Energy = Rabbit + Drum?
April 3, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What is energy? I am looking for SCIENCE!

I am curious to understand what scientific knowledge exists about energy, but I have a very limited understanding of science and a small scientific vocabulary, so I don't really know how to get started.

By "energy" I mean the subjective feeling. So, for example, I know that not eating any food will make people feel like they have less energy than they would otherwise. I know some people report feeling that they have more subjective energy when they acquire the habit of regular physical exertion. I know that depression is sometimes characterized by the feeling that one lacks the energy to do anything at all. I know some drugs make people feel energetic (cocaine). I know adrenalin makes people feel energetic. I am not sure that ADD medications have this effect, though I know some people say they do.

So clearly there is an objective component (like sleep deprivation + starvation = most people will feel that they have no energy). And there is clearly a subjective component, or perhaps I should say that emotional states seem to affect energy (though perhaps there's a chicken and egg problem).

I'd like to understand what scientists have learned about this and whether there are any strong theories of what causes people to feel more or less energized - is it a cluster of receptors in the brain, or is it a combination of certain nutrients, or a complex balance of various factors?

I would appreciate links to books, articles, or studies or suggestions of useful search terms. Really anything that would enlighten me as to what science has to say about this stuff.
posted by prefpara to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
is it a cluster of receptors in the brain

The hypothalamus (wikipedia) might be a good place to start:
The hypothalamus is responsible for certain metabolic processes and other activities of the autonomic nervous system. It synthesizes and secretes certain neurohormones, often called hypothalamic-releasing hormones, and these in turn stimulate or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones. The hypothalamus controls body temperature, hunger, thirst,[1] fatigue, sleep, and circadian cycles.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:27 AM on April 3, 2012

Searching for terms/phrases such as "energy balance" and/or "bioenergetics" seems to be pulling up some good articles in some academic databases (Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition).
posted by jenny76 at 7:30 AM on April 3, 2012

My first thought was ATP as a carrier of "energy" in the body. (The first link is dense even for me as a biologist. here is the link to the simple wikipedia article. )

I'll also corroborate "energy balance" and "bioenergetics" searches.

Consider, also, looking for terms you know to be associated with a lack of energy (ex. fatigue). They may help you pin down what you consider to be "energy" and what you dont.
posted by cmchap at 7:38 AM on April 3, 2012

Essentially every question you ask about very basic aspects of the body will be answered with "it's complicated."

I am a lay person, but here are some factors off the top of my head:

1) The person's basic neurochemistry, their "starting point" altered by other factors. Different people probably have different points of equilibrium.
2) Stress. Being exposed to high stress factors for long periods of time (being a victim of domestic violence, being a soldier deployed overseas) alters brain chemistry significantly.
3) Rest. Sleep deprivation has drastic effects on the brain.
4) Blood sugar. Your body uses blood sugar to power your muscles - if it's low, you may feel exhausted.
5) Actual exhaustion. Did you just run a marathon? This will have flooded your muscles with lactic acid as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration, causing soreness and a feeling of exhaustion. The endorphins released into your system will also have an effect.
6) Clinical conditions such as depression can have a huge effect on your energy or lack thereof.
7) Artificial drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, etc.

Your mental states in general are probably mostly determined within your brain, but your brain is subject to extremely complicated feedback/response systems within itself and with your body.
posted by kavasa at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2012

If you're really looking for a scientific method to your question, you should consider applying more rigor to your investigation. All good science is rigorous. Note that rigor doesn't mean being right, it means being careful.

For instance, you say:

I know some drugs make people feel energetic (cocaine)


I am not sure that ADD medications have this effect, though I know some people say they do.

How do you "know" this first fact but are "not sure" about the second? It sounds like you are confident about cocaine's effect on the body, but not confident about ADD med's effects on the body. Why is that? Are you only working off what "some people say" about the two different drugs? Why would you trust one person's opinion over another's? Is that rigorous? Have you tried cocaine, but not ADD meds? Is that rigorous? If not, it makes for poor science. Instead of surveying people's anecdotal reports, you could look at something more objective, like the neurochemistry of cocaine vs. ritalin (for instance). You might be surprised at what you find out about the similarities of the effects of these two substances on the brain and body, when you investigate in a more rigorous fashion.

My point is not to highlight any shortcomings of your knowledge, but rather to convince you that "SCIENCE!" is as much about methodology as it is about facts, and you will do yourself a great service by being as careful in how you ask your questions as how you draw your conclusions. This is especially important in light of the fact that there is no comprehensive "science of the body's energy levels," and so any complete answer you seek will necessarily involve your own efforts in synthesizing whatever information you receive. Essentially you will be conducting your own scientific investigation in order to find the answers you are looking for, and if you don't employ rigor wherever possible, it will weaken the strength of your own results.

Good luck and good science!
posted by grog at 11:18 AM on April 3, 2012

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