Metabolic syndrome is a term we are hearing more and more each day, but what does it mean? Let’s go through the details of metabolic syndrome, it’s risks, symptoms, and some possible treatment options.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
The current definition of metabolic syndrome has become controversial recently. Essentially, the term refers to a combination of several symptoms that must present themselves together. Recently we have discovered interesting relationships between the root causes that make up these symptoms. These relationships allow us to better understand how to treat the issue.
When we talk about metabolic syndrome, we are referring to a set of risk factors that can increase the probability of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
These risk factors include:
- High triglyceride levels (>150 mg/dL [milligrams per deciliter of blood])
- Abdominal obesity (>40 inches in men, >35 inches in women)
- High blood sugar (>100 mg/dL fasting glucose)
- High blood pressure (>130 systolic, or >85 diastolic)
- Low good cholesterol levels (<40 mg/dL in men, <50 mg/dL in women)
Just one of these factors can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease; however, it is not until you have three or more of these risks that you’re diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. The American Heart Association estimates that 23% of adults are affected by metabolic syndrome, yet few people know they have it. This is because the relationship of the symptoms are often missed without the proper testing.
Metabolic Syndrome Symptoms
So how do you best identify if you have metabolic syndrome? As metabolic syndrome refers to these five risk factors, it can be easy to miss the symptoms.
The way we carry our weight is a good indication of what is out of balance in our body. The most natural sign to identify metabolic syndrome is abdominal obesity. Visceral fat is stored in the abdomen and makes up approx 10% of your body fat. This fat resides close to many vital internal organs such as the liver, intestines, and stomach. Studies have shown that abdominal obesity is a better indicator of heart disease and insulin resistance risk than general obesity.
The remaining risk factors must be identified through proper testing; however, here are some indicators to help determine when you should seek out a medical professional.
High blood sugar
Hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar, can be caused by insulin resistance. This can occur in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and if left untreated can cause diabetic coma and become fatal. Some signs of Hyperglycemia are headaches, tiredness, hunger, brain fog, blurry vision, and frequent urination.
High blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is hard to identify. Most people affected aren’t aware they have it until severe signs begin to present themselves. Symptoms such as severe headaches, vision issues, chest pain, breathing difficulty, and blood in your urine will only show if your blood pressure is extremely high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 U.S. adults have hypertension, and just under 20% aren’t aware they have it. It is essential to check your blood pressure regularly to identify concerns before these symptoms arise.
High triglyceride levels
Triglycerides are a type of fat that can be found in your blood. Although some triglycerides are required to produce energy, high amounts increase your risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, there are no real symptoms for this condition, and the only way to identify it is through blood testing. It is important to notify your health professional if you feel like things might be out of balance.
Low good cholesterol
Good cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which delivers cholesterol from your bloodstream to your liver. Your liver then can then remove any excess cholesterol that your body doesn’t need. Bad cholesterol, however, solidifies and builds up in the body. Excess bad cholesterol typically has no symptoms until a severe medical issue occurs. Low HDL does have warning signs but are often misdiagnosed as they tend to mimic signs of depression and anxiety. Watch for nervousness, agitation, feelings of hopelessness, or changes to your eating habits or sleep.
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, or have any concerns that you may be affected by metabolic syndrome, contact a healthcare provider and ask to be tested.
Metabolic Syndrome Treatment
Although medications, such as aripiprazole, are available to treat the overall condition, they targeting the symptoms and don’t address the root cause of the issue. The sustainable approach is to manage your insulin resistance through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.
Metabolic Syndrome Diet
When looking to combat metabolic syndrome, a significant first step is working with a metabolic syndrome diet. Many foods can contribute to or worsen metabolic syndrome. These include sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and foods high in sodium. These ingredients should be reduced or avoided in your diet.
Instead, you should focus on consuming monounsaturated fat, complex carbs, fiber, and fish. Omega-3 fatty acids help raise your healthy cholesterol levels and promote a strong heart and blood vessels. These can be obtained from fish, seeds, and nuts such as almonds, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds.
A meta-study consisting of 18 studies indicated that consuming dietary fiber, specifically from cereals and fruits, reduces the risk of heart disease. Some ways to add fiber to your diet include fresh or dried fruit, dried beans, lentils, or high fiber vegetables.
Potassium can also be added to your diet to help counteract the effects of sodium and balance your blood pressure. A study showed that increased potassium intake was directly associated with reducing blood pressure in adults with hypertension. You can add potassium to your diet with many commonly available foods such as bananas, oranges, tomatoes, and lentils.
Metabolic Syndrome Exercise
Exercise is a manageable addition to your schedule and has many benefits on top of helping combat metabolic syndrome. A study on the effects of exercise on the children of parents with diabetes showed that it reduced insulin resistance and increased insulin sensitivity of the subjects. So what exercises work best?
Studies have shown that even without dietary changes, moderate-intensity exercises improved metabolic syndrome. These benefits were even more significant with high-intensity workouts, so when possible, focus on high energy activities. These will not only help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, but it will also promote cardiovascular health. Try speed walking, jogging, or cycling to get your heart rate up and burn calories.
Make sure to include resistance training in your routine. Although cardio will help with weight loss and blood flow, muscle training will have the most significant long term benefits for metabolic syndrome. A study showed that higher levels of muscular fitness reduced insulin resistance in adolescents and reduced the risk of heart failure and prehypertension in men. If you don’t have access to a gym or a set of weights, easily add muscle training to your routine with resistance bands.
Metabolic syndrome is a growing concern that you may not even be aware is affecting you. Although there are some signs, diagnosing metabolic syndrome requires a healthcare professional to run the proper testing. Treatments are available, but each person requires a nutritional and exercise plan specific to their needs.
As a registered Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Doctor in Kitchener Waterloo, my focus is on hormone imbalance and metabolic repair. Contact me today for personalized testing to identify your individual needs and create a sustainable approach to your health.