Metabolic syndrome is a recognized cluster of symptoms that greatly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, some doctors believe that type 2 diabetes is just a later complication caused by metabolic syndrome.
Controlling the symptoms of metabolic syndrome aren’t just helpful for type 2 diabetes, it’s helpful for many other diseases. Let’s take a deeper look at what it is.
The International Diabetes Foundation defines the syndrome as follows. You need to have central obesity (fat around the abdomen) above a certain amount. There are specific measurements based on ethnicity, but if you have a BMI of over 30 then it is assumed that you have this symptom.
You also need at least two of the following:
- Triglycerides > 150 mg/dL, or be on triglyceride treatment.
- HDL cholesterol < 40 mg/dL in males or < 50 in females, or be on cholesterol treatment.
- Blood pressure that’s over 130/85, or previously diagnosed hypertension.
- Fasting plasma glucose of over 100 or a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Other conditions tied to metabolic syndrome include:
- Hyperuricemia (excess uric acid in the blood)
- Fatty liver
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Erectile dysfunction
- Acanthosis nigricans (areas of dark, velvety discoloration in body folds and creases)
We’ve known for decades that these symptoms are bad news for our health. Worse, current numbers state that 34% of Americans have the syndrome and the numbers are climbing.
Half of all people with coronary artery disease have the syndrome, and those defined/diagnosed with pre-diabetes are likely to have this syndrome, though a different set of markers are used for pre-diabetes diagnosis. It’s even been tied to increased risk for several cancers. It stands to reason that if the causes of metabolic syndrome can be controlled, chances of getting these diseases will go down and that existing damage could even be reversed.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
The underlying causes of the syndrome are a subject of much research. Doctors don’t know all of the mechanisms, but there are a few things they’ve discovered.
The most important risk factors found are:
- Diet (especially sugared drink consumption)
- Sedentary behavior
- Disrupted sleep
- Psychotropic medication
- Excessive alcohol use
One study has a hypothesis that there are four types of foods in Western diets that contribute to the condition:
- Branch-chain amino acids
These energy sources are not regulated by insulin and are likely to be stored in the liver as fat. How do we cut these out? It’s the same diet advice we’ve been receiving for decades. Cut out processed foods, too much meat, no alcohol, and limit the amount of sugar you consume. It’s the same advice you’ve probably been hearing from your doctor for some time now.
Thankfully, there’s hope!
Metabolic syndrome could be the main underlying problem behind many of our current health epidemics. Fortunately, with some education and effort, it can be reversed. If you’re living with diabetes, reach out to your diabetes coach and put together a game plan. If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s time to do the do, get in to your doctor and make with the diet and exercise.