Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are prevalent conditions that are treated by lifestyle adjustments that include weight loss, exercise and dietary modification. Spices such as cinnamon, caper, coriander, fenugreek, garlic and ginger can all help to minimize the effects of these conditions.
Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X or Insulin Resistance Syndrome is not only considered a disease in its own right, but is also a precursor to Type II diabetes and increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. It is thought to affect up to 25% of the USA population most of whom are unaware that they have the condition.
American Heart Association criteria for the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome are:
o Elevated waist circumference: Men over 42 inches, women over 35 inches
o Elevated triglycerides: Equal to or greater than 150 mg/dL
o Reduced HDL (“good”) cholesterol: Men – Less than 40 mg/dL,Women – less than 50 mg/dL
o Blood pressure over 130/85 mm Hg or use of medication for hypertension
o Fasting blood glucose over100 mg/dL or use of medication for hyperglycemia
One of the features of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance which is also the main pathology underlying Type II diabetes.
Before a cell will allow glucose through its protective membrane, its insulin receptor must be “turned on” by insulin or a chemical mimic. Insulin resistance occurs when the receptor develops a weakened response to insulin resulting in the cell’s failure to absorb sufficient quantities of glucose from the blood. This results in energy deprivation for the cells and raised blood glucose levels.
The primary cause of this weakened insulin receptor response is the chronic over-production of insulin. Not only does too much insulin lead to receptor failure, but wide fluctuations in insulin levels are also known to be an important cause of this condition. A useful analogy is that of forcing an oversized key (high insulin levels) into a lock (insulin receptor). After a while, the excessive wear and tear caused by the large key results in damage to the lock making it increasingly harder to turn. If this continues for long enough, the lock wears out and fails to work. These oscillating insulin levels are closely associated with central obesity and a diet high in refined carbohydrate foods.
The primary treatment of metabolic syndrome is that of lifestyle changes. It is vital for those with this disease to lose weight by eating correctly and exercising more. High glycemic index foods should be eliminated altogether as these are the main culprits when it comes to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Another invaluable dietary tool for preventing and managing metabolic syndrome are the spices. These foods counter disease processes in several ways and can be tremendously helpful in countering both metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
o Cinnamon, for example, is a potent inducer of insulin sensitivity and the addition of as little as one gram a day to the diet can reduce abnormal blood glucose levels by a staggering 30 percent. It does this by enhancing the enzymes that increase insulin receptor sensitivity and inhibiting those enzymes with the opposite action. Cinnamon has the added benefit of lowering the abnormal lipid levels commonly found in metabolic syndrome and reducing the oxidative stress caused by lipid oxidation in these patients.
o Fenugreek is also highly effective at modulating glucose metabolism and can lower blood glucose by up to 45 percent. This spice both increases insulin receptor sensitivity and normalizes the imbalanced blood lipid levels of diabetics. The fiber contained in fenugreek also lowers the glycemic index of a meal, thus modulating the post-prandial blood glucose levels by slowing the absorption of high glycemic index foods.
o Ginger and caper counter insulin resistance by increasing sensitivity to insulin.
o Capers, coriander and garlic mimic the effects of insulin on the cell receptors while coriander enhances insulin secretion by the pancreas.
o Metabolic syndrome is associated with oxidative stress therefore most spices can, with their rich array of antioxidants, help reduce the impact of free radical damage by reducing the oxidation of fats in these patients.
Spices possess an amazing potency and range of weapons in the fight against metabolic syndrome. In conjunction with vital lifestyle changes they can help to reverse the progress of this disease and its associated conditions.