NUTRITION 9th August 2017

It can be deadly, yet 1 in 6 Americans has it.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Question: Which of the following statements is true?
A: ‘I can’t put weight on, I have a fast metabolism’
B: ‘I can’t lose weight, I have a slow metabolism
C: ‘I have type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure – my doctor says it’s metabolic syndrome’
Answer: All of them

Sure, metabolism is how fast your body burns calories, but when it’s out of control it can make you sick. This state, known as metabolic syndrome is on the rise, bringing with it an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

It affects 47 million American adults (1 in 6 people) and is even rising amongst teens (1 in 10). So what exactly is metabolic syndrome and how can you prevent it?

Let’s start here

It’s important to know that metabolic syndrome is not a disease, it’s a set of risk factors including abdominal fat, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Having one risk factor means you’re more likely to develop others, and together they form metabolic syndrome. As a result, someone with metabolic syndrome:

What causes metabolic syndrome?

Poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Often they lead to biological shortcomings in the body, starting with insulin resistance.

During digestion, food is broken down into glucose which is then shuttled into your cells by the hormone insulin, for energy – this is the process of metabolism.

Insulin resistance occurs when there is a rejection of glucose by the cells, and the body responds by pumping out even more insulin. The net effect: an overload of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream.

A normal cell allows glucose in, an insulin resistant one blocks it

Elevated blood glucose does two things: it spikes your triglycerides – a type of fat, and causes kidney dysfunction, which provokes high blood pressure. Now you have high fat, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, the stage has been set for metabolic syndrome.

Another driver is obesity, specifically around the waist. There is a direct link between those with high levels of abdominal fat and metabolic syndrome.

Finally, hormone imbalances are commonly associated with metabolic syndrome.

Who is at risk?

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when three or more of the following conditions exist (source: American Heart Association):

  • Abdominal obesity (Waist circumference of greater than 40 inches in men, and greater than 35 inches in women)
  • Triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or greater
  • HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women
  • Systolic blood pressure (top number) of 130 mm, or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of 85 mm
  • Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater

In general, it increases after the age of 40 and has been shown to be more common amongst African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.


Now for the good news. Metabolic syndrome is reversible. It should come as no surprise, but committing to a diet high in plant foods and good fats should be your starting point. Also, moderate your carbohydrates and restrict processed foods and vegetable oils where possible. Exercise regularly and quit smoking (if applicable). Last but not least, lay off the alcohol.

As always pushing for health.



Photo Credit: TJ Maroon, M.D.