Metabolic syndrome is a lifestyle disease that is becoming more and more prevalent, but not for the right reasons.
It is a cluster of physical, biochemical and metabolic symptoms that, when seen together, increase your risk for stroke, heart disease, diabetes and early death. Whilst the cause of Metabolic Syndrome continues to challenge the experts, lifestyle choices and hormonal changes are known contributing factors. Metabolic syndrome, otherwise known as Syndrome X, is defined as a combination of at least three of the below five risk factors:
- Excess fat around the waist area; Elevated waist circumference.
- A large waistline, otherwise known as central abdominal obesity (or ‘apple shape’, or ‘beer belly’) creates a greater risk for heart disease, than having excess fat in other parts of the body. For Caucasians, your risk is increased if your waist is >88cm (female), or >102cm (male).
- Elevated triglycerides levels, or drug treatment for elevated triglyceride levels.
- Triglycerides are a type of cholesterol, or fat found in the blood, and as such, this can be checked via blood test. Results higher than 1.7nmol/L place you at risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Reduced, or low HDL cholesterol, or you are on drug treatment for low HCL cholesterol.
- HDL cholesterol is another fat that is found in your blood, however, it is often called the ‘good cholesterol’ as it helps to remove ‘bad’ cholesterol from your arteries. Results less than 1.3nmol/L (females), or 1.0nmol/L (men) place you are risk of metabolic syndrome.
- High blood pressure, or drug treatment for 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 build-up. A BP reading of higher than 130 systolic, or greater than 85 diastolic places you at risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Elevated fasting blood sugar, or drug treatment for high blood sugar.
- An elevated blood glucose reading can suggest insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, or impaired glucose tolerance is sometimes referred to as ‘pre-diabetes’, and it can lead to a variety of concerns. A fasting glucose level of over 5.5nmol/L places you at risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Insulin resistance – due to simplification and ease, insulin resistance is no longer part of the official diagnostics of Metabolic Syndrome, however, elevated fasting blood sugar and insulin resistance are strongly connected, and thus, results should not be ignored. Fasting insulin results provide an insight into your glucose metabolism, and hence your glucose control. A level of less than 10nmol/L is ideal.
As per the International Diabetes Foundation, the worldwide definition of Metabolic Syndrome is the presence of at least three of the five listed risk factors above. It is recommended that you measure your waist to see where you may stand regarding your risk.
What causes Metabolic Syndrome?
The underlying cause of Metabolic Syndrome continues to challenge the experts, but both insulin resistance and central obesity are considered significant indicators or risk factors. Other factors such as genetics, sedentary lifestyle, ageing, inflammation, and hormonal changes may contribute to the picture, however they alone are not believed to be the sole reasons for the syndrome development.
Insulin resistance occurs when cells within the body become less sensitive, and eventually resistant to insulin and its function. Insulin is a hormone, and one of its many jobs is to allow glucose entrance into insulin-sensitive cells, so that the cell can get the energy it requires to function. It is produced and released after a meal, in response to a raise in blood glucose levels. It is insulins’ job to take the glucose from the blood, and transport it into cells so that it can be utilised for energy. When insulin resistance develops, insulin receptors become less responsive, and insulin becomes less competent at its job, and as such, glucose builds within the blood, triggering the need for more and more insulin. This means that after every meal, a higher production of insulin is required in order for the body to effectively utilise glucose and energy.
Unfortunately, as the disorder progresses, excess blood sugar levels develop as the pancreas is unable to produce adequate insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar level. The inability to produce enough insulin due to a build-up of glucose characterises the transition from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes. As such, insulin resistance is known as a pre-diabetes state.
Central adiposity, also known as beer belly, beer gut, pot belly, spare tyre, or central obesity, is when excessive abdominal fat around the stomach and abdomen has built up to the extent that it is likely to have a negative impact on health. The key words in these names is the location. Abdominal, central, belly, and gut are all specific to the abdominal area. It is now known that not all fat is the same, and the location of the fat is important when we are looking at the health implications. Abdominal fat, as opposed to hip, buttocks or thigh fat, includes visceral fat which accumulates deep within the abdomen, surrounding vital organs, creating space where there was none, crowding out the abdominal organs. In addition to their space creating characteristic, this type of fat, is now recognised as having metabolic, endocrine and immune disrupting functions. This fat, which was once thought of as simply an obesity marker, is now known as being more metabolically active, more insulin resistant, more inflammatory and more harmful than any other type of fat within the body.
It is important to understand that this type of fat is not simply ‘weighing you down’, or testing your self-esteem, but it is very active within the body, creating all kinds of havoc, and increasing your risk of multiple illnesses and overall mortality. Whilst society has created a stigma about abdominal fat as being ‘uncool’, it should also be spreading the fact that this type fat is seriously unhealthy.
Help, I think I have Metabolic Syndrome!
Metabolic syndrome is suspected when you have a waist measurement above 88cm for a female, and above 102cm for a male. If you think you are at risk of having Metabolic Syndrome, speak to our team of Naturopaths, nutritionists and doctors in order to see what you can do to reduce your risk.