). Thus, it’s preferential to consume adequate carbs to keep metabolism high and hormone production in check.

Metabolism Myth #7: The Thyroid is Always to Blame

Known as the regulator of metabolism, the thyroid is certainly important. However, it’s still not the entire picture. Nearly every organ and system has regulators above itself and the thyroid is no different.

For example, the pituitary gland regulates thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) by telling the thyroid to produce more or less accordingly. And for reference, low TSH is related to hyperthyroidism whereas high TSH is correlated with hypothyroidism. Note there is much more nuance than this, which is why a full thyroid panel is necessary to analyze function properly.

Nonetheless, there is always a root cause of thyroid dysfunction. Whether it’s a regulatory problem or a nutrient deficiency, the thyroid alone isn’t to blame. 

Although rarely discussed in mainstream wellness, mineral deficiencies and imbalances most often contribute to impaired thyroid and metabolic dysfunction. Of all the metabolic solutions out there, beginning with the deepest root is the most effective. In the case of metabolism, that lies within our precious minerals. 

There is some real hot food for thought!