We understand that weight gain comes from the food we eat, plus our activity level (or lack thereof), we often also understand that it is our metabolism that dictates how fast we do or don’t burn energy.
What we rarely understand, however, is what the metabolism really is, and what it needs from us to best do its job.
We talk about skinny kids as having lightning-fast metabolisms, but is it really all down to genetics and age? While those things are factors, there is another big one that affects your metabolism: vitamin deficiencies.
What is your metabolism?
The metabolism is a chemical process your body uses to turn food and drink into energy our cells can use to function. It goes beyond simply how fast or slow you burn fat and carbohydrates, but also the nutrients your cells need to complete essential processes in the body.
What affects the metabolism?
Age is a factor – the metabolism does slow as you age, however, a sluggish metabolism usually has a cause. The biggest two factors that slow metabolism are inactivity and a poor diet. A poor diet goes beyond eating high-calorie foods, it also depends on the nutrients you’re consuming. If you’re experiencing a vitamin deficiency, then your metabolism is going to struggle.
5 Ways Vitamin Deficiencies Affect Your Metabolism & You
1. You’ll Feel Fatigue More Easily
Vitamins are responsible for almost all of the functions in our body and are necessary for energy production, so any deficiency in vitamins will slow us down and make it more likely that we’ll feel fatigued. Our body won’t be able to utilize energy properly, so even after a meal we may not feel like we’ve got any additional energy to keep going.
Add to this that vitamin deficiencies usually come from a poor choice of food, such as those high in sugar and saturated fats, and you’re even more likely to feel sluggish just a short time after eating.
2. You May Feel Hungry All the Time
Feeling full and satisfied isn’t just about whether or not your stomach is full – satiety also depends on the vitamins we eat. There are many different amino acids and micronutrients (such as B vitamins) that are responsible for our satiety and appetite regulation. You may have experienced this when you’re on track with your diet; you’re eating well, and yet you don’t feel hungry between meals. This is one of the reasons it's so important to focus on nutrition when trying to lose weight, rather than just the calories. When we’re deficient in these vitamins and amino acids, we’re likely to overeat to feel satisfied, and thus gain weight.
3. Your Hair May Be Thinner or Thinning
Another side effect of not giving your metabolism the right nutrients is hair loss. If you’re seeing more hair come out when you’re showering or brushing it, it may be due to a vitamin deficiency. Our hair requires micronutrients to grow, and so if we’re low in those essential micronutrients, the health of our hair and nails is the first thing to be sacrificed in favor of more vital processes. You don’t need your hair to live, and so if you’re not getting the nutrients you need, your body will stop delivering any to those areas.
4. You May Feel Moody and Lack Motivation
Wild mood swings and a lack of desire to do things isn’t often a personality trait, with the right nutrition, you can feel on an even keel and want to make active progress toward your goals. Vitamins and minerals are essential for many processes in the brain, and so if we’re low in these essential vitamins and amino acids, we’re more likely to deplete our neurotransmitters which can lead to mood swings, anxiety, depression, and a lack of motivation to do even the things you once enjoyed. Remember, your body essentially runs on chemical processes, like an engine, so if you don’t put the right fuel in, you’re not going to be able to operate well.
5. You Crave Food Even When You’re Not Hungry
We touched on the fact that vitamins are responsible for satiety and appetite above, but it’s not just about whether or not you feel hungry. When you’re nutrient deficient, you’ll likely start craving certain foods (or just any food) even though you just ate a meal. If you find yourself craving vegetables, this is a sure-fire sign that you need to up your vitamin and mineral intake. Of course, craving “bad” foods, such as chocolate, fast food, and fried foods can also be a sign.
Vitamins and minerals are responsible for healthy thyroid and insulin function in the body – specifically iodine, selenium, zinc, and the amino acid tyrosine for the thyroid, and chromium, inositol, and alpha-lipoic acid for insulin function.
If you want to speed up your metabolism, it’s essential you start eating the right vitamins and minerals and increase your activity level. Combine a balanced, healthy diet with a vitamin supplement if you have dietary requirements that make it difficult for you, or find it difficult to consume all the nutrition you need through your food alone. Increasing your activity level doesn’t mean you need to join a CrossFit gym, either. Just getting up to walk around regularly and walking briskly for 20 minutes at least 3 times a week will do wonders for your health.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.