Do You Have Metabolic Syndrome?

A new study has revealed shocking figures about metabolic syndrome in the United States. Previous data from the 1999–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicated that approximately 34 percent of American adults have metabolic syndrome.

The latest study, published in May 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined more recent statistics and revealed that the incidence of metabolic syndrome is rising as the population ages. Almost half (46.7 percent) of U.S. adults aged 60 or older now are showing the symptoms of this dangerous illness, while individuals aged 20–39 are affected at a rate of 18.3 percent.

In general, the 2015 study found that women have metabolic syndrome in greater numbers than men, and those of Hispanic descent have the highest prevalence in comparison to Caucasian or African-Americans.

These studies have analyzed the prevalence trends of metabolic syndrome to help scientists understand the potential effects and health complications it is causing for the aging American population. Overall, the research team concluded that levels of metabolic syndrome increased from 32.9 percent in 2003–04 to 34.7 percent in 2011–12.

The rate of the increase seems to have stabilized, which the researchers explained may be due to an increased awareness of the associated health risks. However, they pointed out that most of the initiatives taken have been tied to the medical treatment of symptoms, such as prescriptions to lower blood pressure.

What is metabolic syndrome?

A syndrome is a grouping of symptoms that often occur together, and tend to characterize a particular medical condition.

In this case, the term “metabolic syndrome” represents a set of worrisome signs, which indicate that the body’s essential balance has been damaged and health is at risk. While metabolic syndrome is not a disease in itself, those showing this set of symptoms tend to have a significantly higher risk of many common diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Doctors have predicted that metabolic syndrome will soon overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for heart disease, due to the sharp rise in obesity levels during the last few decades.

When the common symptoms under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome occur as a set and are considered together, the risk for many life threatening illnesses is dramatically higher. You can think of it like a sweater with threads unravelling from the bottom, neck and sleeves all at once. The symptoms commonly occur together because the body’s systems are interdependent.

Studies show that those with metabolic syndrome have twice the risk of developing heart disease and five times the risk of diabetes. The good thing is that these conditions are largely preventable and can be controlled with smart diet and lifestyle practices.

Signs of metabolic syndrome

Doctors will diagnose metabolic syndrome if a patient has three of the following five conditions:

  • Waist circumference: at least 35 inches for women and at least 40 inches for men. This is also called abdominal obesity or an “apple shape.” Fat around the internal organs is a sign of inflammation and is a greater risk factor than excess fat elsewhere on the body.
  • Fasting blood glucose at least 100 mg/dL, or needing medication to balance blood glucose. This means the body is having trouble dealing with sugar in the blood. This can be an indicator of the onset of diabetes.
  • Serum triglycerides at least 150 mg/dL. These are fats that float in the blood for the purpose of storing energy, which is used between mealtimes. If triglyceride levels are too high, there is an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Blood pressure at least 135/85mmHg, or needing medication to control blood pressure. If blood pressure stays high over time, the arteries and heart are damaged by the constant pressure, which leads to plaque buildup.
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol lower than 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women. HDL cholesterol helps to remove buildup from inside the arteries. If these levels are low, this means the body is more inflamed and there is a greater risk for arterial blockage.

These conditions come as a package with systemic inflammation and insulin resistance. In fact, metabolic syndrome is sometimes referred to as insulin resistance syndrome. Insulin resistance is when the body can no longer properly process blood sugar. This brings on a cascade of malfunctions.

So now we know the medical signs that your doctor will use to check for metabolic syndrome, but what about some that you can easily spot yourself? Here are some signs that you have insulin resistance and potential metabolic syndrome:

  • Ovarian cysts. Researchers have found that women with metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are also more likely to have cysts on their ovaries.
  • Irregular periods. Menstrual issues can be a side effect of ovarian cysts.
  • Increased incidence of skin tags. People with insulin resistance sometimes see more of these raised growths of skin, especially on the neck and back.
  • Skin pigmentation. Those with insulin resistance sometimes exhibit acanthosis nigricans, which is a skin discoloration across the back of the neck and in the armpits.
  • Always feeling hungry, or feeling unstable and moody when food isn’t readily available.
  • If your blood sugar is elevated and insulin sensitivity is reduced, you may experience signs associated with diabetes, such as increased thirst and urination, fatigue and blurred vision.
  • Researchers have also discovered a link between metabolic syndrome and depression.

These signs may seem confusing or unrelated, but it is important to know that they may be tied to metabolic syndrome.

How to avoid metabolic syndrome

The good news is that metabolic syndrome can almost always be brought into check with aggressive lifestyle changes. If you are having a hard time adopting consistent healthy eating and movement practices, let this scary warning about metabolic syndrome be your wake-up call.

Many patients have had excellent results by simply adopting a “just eat real food” approach. This means avoiding foods that come in packages or contain any type of additives or processed ingredients.

Beyond increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminating processed foods, health experts recommend some other interesting approaches, which can help with regulating inflammation and blood sugar to reduce the tendency toward metabolic syndrome.

A ketogenic diet is one approach that has shown positive results. Eating a ketogenic diet involves reducing the level of carbohydrates consumed so that the body uses fat as fuel instead of glucose. This is a healthy and normal function of the human body and is considered by many experts to be our natural mode of operation, since carbohydrates were often less available to our ancestors.

Using the fat-burning pathway has been shown to regulate insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, which helps ward off that dangerous cascade of metabolic syndrome. You can kick-start this engine by restricting carbohydrates to 30 or 40 grams per day, while consuming most of your daily calories in the form of healthy fats and moderate protein intake.

Fasting intermittently also helps to drive this process, since the body is more apt to access fuel in the form of body fat when it is not being fed frequently. Be sure to take your individual situation into account and consider working with a knowledgeable practitioner if you decide to try a ketogenic diet.

metabolic  syndromeIncorporating probiotics and fermented foods to infuse the gut with friendly bacteria has also been proven as a helpful tool against metabolic syndrome. A 2014 study done at Georgia State University and Cornell University found that poor gut bacteria can lead to higher levels of inflammation in the gut lining and increased prevalence of chronic health conditions.

Certain species of bacteria are more aggressive and actually produce substances that increase inflammation. The researchers pointed out that inflammation is one of the major underlying drivers of metabolic syndrome. Using beneficial bacteria helps to bring the gut environment back into balance so that the body can maintain healthy low levels of inflammation.

Although the best way to consume probiotics is through fermented or cultured foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut or kimchi, you can also take a high quality probiotic supplement. We recommend avoiding commercial “probiotic” foods such as yogurt, since they are usually high in sugar and have far fewer beneficial bacteria than other less processed sources.

Finally, regular movement and exercise is also a great way to reduce blood triglyceride levels and keep inflammation in check. A sedentary lifestyle is closely linked to higher levels of metabolic syndrome. It doesn’t take much, just a half-hour walk each day is a great start.

If you have found that you’re showing some warning signs of metabolic syndrome (or even if you’re not), get started on the road away from metabolic syndrome today! It is never too late to prevent or reverse the decline into poor health. You can try incorporating some healthy lunch ideas, or delicious alternatives to calorie-laden drinks like soda.

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