Have you ever wondered why when one thing goes wrong with your health, all of the sudden there are several things, seemingly unconnected, that go wrong? Maybe you have never had a health issue, but you pick up a few pounds after a stressful period of time and the next visit to the doctor your blood pressure is creeping up and your triglycerides, whatever those are, are high. In addition maybe you develop some arthritic symptoms or gout and you begin to believe your body has turned against you. In reality, these are all metabolic factors of low level, systemic (throughout your body) inflammation that when taken together are called metabolic syndrome and indicate increased risk factors for several diseases.
So, why do I care about metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a collection of risk factors that predispose you to greatly increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. People with MetS have twice the risk of developing heart disease and five times the risk of type 2 diabetes. Conversely, 85% of people with type 2 diabetes have MetS and this group has a much higher risk of heart disease than the 15% who don’t. One report suggested that MetS for 7% of all mortality and 17% of cardiovascular disease!
The chance of developing MetS increases with age; obesity, particularly belly fat; certain genetic factors such as a family history of diabetes or a racial background of African American or Mexican American; and certain other diseases such as fatty liver, gallstones, cardiovascular disease, breathing problems during sleep and polycystic ovary syndrome. Oddly, being American puts you at a greater risk than anywhere else in the world with 40% of Americans diagnosed with MetS.
How do I know if I have metabolic Syndrome?
There are five metabolic risk factors that indicate a progression toward MetS and you must have three of the five to be diagnosed with MetS. The risk factors are:
- Triglycerides >150 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol < 50mg/dL for women and <40mg/dL for men
- Blood Pressure >130/85 mm/Hg
- Fasting Blood Sugar >100 mg/dL
- Waist Circumference >35” for women and >40” for men
Can I prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome?
The benefit of understanding this diagnosis is that it is not in itself a disease but an earlier indicator of a disease pattern that can certainly be prevented and even reversed if caught early enough. Since three of the five measures can be easily self-monitored for less than a $100 investment, this is an effective early warning system that individuals can embrace on their own outside of their annual blood work with their doctor. If you move from having three of the five to two of the five, you no longer are at the vastly increased risk of disease.
Outside of avoiding aging and being born into a high risk family, the most effective strategies for preventing or reversing MetS are lifestyle changes. These changes include exercise, weight loss, a healthy diet and cessation of smoking. If these changes are not effective, medication can also be supportive of several of the factors. Interestingly, for people with MetS, weight loss of only 7-10% of body weight can reduce insulin levels, bringing blood sugar levels back in line and reducing blood pressure! The bottom line is the key to preventing MetS is diet and exercise, particularly for those with a strong family history of MetS or type 2 diabetes. There is no substitute for a lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
This blog is a summary of the information found in the following research paper:
Metabolic Syndrome: What are the risks for humans?, Gupta