Metabolic syndrome prevalence increased from 1988 to 2012 for every sociodemographic group; by 2012, more than a third of all US adults met the definition and criteria for metabolic syndrome agreed to jointly by several international organizations.
That’s the conclusion of a National Health and Nutrition study published in March 2017, on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. America, we have a problem.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
According to WebMD, metabolic syndrome, or Syndrome X, “is a group of risk factors—high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and belly fat—that increases risk of heart disease and diabetes.”
47 million Americans, or one out of six people suffer from the inherited syndrome, predominantly among non-White populations, according to the study. The chances of developing the syndrome increase with age.
And while any of one these risk factors is significant in itself, the combined risks of several of these conditions increases the seriousness of the consequences: heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. A diagnosis of Syndrome X occurs when an individual presents with at least three of the five conditions.
Since it’s not a disease but a complex of risk factors, no pill, surgery, or medical treatment cures it. In fact, the best cure is not in medicine but in your hands.
Diet, exercise, and medications improve the condition, but preventative measures in the form of a healthy lifestyle are more likely to preclude the cluster of potentially chronic diseases before their onset.
What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?
Multiple causes contribute to the syndrome: insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes and belly fat; obesity, especially belly fat; hormonal imbalance, for example, polycystic ovary syndrome; and a poor diet combined with a sedentary lifestyle.
Your family history of diabetes or heart disease may increase the likelihood of getting it as well as genetics. Genetics Home Reference recommends checking the health records of relatives from three generations—parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins—to see if you might be at risk.
Other considerations include how you gain weight. If you gain weight around your middle, you may be at risk for getting metabolic syndrome. Excess belly fat contains visceral fat linked to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
How Is It Treated?
The most effective treatment is lifestyle changes, specifically, habits to maintain a healthy heart.
The main goal of treatment is to lower the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol or high blood pressure, given these conditions exist. Preventing Type 2 diabetes that may lead to heart and kidney disease, vision loss or limb amputations is the second goal.
Of course, medications for treatment exist. For example, satins help control diabetes and high LDL cholesterol levels. Other medications may be prescribed to treat high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
Ideally, metabolic syndrome patients change their eating and exercise habits to improve their overall well being. A healthier lifestyle will improve symptoms or prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors include:.
Healthy Eating —A plant-based diet recommended in the proposed Dietary Guidelines for Americans or a Mediterranean style diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seafood helps prevent metabolic syndrome.
Eating less meat, cheese, and sugars, even sugary fruit juices, soft drinks, and alcoholic drinks, leads to weight loss as does eating more soluble fiber, such as oats and beans. Fiber makes you feel full and curbs your appetite. Dietary fiber, such whole grains, improves bowel movement regularity and also lowers cholesterol.
Eating too much sugar raises blood sugar levels, which causes the pancreas to produce insulin to move that sugar out and into blood cells. A steady diet of sugar causes high levels of insulin to remain in the body, which leads to higher glucose levels as the insulin receptors become desensitized. The result is insulin resistance, which leads to high glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Weight Loss—Healthy eating and exercise promote weight loss. If you’re maintaining a healthy diet and exercising three to five times a week for 30 minutes, you’re increasing the odds of maintaining heart health and losing weight. If you’re not losing weight (especially if you’re emerging from a sedentary lifestyle), you should check with your doctor for other causes of weight gain, such as a malfunctioning thyroid.
Exercise—Reducing your waist size or weight loss, in general, often can’t be accomplished with diet alone. But even a little bit of exercise helps reduce blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Losing some weight is better than none.
Light aerobic exercise or strength training increases metabolism and burns calories leading to weight loss. The recommended minimum is 30 minutes a day three to five days a week.
And sitting around at the computer or watching TV increases the risk for diabetes by 3% for every hour of daily sitting, according to a recent study in the British Medical Journal.
Stress management—High stress levels can lead to overeating, anxiety, depression, and a host of other conditions that contribute to metabolic syndrome. Diet and exercise are known to reduce stress, but daily meditation, life-work balance, and maintaining healthy relationships all reduce stress. Incorporating even five minutes a day of meditation or slow breathing with your eyes closed calms your mind.
Smoking Cessation—Smoking is associated with hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, and thus is a contributing factor to the syndrome.
The New Face of Medicine
Traditional medicine looks at patient symptoms to treat specific systems in the body. Most practitioners will recommend a sensible diet, exercise, and smoking cessation. They may encourage patients to enroll in programs or classes to help them achieve their goals. However, traditional medicine partitions itself into specialties, targeting areas of the body for treatment.
An emerging medical practice and philosophy, functional medicine, takes a holistic approach to the underlying causes of the body’s chronic diseases. Functional medicine looks at the body as an integrated system to be treated, not just specific organs.
The functional medicine approach is to engage the patient in a partnership of discovering and addressing the healthcare needs of the whole person, not just their symptoms. By understanding the patient picture of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, functional medical practitioners unearth the causes of complex chronic disease, like Syndrome X.
By partnering with the patient, the practitioner learns the patient’s unique genetic makeup, as well as the patient’s mind, body, spirit, physical environment (exposure to toxins) and social environment to tackle underlying causes to chronic conditions affected by total functioning of the human being.
Whether treating under traditional or functional medicine, however, preventing metabolic syndrome requires changing unhealthy habits—the sooner the better. Waiting until symptoms appear or a diagnosis from your doctor may be too late. The damage is already done. Simple modifications you can make on your own make a big difference in prevention.