Metabolic syndrome is not a disease. It is a constellation of altered physical and body chemistry measurements that are known to be risk factors for specific health challenges. Those challenges are cardiovascular disease including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure as well as diabetes resulting from insulin resistance.
Here are the measurements and how they are altered in metabolic syndrome.
- obesity (especially in the abdomen) – the classic "beer belly" or build up of fat around the abdomen is characteristic of metabolic syndrome.
- glucose intolerance or insulin resistance – you produce enough insulin but you get diabetes anyway because your body does not seem to be able to use the insulin you produce.
- elevated triglycerides – just another measurement of fats in your blood that are manufactured from carbohydrate in your diet.
- altered lipid profile – too much of the bad cholesterol (LDL) and not enough of the good kind (HDL).
- elevated blood pressure – if the bottom number of your blood pressure reading is greater than 90 you have high blood pressure.
- a Prothrombotic state (predisposition to blood clotting ) – specific markers of blood clotting in your blood are measured to see how long it takes to form a clot. Two short a time predisposes you to forming blood clots which can cause a stroke and too long a time predisposes you to bleeding.
Metabolic syndrome is caused by the interrelationship of dietary practices, physical activity, and genetic background. You can not alter your genes but lifestyle factors of diet and exercise are completely under your control.
Elevated triglycerides in your blood can result from a diet high in carbohydrate and specifically a diet high in refined carbohydrate such as white flour and sugar. If more than 60% of your energy requirements come from refined carbohydrate intake this can contribute to high triglyceride levels in the blood. This type of diet also contributes to elevated cholesterol levels and a poor cholesterol ratio. High triglyceride levels are identified as a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
HDL cholesterol is healthy cholesterol and is required in your system for a number of metabolic processes. In metabolic syndrome the HDL cholesterol in your system is reduced and this places you at risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
LDL is lousy cholesterol and you do not want as much of that as you do HDL cholesterol, but in metabolic syndrome LDL levels are often high.
Highly processed refined foods such as those served in fast food restaurants are the poorest source of nutrition and the largest contributor of refined carbohydrate in your diet. Follow the 80/20 rule and try to eat at home 80% of the time and when you do go out to eat select heart healthy foods.
Physical Activity Levels
A sedentary lifestyle is a big contributor to metabolic syndrome. Getting adequate exercise can help nearly all of the altered measurements associated with metabolic syndrome. Vigorous physical exercise is one of the best ways to reduce abdominal fat, raise HDL cholesterol levels, and decrease your risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Canada's Physical Activity Guide recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day to improve and maintain health and vigorous activity that gets you sweating and breathing harder should be undertaken at least three times per week.
What is insulin resistance?
The job of insulin is to transport glucose to your blood cells. Over the years your blood cells can become resistant to the insulin. This means that in order to get the glucose to your cells, higher and higher levels of insulin are needed. The receptor sites inside the cells become less and less sensitive to insulin and this makes it harder and harder for glucose to get inside the cell where it is needed for energy. While you are still producing insulin, the body is acting as if there is none available and so a diabetic state is produced. Over time as insulin resistance increases the pancreas stops producing enough insulin and the body becomes unable to handle sugar. This is the physiology of diabetes. As the glucose builds up in the blood more body fat is stored, especially around the waist area.
Preventing Metabolic Syndrome – Sizing up your risk
- Keep tabs on your waistline – Waist measurement is an assessment that is done to identify risk for cardiovascular disease. Many studies have revealed that the closer your waist and hip measurement are the greater the risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Your waist measurement should be less than your hip measurement and if your waist measurement exceeds your hip measurement your risk for cardiovascular disease goes up significantly.
- Monitor your body weight – excess calories from fat and carbohydrate in your diet are stored as fat. The more fat you have the more likely you are to develop metabolic syndrome.
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure – do you know what your blood pressure is?
- Monitor your cholesterol levels – remember you want high HDL and low LDL levels
- Maintain healthy blood glucose levels – eat a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, good quality proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Portions sizes will be dependent on your activity level and your age.
- Quit smoking – Smoking raises LDL cholesterol in the body and lowers the HDL cholesterol. Smoking also makes it more difficult to exercise.
You have heard this before … keep fit and active and maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It will go a long way toward reversing any of the altered measurements and subsequent health risks associated with metabolic syndrome.