Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is not an actual disease: It’s a “five-fecta” of conditions that add up to a strong risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, stroke, atherosclerosis (fatty buildups in artery walls), and other health issues. Each of the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome is an individual risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the likelihood of a serious health condition increases with the more risk factors you have. To receive a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, you need to have at least three of the following:

  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)
  • High levels of triglycerides
  • An “apple-shaped” body, indicative of excess visceral fat, with a waist circumference of more than 35 or more inches for women and 40 inches or more for men
  • High blood pressure

Metabolic syndrome is linked to insulin resistance, the main symptom of prediabetes. Normally, your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin to break down the food you eat and allow your cells to process glucose (sugar) for your body to use as fuel. If your cells “resist” the insulin, they don’t absorb as much of the glucose and your blood sugar goes up. This triggers your pancreas to churn out increasing amounts of insulin in an attempt to lower your blood sugar. Without appropriate lifestyle changes and blood sugar monitoring, people with prediabetes eventually develop diabetes. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease in several ways:

  • Over time, high blood sugar damages the blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.
  • Diabetes is often associated with high blood pressure, which damages artery walls. Having both high blood pressure and diabetes greatly increases your risk for heart disease.
  • Diabetes is often linked to an excess of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, high triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood), and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol. This combination promotes the development of plaque in the arteries.

Up to one-third of US adults are either diagnosed or not yet diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Other than the thick waist, most of the disorders listed above do not have obvious signs or symptoms, so people won’t necessarily be diagnosed unless they see a doctor — a good reason to have regular checkups. Once the condition has progressed you may see symptoms of untreated diabetes — increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.

Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

  • Age. Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age
  • Ethnicity. Although no ethnic group is immune, people with Hispanic ancestry, women, have the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity. Being overweight, especially if you have a lot of belly fat, is a sign of unhealthy visceral fat deep in the abdomen
  • A sedentary lifestyle. People with metabolic syndrome spend a lot of time sitting and don’t tend to exercise
  • Diabetes. People with metabolic syndrome often have a family history of type 2 diabetes. Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy have an elevated risk of developing diabetes later in life
  • Other diseases. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and sleep apnea are all frequently associated with metabolic syndrome

Prevention Is Key

A lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the conditions that cause metabolic syndrome. You are much less likely to develop it if you follow these commonsense recommendations:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days
  • Follow the Mediterranean diet: Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains and cook with olive oil instead of butter or margarine.
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • A sedentary lifestyle. People with metabolic syndrome spend a lot of time sitting and don’t tend to exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid all tobacco products — if you smoke, QUIT
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