You might have heard the term “metabolic syndrome” and envisioned it as some sort of specific disease, but it’s not quite a “disease” in the typical sense. Metabolic syndrome is better described as a health state in which you are at an increased risk for conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Metabolic syndrome has been defined in a few different ways. Here are a couple of different explanations:
- From the US National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP/ATP III): “The presence of three or more of the following metabolic disorders: central obesity (waist circumference), dyslipidemia (HDL, TG), hypertension (blood pressure), and insulin resistance (elevated fasting blood glucose)”
- From the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke”
- From MedlinePlus.gov: “a group of conditions that put you at risk for heart disease and diabetes”
- From Cleveland Clinic: “collection of risk factors that increase the chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes”
Depending on how many metabolic risk factors you have, you could be classified as having “metabolic syndrome.” The four health states listed under the NCEP/ATP III definition can be considered as “risk factors” for metabolic syndrome. There are a lot of science-y words in that definition, so let’s break it down.
- Central obesity: Fat accumulation in the abdominal area, which is particularly associated with obesity and its negative effect on health.
- Dyslipidemia: Unhealthy levels of lipids (fat) in your body. This could either be too-low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, too-high levels of “bad” cholesterol “LDL,” or too-high levels of triglycerides (TGs) – a type of fat saved as energy when your body can’t use all of the calories you’ve consumed.
- Hypertension: It’s basically common knowledge that high blood pressure isn’t a good thing, but why is that again? When you have high blood pressure, it means your heart and arteries are working extra hard to pump blood through the body. Remember, blood carries nutrients and oxygen that all of your cells rely on to survive.
- Insulin resistance: People develop type 2 diabetes when their cells form a resistance to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that facilitates the use of glucose for energy, so when cells aren’t responding to it, glucose levels in the blood increase. High blood glucose levels cause a myriad of problems, plus it means that your cells aren’t getting the glucose they need.
Mechanisms Behind Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic changes leading to heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension don’t happen overnight. Lifestyle choices like diet and physical activity levels play a huge role in metabolic syndrome development, but some factors are unavoidable. For example, risk for metabolic syndrome increases with age.
Physiological changes in the body as a result of certain lifestyle choices like poor diet and low exercise levels lead to underlying, systemic inflammation, and oxidative stress. These metabolic changes are what ultimately lead to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
Prevent or Manage
A healthy diet and active lifestyle can help prevent metabolic syndrome (and a lot of disease, really), but these qualities can also help manage metabolic syndrome if you’ve already started to develop it. Healthy food and physical activity support the liver and help your body better manage glucose.
For example, antioxidants found in micronutrients and phytonutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene can address oxidative stress. Antioxidants also promote healthy glucose metabolism and diabetes prevention, and they are associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Ultimately, the solution here isn’t shocking. Eat healthy food. Be active. Reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome.
(*drops the spinach*)