Metabolic Syndrome:  Danger Ahead

We’re talking about metabolic syndrome today.  You’ve probably heard of this condition, but you may not completely understand what it is.  The best way to think about metabolic syndrome is as an advanced warning system.  We can compare it to the lights and warning sounds of a railroad crossing.

When you are driving and come upon a railroad crossing with the red lights flashing and the horns blaring, what is your reaction?  That’s easy, isn’t it?  You immediately recognize that something dangerous is ahead.  The railroad warning system is telling you that unless you respond appropriately (in this instance you should stop your car before you drive across the tracks), you will almost certainly be hit by a train and if not killed, then seriously injured.

That is exactly what metabolic syndrome is.  It is a warning system that lets you know that unless you respond appropriately to the warning signs, you are going to be in serious danger.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

It’s called a syndrome because it isn’t a formal disease per se.  Rather, it is a cluster of conditions that signal and lead to chronic and life-threatening illnesses.  There are several conditions, and in order to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you must have at least three of them. 

These conditions include:

·      A waistline of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women (measured across the belly)

·      A blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or higher or are taking blood pressure medications

·      A triglyceride level above 150 mg/dl

·      A fasting blood glucose (sugar) level greater than 100 mg/dl or are taking glucose-lowering medications

·      A high density lipoprotein level (HDL) less than 40 mg/dl (men) or under 50 mg/dl (women) 1

Even if you are just barely in the risk categories of three of these conditions, such as having slightly high blood pressure, slightly increased blood sugar and a belly measurement of just over 35 (for women) and 40 (for men) inches, you are still in grave danger.  Your body is signaling to you that the environment inside your blood vessels, heart and other organs is toxic and under great duress.  Even though it is still early in the process, damage is occurring.  The lights are flashing, the horns are sounding.

What is the risk?

So what’s the danger?  What is this toxic environment producing?  Someone with metabolic syndrome is at high risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney problems, blood clots, reduced insulin production and even dementia.

The most at-risk people are those who have extra fat in their abdomen and waist, who have a family history of diabetes, and who have skin changes called acanthosis nigricans (darkened skin on the back of their neck or under their arms) and skin tags (usually on the neck).

Reversing Metabolic Syndrome:  You can do this!

And now for great news:  metabolic syndrome is not only preventable, but even if you already have it, you can reverse it with lifestyle changes.

The first thing to do is lose any extra weight that you are carrying.  Eat a diet that is high lean proteins & vegetables, as well as some fruit and nuts.  Of course, limit the processed junk!  Weight loss is probably 80% diet and 20% exercise.  You really are what you eat!

Secondly, be sure to get regular exercise (at least 150 minutes per week).  Not only will this burn extra calories and help to prevent further weight gain, but it will really start to condition and strengthen your cardiovascular system.  You will also use insulin more efficiently as you increase your exercise.

Preventing and reversing metabolic syndrome is a lifelong commitment:  you are changing your lifestyle.  If you already have some of the warning signs, respect those signs as you respect the flashing lights and blaring horns of a railroad crossing. It’s time to take action!

 

Sources: 

1 http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/metabolic_syndrome/hic_metabolic_syndrome.aspx

Brynn Anglin