You may have heard the term metabolic syndrome, or perhaps insulin resistance syndrome, syndrome x, or cardiometabolic syndrome. Although this health condition was identified less than 20 years ago, it is pretty common. According to the American Heart Association, 47 million Americans have it. That’s one out of every six people. So what is metabolic syndrome, and is it something you need to worry about?
Metabolic syndrome is not a disease, it’s a group of risk factors. Therefore, you may not have any sign or symptom that something is wrong. But when these risk factors combine, your risk for heart disease or stroke doubles, and your risk for diabetes increases by five times. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of these diseases.
There are five risk factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome. If you have at least three of the five features, it is generally considered that you have metabolic syndrome. The risk factors are as follows.
Large waist size. For men, this is 40 inches or larger. For women, it is 35 inches or more. “Apple-shaped” (larger belly) is higher risk than a “pear-shaped” (larger hips) type body.
Elevated triglycerides or you are on medicine to treat high triglycerides. A triglyceride level greater than 150 puts you at risk.
Low good cholesterol (HDL) level or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL. For men, HDLs should be greater than 40. For women, greater than 50.
High blood pressure or you are on medicine to treat high blood pressure. High blood pressure is defined as greater than 135/85.
High fasting glucose level or you are on medicine to treat high blood sugar. A fasting blood glucose greater than 100 is too high.
Because metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors and not a single disease, the cause isn’t cut and dried. Many experts say the syndrome is becoming increasingly common because of rising obesity rates. Having extra fat, particularly belly fat, seems to increase your risk. Hormone imbalances, genetics, aging, insulin resistance and an unhealthy lifestyle all play a role, as well. Testing for metabolic syndrome involves some simple tests, including having your fasting blood sugar and lipids drawn, getting your blood pressure checked and measuring your waist.
You have no control over some of these risk factors, but there are some things you can do to lower your risk of metabolic syndrome.
First, and probably most important, is to lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Even a modest 5 percent to 10 percent weight loss will help lower your blood pressure and improve your blood glucose levels. The goal is for your BMI to be less than 25. BMI (body mass index) is a calculation using your height and weight. You can do a search online for “BMI calculator” and quickly figure your BMI.
Page 2 of 2 - Next, make sure you are following a heart healthy diet. A heart healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, oils or unsaturated fats, and lean meats. Choose and prepare foods with little salt, and try to avoid highly processed foods. Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Physical activity can help keep your heart healthy, lower your blood sugar, lower your blood pressure, improve your HDL levels and help with weight control. It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise, like brisk walking, each week.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking can increase your risk for heart disease.
Metabolic syndrome is a lifelong condition. But it can be controlled, largely with changes to your lifestyle, but also with medications to treat the various symptoms.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.