[kuh-tab-uh-liz-uh m]
See more synonyms for catabolism on
noun Biology, Physiology.
  1. destructive metabolism; the breaking down in living organisms of more complex substances into simpler ones, with the release of energy (opposed to anabolism).

Origin of catabolism

1875–80; < Greek katabol(ḗ) a throwing down (kata- cata- + bolḗ a throw; compare katabállein to throw down) + -ism
Related formscat·a·bol·ic [kat-uh-bol-ik] /ˌkæt əˈbɒl ɪk/, adjectivecat·a·bol·i·cal·ly, adverbhy·per·ca·tab·o·lism, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for catabolic



  1. a metabolic process in which complex molecules are broken down into simple ones with the release of energy; destructive metabolismCompare anabolism
Derived Formscatabolic or katabolic (ˌkætəˈbɒlɪk), adjectivecatabolically or katabolically, adverb

Word Origin for catabolism

C19 katabolism, from Greek katabolē a throwing down, from kataballein, from kata- down + ballein to throw
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for catabolic

1876; see catabolism + -ic.



1876, katabolism, "destructive metabolism," from Greek katabole "a throwing down" (also "a foundation"), from kataballein "to throw down," from kata- "down" (see cata-) + ballein "to throw" (see ballistics). Barnhart says probably formed in English on the model of metabolism. Spelling Latinized from 1889.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

catabolic in Medicine


  1. The metabolic breakdown of complex molecules into simpler ones, often resulting in a release of energy.
Related formscat′a•bolic (kăt′ə-bŏlĭk) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

catabolic in Science


  1. The phase of metabolism in which energy, in the form of ATP, is produced by the breakdown of complex molecules, such as starches, proteins and fats, into simpler ones. Compare anabolism.
Related formscatabolic adjective
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

catabolic in Culture


Biochemical reactions that break down molecules in metabolism. Molecules may be broken down to gain their energy or to prepare them for disposal from the body. (Compare anabolism.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.