Metabolic Syndrome:  A Time for Change

Metabolic Syndrome: A Time for Change

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of metabolic factors that raise your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing diabetes.  Modifiable risk factors include a poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise.  Non-modifiable risk factors, or ones that you cannot control, are genetics and aging.

Some studies feel that years of a poor diet and lack of exercise lead to metabolic syndrome by first creating an environment of insulin resistance.  When food is consumed, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin to aid in metabolizing carbohydrates.  Insulin acts as a key to “unlock” the cells, helping the sugar (glucose) go from the blood stream to the inside of cells so that it can generate energy.  When there is excess glucose in the blood stream, the pancreas tries to manage it by producing more insulin.  For some, the cells stop responding to the insulin, and this is known as insulin resistance.

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when any three of the following conditions occur at one time:  obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal lipid (cholesterol) levels. 

  1. Obesity- those who are at a higher than normal weight, especially if the weight is carried in the abdominal region, are at risk

    • A man with a waist measurement more than 40 inches

    • A woman with a waist measurement more than 35 inches


  2. High blood pressure- a higher blood pressure, especially in conjunction with high blood sugar, can lead to arteriosclerosis.  This thickening of the blood vessel walls is usually a sign that the blood pressure has not been under control for quite some time.

    • A blood pressure more than 130/85 increases the risk of metabolic syndrome


  3. High blood sugar- also known as hyperglycemia, which can lead to blindness, amputations, a heart attack or stroke.

    • fasting blood sugar more than 100-110  increases the risk


  4. Abnormal cholesterol levels- also known as dyslipidemia, is when there are high triglycerides

    (which are part of the “bad” cholesterol readings), and not enough HDL (“good” cholesterol”). 

    Some feel that triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) reflect how we eat, such as baked goods, sweets and fats.  A healthy diet is one way to reduce the triglycerides.  A higher HDL is needed to remove the “bad” cholesterol.  When the HDL level is low, there is a greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.  Exercise in one excellent way to increase this level.

      • Triglycerides should be less than 150

      • HDL should be at least 40 for men, and at least 50 for women


        Lifestyle changes are usually the first line of treatment:

  • A weight loss of 5-10% of the body weight can reduce the risks, and help the body to utilize insulin more efficiently

  • Exercise reverses insulin resistance, improves the glucose level, improves the blood pressure, lowers the “bad” cholesterols (LDL, triglycerides), and raises the HDL

  • Eating a heart healthy diet, such as a Whole Food/Plant-based diet, DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or Mediterranean diet are key.  These diets work when the intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt is reduced while the fiber from fruits and vegetable intake are increased.

  • Some may require medications to manage the blood sugar, the cholesterol and blood pressure


    If you have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, then it is time to take action.  Lifestyle changes and diet are felt to be the cornerstone to success in improving your health.  Your healthcare provider will work with you to set goals and find ways to address this condition.  It takes a commitment as you break old habits and gain new ones, but longevity and improved quality of life will make it worth your efforts.





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