ca·​tab·​o·​lism kə-ˈta-bə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce catabolism (audio)
: degradative metabolism involving the release of energy and resulting in the breakdown of complex materials (such as proteins or lipids) within the organism compare anabolism

Examples of catabolism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Caffeine, magnesium, B vitamins, and zinc supplements help to promote fat catabolism, strengthen muscular function and protein synthesis, provide long-term energy, and support acid-base balance. Amber Smith, Discover Magazine, 17 Oct. 2022 And third, the drug increases the number of LDL cholesterol receptors on cell surfaces, ultimately increasing the catabolism, or metabolic breakdown, of LDL cholesterol. Brad Reisfeld, USA TODAY, 24 Apr. 2023 Regardless of an organism’s energy source, its metabolism is a balance of catabolism, breaking energy down into usable units, and anabolism, using those units for vital building projects such as bone growth. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, 5 Feb. 2017 Dantas now sees antibiotic catabolism as just another part of this bigger survival game. Jonathon Keats, Discover Magazine, 20 Aug. 2018 Vitamin B12 is required for protein catabolism and muscle growth. Amber Smith, Discover Magazine, 12 Oct. 2022 Collins Y F, McSweeney P L H and Wilkinson M G (2004), Lipolysis and catabolism of fatty acids in cheese. Ashton Yoon, Discover Magazine, 26 Sep. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'catabolism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


earlier katabolism, from kata- cata- + (meta)bolism

Note: The term was promulgated, if not initiated, by the British physiologist Walter Holbrook Gaskell (1847-1914) in the article "On the structure, distribution and function of the nerves which innervate the visceral and vascular systems," Journal of Physiology, vol. 7, issue 1 (January, 1886), p. 46: "When a tissue such as a muscle is said to be at rest we know that in reality a continual interchange of material or metabolism is all the time taking place, the condition of equilibrium which we denote by the term rest being brought about by the counterbalancing of the two opposite processes of constructive and destructive metabolism, or as Hering has called them of assimilation and dissimilation. In other words metabolism includes the two opposite processes of destruction and construction, or as they may be called of katabolism and anabolism …We can therefore with justice speak of the motor nerve of a muscle as the katabolic nerve of that tissue …."

First Known Use

1876, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of catabolism was in 1876

Dictionary Entries Near catabolism

Cite this Entry

“Catabolism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ca·​tab·​o·​lism kə-ˈtab-ə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce catabolism (audio)
: metabolism that breaks down complex materials within living plants and animals and usually involves the release of energy and formation of waste products
catabolic adjective

Medical Definition


variants also katabolism
: destructive metabolism involving the release of energy and resulting in the breakdown of complex materials within the organism compare anabolism

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