Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)

Bioenergetics Revisited

February 2000
Second Wind
Lomita, California

Dear Friends:

  In March, 1999 I wrote a brief discussion about the role of oxygen in tissue energy production, which is often called bioenergetics. In this letter, I focused on the role of ambulatory oxygen in improving the transport of oxygen to the tissues for energy production in patients who may be suffering lack of energy associated with COPD. High energy production is required for all cells, tissues, and organs of the body to maintain their structure and function. Oxygen is at the end of the energy chain. It allows for the "burning" of fuel, which is present in the food that we eat.

  When energy is insufficient, potentially every cell in the body takes the rap. The organs begin to conserve energy by shutting down some of their functions. Organs, such as the body's muscles, the heart, and even the brain shrink and lose power. This is called atrophy. Improving organ system function by restoring food balance and the oxygen supply, often results in a restoration of organ function. Thus, the muscles, heart, and brain may recover.

  How does this translate into daily life? The answer is to eat enough food and calories and to take enough of the so-called micronutrients, (vitamins and minerals). We derive calories from carbohydrates (starches), fats, and protein. A normal amount of all three food sources is required. Carbohydrates are the most available energy source. Some fat is needed because of the body's requirement of "essential fatty acids". Protein is needed to sustain the integrity of all organ systems. It contains essential amino acids. Micronutrients assist in metabolism by being catalysts in the energy process, and by reducing the impact of toxic oxygen products of metabolism, called free radicals. An excess of free radicals hastens damage to multiple organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain. It promotes aging. We need a balance.

  Both overweight and underweight are bad. Underweight means not enough energy is being produced. Overweight is when too much fat is stored. Overweight people may actually be malnourished even though energy is available in fat. If these people starve themselves or just don't eat enough, they actually reduce energy production, and their metabolism, i.e., their rate of fuel metabolism goes down. You must eat to lose weight. You also have to exercise to lose weight. By exercising, you will increase your heart function and restore tissue oxygen transport and energy production.

  Complicated? Sure, but we know a lot about bioenergetics, and we are gaining knowledge with each day. If we maintain our energy balance, we can live and thrive. If not, we age and die. Bioenergetics everyone?

I will be in touch next month.

Your friend,

  Thomas Petty, MD

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Published: Jan 31 2002