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What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Patients diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, stroke, and diabetes are often also cautioned about metabolic syndrome, which has been identified as an associated condition.

Below, we will describe the metabolic syndrome, what causes it, and, in turn, what other disorders it can cause, as well as ways to self-manage the condition.

Metabolic syndrome is actually a combination of 3 or more of the following conditions, which significantly increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

  1. Overweight / Obesity – Excess body fat around the waist measured at 40 inches or higher for men, and 35  inches or higher for women.
  2. High Blood Pressure – systolic at least 130 mm Hg, and diastolic at least 85 mm Hg
  3. Elevated Blood Sugar – measured at fasting blood glucose levels as above 100 mg/dL
  4. Cholesterol levels – harmful triglycerides at 150 mg/dL or above, beneficial High-Density Cholesterol (HDL) at  40 mg/dL or below for men and 50 mg/dL or below for women

Metabolic syndrome is believed to occur as a result of a variety of genetic and environmental factors, including an inactive lifestyle.

A malfunction in the body’s metabolism from resistance to the hormone Insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, maybe the defining cause of the metabolic syndrome.

When food is digested, the glucose extracted from it then normally enters the cells with the aid of insulin.

However, due to insulin resistance, glucose, a necessary nutrient molecule, does not enter the cells as readily and thereby accumulates in the blood.

The body tries to compensate for this by releasing high levels of insulin, which eventually leads to a total failure of the body to manufacture the hormone.

This is a cause of diabetes.

Insulin resistance also raises harmful fat levels in the blood, disrupts kidney functions, and leads to high blood pressure.

Childhood nutrition has been identified as a major issue in the development of metabolic syndrome in later life.

Surprisingly, bigger or heavier babies do not necessarily become unhealthy adults.

Long-term population studies show some additional factors responsible for metabolic disorders during adult life:

  • Inadequate nutrition by the mother during pregnancy
  • Inadequate nutrition by the infant during the first 2 years of life
  • Prematurity
  • Small baby body size, but high-fat body content
  • Fast weight gain during childhood

Besides medications, the most effective treatments and prevention strategies for metabolic syndrome are established as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, stop smoking, try to lose at least 5 – 10% of your total weight, and, finally, eat a healthy diet.

As specified by the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean Diet, foods to avoid are ones with unhealthy fats, red meat, deep-fried or processed foods, and table salt.

Foods with the most nutritional value are fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, beans, herbs, spices, and anything else rich in fiber.

If medications become necessary for further treatment, speak to your doctor to develop a customized plan which is right for you.

The following is a list of some common medications for aspects of metabolic syndrome:

  • For high blood pressure – Vasotec, Cozaar, Diovan
  • For cholesterol – Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor, Niaspan, Colestid
  • For diabetes – Glucophage, Actos, Avandia
Bhutta, Z.A.  “Early nutrition and adult outcomes: pieces of the puzzle.”  The Lancet 382(9891):486-487.  August 2013.
“Metabolic syndrome.”  Mayo Clinic.  Available from:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/metabolic%20syndrome/DS00522.  Last accessed:  August, 2013.

Written by Julia Yusupova

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