Humans oxidize carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, producing principally CO2, H2O, and the energy necessary for life processes (Clinical Box 26–3). CO2, H2O, and energy are also produced when food is burned outside the body. However, in the body, oxidation is not a one-step, semiexplosive reaction but a complex, slow, stepwise process called catabolism, which liberates energy in small, usable amounts. Energy can be stored in the body in the form of special energy-rich phosphate compounds and in the form of proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates synthesized from simpler molecules. Formation of these substances by processes that take up rather than liberate energy is called anabolism. This chapter consolidates consideration of endocrine function by providing a brief summary of the production and utilization of energy and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
CLINICAL BOX 26–3 Obesity
Obesity is the most common and most expensive nutritional problem in the United States. A convenient and reliable indicator of body fat is the body mass index (BMI), which is body weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of height (in meters). Values above 25 are abnormal. Individuals with values of 25–30 are considered overweight, and those with values >30 are obese. In the United States, 34% of the population is overweight and 34% is obese. The incidence of obesity is also increasing in other countries. Indeed, the Worldwatch Institute has estimated that although starvation continues to be a problem in many parts of the world, the number of overweight people in the world is now as great as the number of underfed. Obesity is a problem because of its complications. It is associated with accelerated atherosclerosis and an increased incidence of gallbladder and other diseases. Its association with type 2 diabetes is especially striking. As weight increases, insulin resistance increases and frank diabetes appears. At least in some cases, glucose tolerance is restored when weight is lost. In addition, the mortality rates from many kinds of cancer are increased in obese individuals. The causes of the high incidence of obesity in the general population are probably multiple. Studies of twins raised apart show a definite genetic component. It has been pointed out that through much of human evolution, famines were common, and mechanisms that permitted increased energy storage as fat had survival value. Now, however, food is plentiful in many countries, and the ability to gain and retain fat has become a liability. As noted above, the fundamental cause of obesity is still an excess of energy intake in food over energy expenditure. If human volunteers are fed a fixed high-calorie diet, some gain weight more rapidly than others, but the slower weight gain is due to increased energy expenditure in the form of small, fidgety movements (nonexercise activity thermogenesis; NEAT). Body weight generally increases at a slow but steady rate throughout adult life. Decreased physical activity is undoubtedly a factor in this increase, but decreased sensitivity to leptin may also play a role. THERAPEUTIC HIGHLIGHTS
Obesity is such a vexing medical and public health problem because its effective treatment depends so dramatically on lifestyle changes. Long-term weight loss can only be achieved with decreased food intake, increased energy expenditure, or, ideally, some combination of both. Exercise alone is rarely sufficient because it typically induces the patient to ingest more calories. For those who are seriously obese and who have developed serious health complications as a result, a variety of surgical approaches have been developed that reduce the size of the stomach reservoir and/or bypass it altogether. These surgical maneuvers are intended to reduce the size of meals that can be tolerated, but also have dramatic metabolic effects even before significant weight loss occurs, perhaps as a result of reduced production of peripheral orexins by the gut. Pharmaceutical companies are also actively exploring the science of orexins and anorexins to develop drugs that might act centrally to modify food intake (Figure 26–9).
The amount of energy liberated by the catabolism of food in the body is the same as the amount liberated when food is burned outside the body. The energy liberated by catabolic processes in the body is used for maintaining body functions, digesting and metabolizing food, thermoregulation, and physical activity. It appears as external work, heat, and energy storage:
The amount of energy liberated per unit of time is the metabolic rate. Isotonic muscle contractions perform work at a peak efficiency approximating 50%:
Essentially all of the energy of isometric contractions appears as heat, because little or no external work (force multiplied by the distance that the force moves a mass) is done (see Chapter 5). Energy is stored by forming energy-rich compounds. The amount of energy storage varies, but in fasting individuals it is zero or negative. Therefore, in an adult individual who has not eaten recently and who is not moving (or growing, reproducing, or lactating), all of the energy output appears as heat.
The standard unit of heat energy is the calorie (cal), defined as the amount of heat energy necessary to raise the temperature of 1 g of water 1°, from 15 to 16°C. This unit is also called the gram calorie, small calorie, or standard calorie. The unit commonly used in physiology and medicine is the Calorie (kilocalorie; kcal), which equals 1000 cal.
The caloric values of the common foodstuffs, as measured in a bomb calorimeter, are found to be 4.1 kcal/g of carbohydrate, 9.3 kcal/g of fat, and 5.3 kcal/g of protein. In the body, similar values are obtained for carbohydrate and fat, but the oxidation of protein is incomplete, the end products of protein catabolism being urea and related nitrogenous compounds in addition to CO2 and H2O (see below). Therefore, the caloric value of protein in the body is only 4.1 kcal/g.
The respiratory quotient (RQ) is the ratio in the steady state of the volume of CO2 produced to the volume of O2 consumed per unit of time. It should be distinguished from the respiratory exchange ratio (R), which is the ratio of CO2 to O2 at any given time whether or not equilibrium has been reached. R is affected by factors other than metabolism. RQ and R can be calculated for reactions outside the body, for individual organs and tissues, and for the whole body. The RQ of carbohydrate is 1.00, and that of fat is about 0.70. This is because H and O are present in carbohydrate in the same proportions as in water, whereas in the various fats, extra O2 is necessary for the formation of H2O.
