Figure 1.

A: Oxidation of glucose in a calorimeter is completely inefficient. The products of oxidation are carbon dioxide and water, and all of the energy produced is released as heat. 1B: To illustrate the proper interpretation of the first law of thermodynamics in living organisms we must consider that conservation of matter and energy includes excretion of products into the external environment. None of the products of oxidation (CO2 and H2O) remain within the organism. There is stoichiometric balance and no net weight change. Only the ATP, representing the useful energy, is retained. The wasted heat constitutes 60% of the energy of oxidation, while the efficiency is reflected in the retained ATP, available for reactions in the organism. Body fat stores are signified as TAG (triacylglycerol) 1C. A common way of thinking of weight loss is from reduction of caloric intake. If our subject ingests 2.3 moles of glucose (or equivalent lipid and/or protein) and produces only 90 moles of ATP, then homeostasis will enlist body stores of fat (and/or lean body mass) to yield the additionally required 5 moles ATP. The additional resultant CO2 and H2O (and heat) will be excreted (and radiated) leading to weight loss. 1D: If efficiency is reduced then our subject would have to eat more (e.g. 2.9 moles of glucose, or equivalent lipid/protein) to produce 95 moles of ATP and remain at the same weight. The additional CO2 and H2O produced will be excreted maintaining constant weight. 1E: Under conditions of reduced metabolic efficiency (from 40% to about 38% in this example), 90 moles of ATP will be produced from oxidation of 2.5 moles glucose (or equivalent lipid/protein). The remaining 5 moles ATP needed for homeostasis must be made up from oxidation of body stores of lipid or lean mass. This results in weight loss, exactly as it does for the example of reduced caloric intake (Figure 1C).

Fine and Feinman Nutrition & Metabolism 2004 1:15   doi:10.1186/1743-7075-1-15
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