How Metabolism Affects the Aging Process

There is a close connection between metabolism and the aging process. As we grow older, our metabolism slows down and it becomes easier to put on excess weight. Research has found that obesity, which is an indicator of poor metabolic health, has the same effect on the body and its cells as premature aging processes. Besides obesity, people with poor metabolic health are more prone to diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and other old-age diseases. Read on to understand the role of diet and metabolism in the aging process.

What is Metabolism?

Metabolism is the process by which the body converts what we eat and drink into energy. Calories in food and beverages combine with oxygen to release energy necessary for body functions. Even at rest, our body needs energy for functions such as breathing, circulating blood, and cell growth and repair.

The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body uses to carry out the basic functions. A person’s BMR is determined by factors such as sex, age, body size, and composition. As we grow older, the muscle mass tends to decrease with fat accounting for more of the body weight. This, in turn, slows down calorie burning.

The speed of metabolism is influenced by the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), exercise, and Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). The RMR is the number of calories you burn while resting. It is the least amount needed for basic body functioning. TEF is the number of calories you burn through digesting and absorbing food, while NEAT is the count of calories burnt through non-exercise activities.

Metabolism and Aging

A defining characteristic of aging is the gradual loss of physiological integrity, resulting in increased vulnerability to diseases, and even death. A low metabolic rate can cause an excess of visceral fat tissue, which could potentially shorten life expectancy and increase the risk of age-related diseases.

The RMR is mostly driven by two cellular components: sodium-potassium pumps, and mitochondria. Sodium-potassium pumps help in nerve impulse generation and muscle and heart contractions. Mitochondria is responsible for creating energy for the cells.

As we age, these two vital components lose their efficiency, leading to a slow metabolism. A study to compare changes in mitochondria between younger and older adults found that older adults had 20% fewer mitochondria. This means less energy production hence a low metabolic rate.

Scientists agree that damage from free radicals is the leading cause of age-related degeneration. A vast majority of these free radicals are generated by the body’s metabolism as an unavoidable byproduct. The rate of the generation increases greatly with age since the body’s metabolism is also gradually damaged by the same radicals they created.

The skin’s two major proteins responsible for keeping the skin youthful, collagen and elastin, degrade over time. The body’s natural antioxidant-fighting capabilities can get overwhelmed by free radicals containing oxygen. These free radicals damage the two proteins, causing a structural and functional imbalance in the skin cells. Exposure to ultraviolet rays and an unhealthy diet generates more free radicals, causing further skin damage.

Healthy Diet For Combating Aging

What you eat affects how you age. Several studies have shown that the right diet is crucial to combating aging and preventing various conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Preclinical research done at the University of Sydney found that diet is more beneficial to both anti-aging and good metabolism than drugs.

The research also found that most anti-aging medications tend to mitigate the body’s responses to carbs, fats, and proteins. However, there is a need for more research on this topic. Professor Stephen Simpson – an Academic Director and study author at the university – states that most of the drugs are prescribed without prior consideration to how they will interact with our bodies.

A healthy, balanced diet is good for cell health and the liver, which is a key metabolic organ. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can damage collagen and elastin fibers, causing them to lose their elasticity.

Vitamin C, a renowned antioxidant that helps fight free radicals, also plays a crucial role in collagen production. Vitamin C may also aid in skin cell regeneration, reducing wrinkles, and fighting against ultraviolet aging. A study found that women who consumed more vitamin C had a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance and skin dryness.

A case study of 4,000 women found that those who had a diet higher in linoleic acid - the most abundant fatty acid in the skin – were less likely to encounter skin thinning. Linoleic acid or vitamin F keeps the skin supple and moisturized. Some great sources for linoleic acid include soybean oil, walnuts, and almonds.

Bottom Line

Metabolism has a major influence on the aging process. Although it typically slows down as we age, we can combat the effects of aging by practices such as resistance training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and getting plenty of rest.