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Thyroid Diseases

Cause of High or Low Metabolism

09/19/2006

Question:

What causes`s a slow metabolism? Does a hyperactive, or underactive thyroid gland slows metabolism?

Answer:

"Metabolism" is the rate at which chemical reactions occur in the body's cells.  It is the rate at which oxygen is used up by the cells, the rate at which energy is produced by the cells, and the rate at which heat and carbon dioxide are produced by the cells (as byproducts of energy production).  To a certain degree it is normal for different people to have somewhat different metabolic rates.  We all know some people who can eat as much as they want and remain thin.  We also know people who eat amounts of food that seem reasonable to us and yet still remain fat. (Ours is a very food-oriented culture, however, and what seems a reasonable amount of food to us isn't always really appropriate.)

Several things regulate the body's metabolic rate.  One of them is thyroid hormone.  Thyroid hormone is made by the thyroid gland in the neck.  Once it is released from the thyroid gland it travels throughout the body and sets the level of activity of the body's cells.  There are diseases that can affect the thyroid gland, causing it to make either too much or too little thyroid hormone.  If there is too much thyroid hormone, the metabolic rate may be abnormally fast.  If there is too little thyroid hormone then the body's metabolism may be abnormally slow.  Remember, though, that different people can have different metabolic rates and still be normal.

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Response by:

Thomas A Murphy, MD, FACP, FACE Thomas A Murphy, MD, FACP, FACE
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University