"If you or someone you love suffers from Metabolic Syndrome then, we encourage you to begin immediately making healthy choices, even if they are little ones, such as walking around the block every day or switching from cream and sugar in your coffee to low-fat milk and sugar substitute such as Splenda. A few little simple and easy changes add up, and may very well save your life or the life of your loved one. Making healthy changes will also improve the quality of your life—moving better, feeling better, and cutting down on expensive medical costs.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. If you have metabolic syndrome or any of the components of metabolic syndrome, you have the opportunity to make aggressive lifestyle changes. Making these changes can delay or derail the development of serious diseases that may result from metabolic syndrome.
Having metabolic syndrome means you have a few disorders related to your metabolism at the same time, including:
- Obesity, particularly around your waist (having an “apple shape”)
- Elevated blood pressure
- An elevated level of the blood fat called triglycerides and a low level of high-density lipoprotein ( HDL ) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol
- Resistance to insulin, a hormone that helps to regulate the amount of sugar in your body
Having one component of metabolic syndrome means you’re more likely to have others. And the more components you have, the greater are the risks to your health.
Research into the complex underlying process linking the group of conditions involved in metabolic syndrome is ongoing. As the name suggests, metabolic syndrome is tied to your body’s metabolism, possibly to a condition called insulin resistance. (Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps control the amount of sugar in your bloodstream).
Normally, your digestive system breaks down some of the foods you eat into sugar (glucose). Your blood carries the glucose to your body’s tissues, where the cells use it as fuel. Glucose enters your cells with the help of insulin. In people with insulin resistance, cells don’t respond normally to insulin, and glucose can’t enter the cells as easily. Your body reacts by churning out more and more insulin to help glucose get into your cells. The result is higher than normal levels of both insulin and glucose in your blood.
Although perhaps not high enough to qualify as diabetes, an elevated glucose level still interferes with your body processes. Increased insulin raises your triglyceride level and other blood fat levels. It also interferes with how your kidneys work, leading to higher blood pressure. These combined effects of insulin resistance put you at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.
Combination of factors
Researchers are still learning what causes insulin resistance. It probably involves a variety of genetic and environmental factors. They believe some people are genetically prone to insulin resistance, inheriting the tendency from their parents. Being overweight and inactive are major contributors.
Disagreement among experts
Not all experts agree on the definition of metabolic syndrome or whether it even exists as a distinct medical condition. Doctors have talked about this constellation of risk factors for years and have called it many names, including syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome. Whatever it’s called, and however it’s precisely defined, this collection of risk factors is becoming more prevalent.
The following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
Age. The prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases with age, affecting less than 10 percent of people in their 20s, and 40 percent of people in their 60s. However, some research shows that about one in eight schoolchildren has three or more components of metabolic syndrome. Other research has identified an association between childhood metabolic syndrome and adult cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
Race. Hispanics and Asians are at greater risk of metabolic syndrome than other races are.
Obesity. A body mass index ( BMI ) — a measure of your percentage of body fat based on height and weight — greater than 25 increases your risk of metabolic syndrome. So does abdominal obesity — having an apple shape rather than a pear shape.
History of diabetes. You’re more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or a history of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
Other diseases. A diagnosis of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or polycystic ovary syndrome — a similar type of metabolic problem that affects a woman’s hormones and reproductive system — also increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
When to seek medical advice
If you know you have at least one aspect of metabolic syndrome — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or an apple-shaped body — you may have the others and not know it. Get properly evaluated by your family physician. Ask whether you need testing for other components of the syndrome, and what you can do to prevent these serious diseases.