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Metabolic Syndrome

Learn the basics of this little-known syndrome that occurs predominantly in overweight and sedentary individuals, and is linked to a number of cardiac risk factors.

Understanding Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is becoming more common, affecting almost 35 percent of adults living in the United States. Despite the high prevalence, it should not be considered ordinary.

Understanding Metabolic Syndrome

High blood pressure, abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, cholesterol and blood sugars. These are known danger signs for heart disease and diabetes. These are not newly discovered risk factors, though.

What obesity researchers have learned about these risks is the profound relationships among them. Their presence, together, increases the risk affected at much higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Even worse, there is an increased risk of premature death.

Metabolic syndrome is becoming more and more common, affecting almost 35 percent of all adults living in the United States. Despite the high prevalence of metabolic syndrome, it should not be considered ordinary.

The good news is one might not need to rely on medications to prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome. Adopting a metabolic syndrome diet and making other lifestyle changes are not only effective, but may be more beneficial than any sort of prescribed drug.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions shown to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health conditions. Diagnosing metabolic syndrome is based on National Cholesterol Education Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III criteria.

Three or more of the five components in adults indicates metabolic syndrome:

• Fasting glucose: > 100 mg/dL
• High triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia): > 150 mg/dL
• High-density lipoprotein (HDL): < 50 mg/dL for females and < 40 mg/dL for males
• Blood pressure: > 130/85 mmHg
• Waist circumference: > 35 for females and 40 for males

Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome symptoms and signs are mostly dependent on whether or not the diagnostic criteria are present. For instance, waist circumference is a noticeable indicator of metabolic syndrome.

Elevated glucose levels can also come with its own set of symptoms. Those with prediabetes and diabetes may experience the following:

• Fatigue
• Sudden or unexplained weight loss
• Increased thirst and urination
• Headaches
• Blurred vision
• Darkened skin
• Heightened hunger

Difficulty losing weight and ease of gaining it is common in those with metabolic syndrome, too. This is likely due to insulin resistance, a condition in which the hormone insulin is ineffective in using carb as energy. This leads to high blood sugars, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Weak Heart and Insulin Resistance

A strong association between insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease exists, which is explained in a number of ways. First off, insulin resistance can lead to chronic high blood sugars, in turn triggering oxidative stress, inflammation, and cell damage.

The way lipids are metabolized can likewise be altered if insulin resistant. This can lead to lipid metabolism which then leads to the development of abnormal lipid levels, or more specifically:

1. High triglyceride levels
2. Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as "good" cholesterol
3. Appearance of small dense low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or the "bad" cholesterol

Insulin resistance may increase heart failure risk, too. Congestive heart failure (CHF) is when the heart is no longer able to efficiently pump blood throughout the body. The insufficiency can lead to increased blood pressure and swelling, especially in the body's extremities.

Risk factors of CHF include coronary artery disease (CAD), high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and obesity. Heart failure is, unfortunately, irreversible once diagnosed. However, making lifestyle changes can contribute to a better quality of life.

Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome and Cardiovascular Fitness

Aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercise is promoted for its supportive role in heart health. Simply known as cardio, aerobic exercises encourages the heart to work efficiently. More oxygen-carrying blood is then able to move throughout the body with ease.

Exercise is beneficial to improving both blood pressure and blood glucose levels. When the body is active, muscles uptake glucose as available energy, in turn reducing circulating glucose in the blood. It can also lead to weight loss, in turn improving insulin sensitivity.

Research shows people who are physically inactive significantly increase their risk of coronary death. The risk only increases if diabetes is present. However, individuals can reduce both insulin resistance and heart disease risk by increasing physical activity. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) further proves this phenomenon.

The program included 3,234 obese subjects with impaired glucose tolerance, but not diagnosed with diabetes. Researchers randomized them into one of three treatment groups:

1. Metformin, a glucose-lowering medication
2. Lifestyle changes, including goals related to diet, regular exercise, and weight loss
3. Placebo, a fake treatment lacking therapeutic value

Out of the treatments, lifestyle changes proved to reign supreme. In fact, they were more effective than metformin with a reduced incidence of diabetes.

Research from the ATTICA study even shows light-to-moderate physical activity can considerably reduce metabolic syndrome prevalence. What's more, increased sedentary time is strongly related to metabolic risk, independent of physical activity.

Such results suggest people can benefit from reducing total sedentary time and avoiding prolonged periods of sedentary time. Increasing the number of breaks during sedentary time can help achieve this recommendation.

While more rigorous physical activity is beneficial, fitness improvement can be achieved without a formal exercise program. Effective ways to get active include taking stairs instead of elevators, running the vacuum daily, or walking the dog.

Metabolic Syndrome & Cognition

The links between metabolic syndrome and diabetes, heart disease, and other physical health problem are well-known. But the impact of metabolic syndrome on cognition and brain health should not go unnoticed.

A multitude of studies have found associations between metabolic syndrome and cognitive dysfunction in both adults and adolescents. More specifically, brain imaging literature suggests ischemic stroke, white matter alterations, and altered brain metabolism occur in adults. For adolescents, metabolic syndrome harms the hippocampus and frontal lobes. It also negatively impacts cognitive performance and brain structure.

Such changes are explained by various hypotheses. These include changes in blood vessels, inflammation, oxidative stress, and abnormal brain lipid metabolism. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis, or fatty plaque build-up on artery walls. If too much is built up, blood flow can be slowed down or block the heart, increasing the risk of stroke.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced. Brain tissue then become deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Within a matter of minutes, brain cells start to die. Alzheimer's disease and dementia can also be the consequence of uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes.

Proven methods that support brain health and cognition include smoke cessation, physical activity, and weight management. Controlling high blood pressure, lipids, and glucose levels is encouraged as well.

Metabolic Syndrome & Alcohol

Alcohol consumption and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome is an interesting phenomenon. Evidence does show light to moderate alcohol intake may reduce cardiovascular mortality the risks of diabetes. It may further improve HDL cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity.

However, heavy, lifetime alcohol users may be toasting metabolic syndrome. The study was presented by the American Heart Association (AHA), which showed a strong relationship between metabolic syndrome and alcohol intake.

More specifically, researchers examined the impact of Intensity and frequency of alcohol intake, rather than solely the volume. The researchers found heavy drinkers have a 60 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than light drinkers. "Heavy drinkers" consumed more than four drinks a day for women or six for men. The "light drinkers" were those who generally took in only 1 to 1.5 drinks daily.

Researchers do stress if not already a casual drinker, though, to not take up the habit. Excessive alcohol intake increases the risk of cancer, liver disease, and many other potentially fatal health conditions.

But if deciding to drink, men should limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks daily. Women are limited to one. Stick to proper serving sizes, too. Standard drinking sizes include 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Diet, Exercise and the Metabolic Syndrome. The Review of Diabetic Studies.

bistroMD Team Logo
Written By bistroMD Team. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on June 09, 2020.


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