Metabolic Syndrome (also called Syndrome X) has become one of the most widely talked about health conditions in recent years. Although it’s only been identified in the past 20 years, according to the American Heart Association, nearly 1 out of every 6 Americans have it (that’s about 47 million people). That statistic is a little lower than the National Institutes of Health estimate which is 25% of Americans. But why it is getting so much press lately is because it is being shown to double your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. It also increases your risk of diabetes by 5 times. Metabolic syndrome is not really a disease by itself but a collection of unhealthy risk factors. According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are 5 risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome:
- Large Waist Size – For men, this means a waist of 40 inches or more. For women, a waist of 35 inches or more.
- High Triglycerides – Either 150 mg/dL or higher or using a cholesterol medicine
- Low Good Cholesterol – Either less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women or using a cholesterol medicine
- High Blood Pressure – Either having blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or greater or using a high blood pressure medicine.
- Elevated Fasting Blood Glucose – Having a fasting blood glucose level of 100 mg/dL or higher
To be diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome you need to have at least 3 of these factors.
Metabolic Syndrome is becoming more widely diagnosed, but the good news is it can be easily controlled with lifestyle changes. In fact, one 2005 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed how well lifestyle changes could prevent metabolic syndrome. Researchers looked at more than 3,200 people who already had impaired glucose tolerance, a pre-diabetic state. One group was instructed to make lifestyle changes. They exercised 2.5 hours a week and ate a low-calorie, low-fat diet. After three years, people in the lifestyle group were 41% less likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who got no treatment. The lifestyle changes were also about twice as effective as using a diabetes medicine, Glucophage.
Experts say you prevent and treat metabolic syndrome the same way. Here are the primary ways that it is treated:
- Exercise. Start slowly. The American Heart Association recommends, if possible, that you gradually step up to exercising on most days of the week for 30-60 minutes. Exercise such as walking daily even in the absence of significant weight loss may normalize triglycerides.
- Eat a healthy diet. You should follow a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and few saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Emerging evidence indicates that individuals who sleep fewer than six hours per night may face an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight. In order to prevent metabolic syndrome, it’s important to maintain a body mass index (BMI) lower than 25. Women should maintain a waist measurement of less than 35 inches, while men should aim for a waist measurement of less than 40 inches. For those with elevated blood glucose weight loss may not only return the sugar to normal levels, but in the Diabetes Prevention Study in individuals with slight elevations of blood sugar and a family history of diabetes, 20 pounds of weight loss decreased the risk for developing diabetes by 60 percent.
- Quit smoking if you smoke — now.
- Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Since metabolic syndrome doesn’t have symptoms, you need regular doctor visits to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. However, research is showing that diet and lifestyle changes are more effective in reversing the condition than taking multiple medications.
Your diet is one of the most important factors in treating Metabolic Syndrome so here are some dietary recommendations:
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Eat whole grains (rather than refined grains, like white rice and white bread)
- Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
- If you eat dairy, choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Have a low intake of salty foods
- Eat few foods and beverages with added sugar
There are also some natural substances you can take that have shown positive results in improving metabolic syndrome.
In a 2009 study of 374 adults, researchers found that consumption of carotenoids (a type of antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables) may help improve certain risk factors involved in metabolic syndrome. For instance, higher carotenoid intake was linked to smaller waistlines, less belly fat, and lower levels of triglycerides. Carotenoids are naturally abundant in a number of foods, including spinach, sweet potato, red peppers, tomatoes, kale, pumpkin, carrots, papaya, and collards.
Grape Seed Extract
In a small study published in 2009, four weeks of treatment with grape seed extract appeared to decrease blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome. However, there were no significant changes in cholesterol levels.
The herb kudzu shows promise in metabolic syndrome treatment, according to preliminary research published in 2009. In tests on rats with metabolic syndrome, scientists discovered that kudzu-fed animals experienced less weight gain and had healthier levels of blood pressure, insulin, and cholesterol after two months (compared to animals that weren’t fed kudzu).
Basically, what metabolic syndrome comes down to is it is the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and stress eventually has an effect on your body. The only way it can be remedied is to change your lifestyle and diet to adapt more healthy habits.