Are you being treated for high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Are you overweight with a majority of your fat around your waistline? If so, you may be suffering from a condition known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of medical disorders that when occurring together increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors, and while you can be affected by these factors individually, they tend to occur together. You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- A large waistline: Also called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Excess fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.
- High triglyceride level: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. High levels aren’t good.
- Low HDL cholesterol level (or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol): HDL sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.
- High blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure): Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.
- High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar): Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.
The last criteria, high fasting blood sugar, is a sign of insulin resistance, a condition in which the body can’t use its insulin properly. (Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells, where it’s used for energy.) Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels, and it’s closely linked to being overweight and obesity.
Genetics (ethnicity and family history) and advanced age are other factors that may play a role in causing insulin resistance. Many patients are told they have prediabetes when this abnormality is found. And even if your insulin metabolism isn’t abnormal as measured by fasting blood sugar, it’s most likely on its way to becoming abnormal if you possess other risk factors.
Losing weight is the ultimate goal when treating metabolic syndrome.
Most patients respond to a diet that is low in refined sugars, which are found in bread, pasta, rice and other starchy foods. Cookies and cereals also have high levels of sugars, as do snacks such as pretzels, chips and popcorn. And you better believe all sugared beverages such as colas, sweet tea and fruit juice are sources of refined sugar.
Cutting back – or eliminating – these items usually results in a significant weight loss. If you are not metabolizing sugar efficiently, avoidance is the best treatment until you lose enough weight to normalize your metabolism.
If lifestyle changes do not result in weight loss and the reduction of metabolic risk factors, medical therapy will likely be needed to help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and complications from diabetes such as kidney disease.
By Dr. Johnny Weeks, a primary care physician with Eagle Landing Adult Medicine