Obesity and Metabolism


Obesity and Metabolism

What is metabolism?

The process your body uses to convert food and beverages into energy is called metabolism. We use energy constantly – when awake or asleep -  for brain function, blood circulation, breathing, repairing cells, and all physical activity. 

What is basal metabolic rate?

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is what people mean when they say they have a “fast” or “slow” metabolism. Your BMR is the rate at which your body uses energy. People who are overweight or have more muscle mass burn more calories than thinner or less muscular people. Their BMR is likely to be fast because part of their extra weight is muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat.

BMR is determined by your:

  • Age: Muscle mass decreases as you age, which can slow your BMR.
  • Body type: If you have a large body because you’re overweight or have extra muscle mass, you’ll burn more calories than a small body type, even while sleeping. This increases your BMR.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to have less body fat and more muscle than women of the same weight, giving them a faster BMR.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that increases your risk of developing serious health problems, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. You may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you have at least three of these conditions:

  • Extra fat around your waist that causes a waist measurement of more than 40-inches for men, or more than 35 inches for women
  • High cholesterol levels: triglyceride (blood fat) levels over 150
  • Low HDL cholesterol levels: less than 50 for women; less than 40 for men
  • High blood pressure: higher than 130/85
  • High glucose (blood sugar): over 110


What causes metabolic syndrome?

Many factors contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome, but insulin resistance is the underlying cause. Insulin resistance means the body isn’t using enough insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose). Because the body isn’t able to use the glucose, glucose levels rise. The body produces more insulin in an effort to lower glucose.

Insulin resistance is closely linked to eating an unhealthy diet and not getting enough physical activity. Both of these behaviors will increase your weight.

At least 44% of Americans over age 50 have this dangerous syndrome, but most are unaware of it. It’s becoming an increasingly common health problem for people in their mid-30s, especially men.

What are the risks for metabolic syndrome?

You’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome if you have these risk factors:

  • Aging increases risk
  • Obesity, especially extra fat in the waist area
  • Having type 2 diabetes or having a close family member with diabetes, or having gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • Having sleep apnea, liver disease, or polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Ethnicity: Hispanic women have the greatest risk

Does a slow metabolism cause obesity?

A “slow” metabolism is very rare and it does not cause obesity. Obesity happens when you eat more calories than your body burns as energy. The extra calories are stored as fat.

The complex factors that contribute to weight gain include:

  • Eating and drinking too many calories
  • Not getting enough daily physical activity
  • Heredity, plus the eating habits you learned at home
  • Certain medications
  • An unhealthy lifestyle, including inadequate sleep and unrelieved stress

How does obesity affect metabolism?

Obesity causes numerous effects on the body, both direct and indirect, that can cause dysfunction in many organs and tissues. These complex  effects vary by age, overall health, and many other factors.

Obesity affects metabolism by:

  • Causing inflammation and metabolic syndrome. These two conditions can also cause a wide variety of complications such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, liver disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and other problems.
  • Changing how muscles work and causing physical limitations or disabilities related to strength, mobility, and balance.
  • Causing brain reactions, including cognitive function decline, dementia, anxiety, depression, and cerebrovascular disease.

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What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?

Many of the health problems caused by metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure or elevated total cholesterol, don’t have symptoms. One symptom you will notice is an expanding waistline. You may also notice the early symptoms of diabetes: increased thirst and urination, fatigue, or blurred vision.


How is metabolism checked?

Your doctor can check your metabolism with a basic metabolic panel (BMP) blood test. A BMP measures glucose, calcium, kidney function, and other potential markers.

Your doctor may also check for other conditions that can cause problems with metabolism and weight, such as underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), Cushing syndrome, or polycystic ovary syndrome.


Can metabolic syndrome be treated?

You can begin treating metabolic syndrome immediately by committing to a healthier lifestyle. Focus first on improving your diet and increasing physical activity.

  • Healthy diets include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lower-fat dairy products. Start reducing saturated fats and salt. Three daily servings of whole grains can improve how your body uses insulin, reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome. Whole-grain foods, along with fruits and vegetables, are slowly absorbed by the body and help regulate insulin use.
  • Regular physical activity, along with weight loss, can improve how your body uses insulin and reduce blood pressure. Exercise helps burn fat and lose weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week that includes aerobic and strength-building.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit or reduce alcohol and smoking.
  • Treat diabetes by keeping your glucose under control. Follow your doctor’s instructions on taking diabetes medications and regular glucose testing.

It’s important to have doctors you trust to help improve your metabolic health. At Inland Endocrine, we specialize in evaluating and treating diseases caused by endocrine gland issues such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.


Mayo Clinic. 2019. Weight Loss. Retrieved June 23, 2021, {https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/slow-metabolism/faq-20058480}
Mayo Clinic. 2021. Metabolic Syndrome. Retrieved June 23, 2021, {https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916}
Zelman, K.M. (n.d.) Metabolic Syndrome: The Silent Epidemic. WebMD. Retrieved June 23, 2021, {https://www.webmd.com/heart/metabolic-syndrome/features/metabolic-syndrome-the-silent-epidemic}
Uranga, R.M., Keller, J.N., 2019. The Complex Interactions Between Obesity, Metabolism and the Brain. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Retrieved June 24, 2021, {https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6542999/
Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Blood Tests: How’s Your Metabolism? A BMP Can Tell You. Health Essentials. Retrieved June 23, 2021, {https://health.clevelandclinic.org/hows-your-metabolism-a-simple-blood-test-can-tell/}


Medically reviewed by:

Stuart Seigel, MD

Dr. Seigel is a board certified Endocrinologist. He completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2011 and 2013.

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