Scientists Say: Metabolism

This word refers to all the chemical activities that support life in a cell, an organ — and you


Cells are always undergoing metabolism — taking food and turning it in to energy, building up new cell parts and breaking them down again.


Metabolism (noun, “Meh-TAH-boh-lism”)

This word describes the chemical activities that support life inside cells and organs. This includes converting food into energy — what we might think of as burning calories. But it also includes building important molecules like proteins and DNA and getting rid of waste products.

Metabolism isn’t just for warm-blooded animals like us. Everything living organism has one. Metabolism is what allows living things to grow, reproduce, move and more. 

Often people mention metabolism when talking about bodyweight. They might say losing weight is hard because they have a “slow metabolism.” Or that they never gain weight because they have a “fast metabolism.” Whether or not that’s true, they are referring to only one specific part of metabolism — how fast the body processes calories from food. This influences how much we grow, yes. But there’s more to metabolism than that.


In a sentence

A person’s metabolism goes up and down throughout the day, burning different energy sources at different times.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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