Metabolic Flexibility and Its Impact on Health Outcomes

Biff F. Palmer, Deborah J. Clegg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


A metabolically flexible state exists when there is a rapid switch between glucose and fatty acids during the transition between the fed and fasting state. This flexibility in fuel choice serves to prevent hyperglycemia following a meal and simultaneously ensures an adequate amount of blood glucose is available for delivery to the brain and exclusively glycolytic tissues during fasting. The modern era is characterized by chronic overnutrition in which a mixture of fuels is delivered to the mitochondria in an unabated manner thereby uncoupling the feast and famine situation. The continuous influx of fuel leads to accumulation of reducing equivalents in the mitochondria and an increase in the mitochondrial membrane potential. These changes create a microenvironment fostering the generation of reactive oxygen species and other metabolites leading to deleterious protein modification, cell injury, and ultimately clinical disease. Insulin resistance may also play a primary role in this deleterious effect. The imbalance between mitochondrial energy delivery and use is made worse with a sedentary lifestyle. Maneuvers that restore energy balance across the mitochondria activate pathways that remove or repair damaged molecules and restore the plasticity characteristic of normal energy metabolism. Readily available strategies to maintain energy balance across the mitochondria include exercise, various forms of caloric restriction, administration of sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors, cold exposure, and hypobaric hypoxia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-776
Number of pages16
JournalMayo Clinic Proceedings
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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