Determining the RQ of protein in the body is a complex process, but an average value of 0.82 has been calculated. The approximate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat being oxidized in the body at any given time can be calculated from the RQ and the urinary nitrogen excretion. RQ and R for the whole body differ in various conditions. For example, during hyperventilation, R rises because CO2 is being blown off. During strenuous exercise, R may reach 2.00 because CO2 is being blown off and lactic acid from anaerobic glycolysis is being converted to CO2 (see below). After exercise, R may fall for a while to 0.50 or less. In metabolic acidosis, R rises because respiratory compensation for the acidosis causes the amount of CO2 expired to rise (see Chapter 35). In severe acidosis, R may be greater than 1.00. In metabolic alkalosis, R falls.
The O2 consumption and CO2 production of an organ can be calculated at equilibrium by multiplying its blood flow per unit of time by the arteriovenous differences for O2 and CO2 across the organ, and the RQ can then be calculated. Data on the RQ of individual organs are of considerable interest in drawing inferences about the metabolic processes occurring in them. For example, the RQ of the brain is regularly 0.97–0.99, indicating that its principal but not its only fuel is carbohydrate. During secretion of gastric juice, the stomach has a negative R because it takes up more CO2 from the arterial blood than it puts into the venous blood (see Chapter 25).
FACTORS AFFECTING THE METABOLIC RATE
The metabolic rate is affected by many factors (Table 26–2). The most important is muscular exertion. O2 consumption is elevated not only during exertion but also for as long afterward as is necessary to repay the O2 debt (see Chapter 5). Recently ingested foods also increase the metabolic rate because of their specific dynamic action (SDA). The SDA of a food is the obligatory energy expenditure that occurs during its assimilation into the body. It takes 30 kcal to assimilate the amount of protein sufficient to raise the metabolic rate 100 kcal; 6 kcal to assimilate a similar amount of carbohydrate; and 5 kcal to assimilate a similar amount of fat. The cause of the SDA, which may last up to 6 h, is uncertain.
TABLE 26–2Factors affecting the metabolic rate. ||Download (.pdf) TABLE 26–2 Factors affecting the metabolic rate.
|Muscular exertion during or just before measurement |
|Recent ingestion of food |
|High or low environmental temperature |
|Height, weight, and surface area |
|Emotional state |
|Body temperature |
|Circulating levels of thyroid hormones |
|Circulating epinephrine and norepinephrine levels |
Another factor that stimulates metabolism is the environmental temperature. The curve relating the metabolic rate to the environmental temperature is U-shaped. When the environmental temperature is lower than body temperature, heat-producing mechanisms such as shivering are activated and the metabolic rate rises. When the temperature is high enough to raise the body temperature, metabolic processes generally accelerate, and the metabolic rate rises about 14% for each degree Celsius of elevation.
The metabolic rate determined at rest in a room at a comfortable temperature in the thermoneutral zone 12–14 h after the last meal is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR). This value falls about 10% during sleep and up to 40% during prolonged starvation. The rate during normal daytime activities is, of course, higher than the BMR because of muscular activity and food intake. The maximum metabolic rate reached during exercise is often said to be 10 times the BMR, but trained athletes can increase their metabolic rate as much as 20-fold.
The BMR of a man of average size is about 2000 kcal/d. Large animals have higher absolute BMRs, but the ratio of BMR to body weight in small animals is much greater. One variable that correlates well with the metabolic rate in different species is the body surface area. This would be expected, since heat exchange occurs at the body surface. The actual relation to body weight (W) would be
However, repeated measurements by numerous investigators have come up with a higher exponent, averaging 0.75:
Thus, the slope of the line relating metabolic rate to body weight is steeper than it would be if the relation were due solely to body area. The cause of the greater slope has been much debated but remains unsettled.
For clinical use, the BMR is usually expressed as a percentage increase or decrease above or below a set of generally used standard normal values. Thus, a value of +65 means that the individual’s BMR is 65% above the standard for that age and sex.
The decrease in metabolic rate related to a decrease in body weight is part of the explanation of why, when an individual is trying to lose weight, weight loss is initially rapid and then slows down.
The first law of thermodynamics, the principle that states that energy is neither created nor destroyed when it is converted from one form to another, applies to living organisms as well as inanimate systems. One may therefore speak of an energy balance between caloric intake and energy output. If the caloric content of the food ingested is less than the energy output, that is, if the balance is negative, endogenous stores are utilized. Glycogen, body protein, and fat are catabolized, and the individual loses weight. If the caloric value of the food intake exceeds energy loss due to heat and work and the food is properly digested and absorbed, that is, if the balance is positive, energy is stored, and the individual gains weight.
To balance basal output so that the energy-consuming tasks essential for life can be performed, the average adult must take in about 2000 kcal/d. Caloric requirements above the basal level depend on the individual’s activity. The average sedentary student (or professor) needs another 500 kcal, whereas a lumber-jack needs up to 3000 additional kcal per day.