What is metabolic syndrome?
“Syndrome” is a medical term that basically says there are a whole lot of problems; in the case of metabolic syndrome, problems that could lead you straight to a heart attack. Unchecked, the complications from metabolic syndrome may even lead to an early grave, which is why it’s essential to get metabolic syndrome risk under control.
Metabolic syndrome is a metabolic disease which refers to a number of indicators of poor health, including:
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol
- Disproportionately large waistline (apple or pear shape)
- High triglycerides
- High blood sugar
In the United States, metabolic syndrome could be considered “epidemic.” A 2015 research letter appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) cited National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data that showed more than one in three Americans qualifies for the dubious distinction.
“Increasing metabolic syndrome prevalence was seen with increasing age in all groups,” reported the researchers. “Prevalence of the metabolic syndrome was 18.3% among those aged 20 to 39 years and increased to 46.7% among those aged 60 years or older. Among patients aged 60 years or older, more than 50% of women and Hispanics had the metabolic syndrome.”
This “diagnosis” was not actually the same as that of a primary care provider who runs all the tests for each patient. The researchers used markers of these conditions that are easy to collect and measure. The indicators they examined from the NHANES data were as follows:
- Waist circumference of more than 40 inches or more in men, or more than 34.6 inches in women
- Triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dl or higher
- HDL (good) cholesterol of less than 40 mg/DL in men or less than 50 mg/DL in women
- Blood pressure of 130/85 or higher or taking blood pressure medications
- Fasting glucose level of 100 mg/DL or greater or taking diabetes medications
Who Is at Risk for Developing Metabolic Syndrome?
Certain demographics are at higher risk for metabolic syndrome than others. Mexican Americans are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than Caucasian Americans, who are more likely to develop the disorder than African Americans, according to the NIH.
While a number of sources say women are at greater risk than men of developing metabolic syndrome, the National Institutes of Health reported a different pattern in this most recent examination of the data. In the JAMA research letter, metabolic syndrome incidence among women was noted as trending down slightly, from 39.4% in 2007-2008 to 26.6 % in 2011-2012. However, that data may be out of date with current trends.
According to the NIH, incidence of metabolic syndrome and metabolic disease is on the rise. This increase is most likely related to the persistence of excessive weight and obesity in American children and adults. The NIH predicts that metabolic syndrome one day will bypass smoking as the leading indicator of heart disease.
Certain medications can cause, or contribute to, metabolic disease. Interestingly, antipsychotic drugs may predispose users to metabolic syndrome, perhaps due to side effects like weight gain and dyslipidemia. Medicines used to treat allergies and HIV also can cause patients to gain excess weight and contribute to metabolic disease.
People who develop diabetes in adulthood (type 2 diabetes) or who have a parent or sibling with the disease are at greater risk for developing metabolic disease. Those who have high triglycerides, gallstones, or sleep apnea also are at greater risk, according to the NIH.
Outlook for People with Metabolic Disease
The NIH is supporting efforts by researchers to learn more about metabolic disease. They are studying linked complications; for example, women with metabolic disease who also tend to have cysts on their ovaries. They also are studying the connection between difficulty breathing and metabolic disease.
A few factors that aggravate or can lead to metabolic disease cannot be helped and/or should not be changed. Obviously, a person with HIV should not stop taking their medication.
There are a number of things you can do, pharmaceutical free, to make yourself healthy again if you have metabolic syndrome.
6 Natural Ways to Lower Metabolic Syndrome Risk
- Understand your disease and the science behind it. It can be tough to understand what’s going on inside your body if you don’t understand the underlying cause. The Internet provides plenty of information, but it’s wise to check several reliable sources. Or you can buy a book (electronic versions can be very inexpensive). Diet books to counter metabolic syndrome may not offer a plan you want to follow, but most will provide simplified background information to convey a better understanding of the symptoms.
- Start moving. If you have metabolic syndrome, you most likely are overweight. It can feel hopeless when you reach a certain point of obesity and feel unwell. But, just 30 minutes of walking a day will get your triglycerides headed downward again. Once you start walking and feel those little improvements, you’ll be walking even more.
- Stop smoking. Smoking sends inflammation in the body through the roof, which is the last thing a person with metabolic disease needs. It’s like smoking a cigarette next to a gas pump.
- Quit drinking, or at least cut back. Alcohol may be touted as “heart healthy” due to its HDL (good cholesterol) raising properties, but it also increases blood pressure. If you have to watch calories, cutting out cocktails (often made with sugary mixers) can be a good start.
- Take essential amino acids. There are plenty of supplements that claim to help people with metabolic disease. Stick with ones that are backed by research. Balanced mixtures of essential amino acids (EAAs) are reliably shown to decrease triglycerides, as well as the amount of fat stored in the liver. EAAs also appear to help manage blood pressure and act as anti-inflammatories.
- Eat healthier. A well-balanced diet focused on nutrient-dense foods is a must. Try fruits such as pomegranates. These amazing and tasty treats have been shown to lower cholesterol. Get some fish onto your plate. Eating cold-water fish caught in the wild helps lower your blood pressure and fight inflammation in the body. Antioxidants help your body fight disease and inflammation. The DASH diet provides a great model of an eating pattern to combat metabolic syndrome.