What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Conditions like increased blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels are not diagnosed as metabolic syndrome, but they do contribute to the risk of a serious disease. If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, the risk is even greater.
What are the symptoms?
Having metabolic syndrome means one has several disorders related to the metabolism at the same time, including:
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides and low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (also called the good cholesterol)
- Resistance to insulin, a hormone that helps to regulate the amount of sugar in your body
What are the risk factors?
The following factors increase the chances of developing the metabolic syndrome:
- Age - the prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
- Race - hispanics and Asians seem to be at a greater risk of metabolic syndrome than other races.
- Obesity - a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 increases the risk of metabolic syndrome. So does abdominal obesity; having an apple shape rather than a pear shape.
- History of diabetes – one is more likely to have metabolic syndrome if there is a family history of type 2 diabetes or a history of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
- Other diseases - a diagnosis of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or polycystic ovary syndrome also increases the risk of metabolic syndrome.
What is the treatment?
Aggressive lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication can improve all of the metabolic syndrome components. Getting more physical activity, losing weight and quitting smoking helps reduce blood pressure and improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These changes are key to reducing the risk.
Exercise: 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, every day.
Lose weight: losing as little as 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight can reduce insulin levels and blood pressure and decrease your risk of diabetes.
Eat healthy: a diet that limits unhealthy fats and emphasises fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains is ideal.
Stop smoking: smoking cigarettes increases insulin resistance and worsens the health consequences of metabolic syndrome.
It is important to monitor weight and blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure levels to ensure that lifestyle modifications are working. If you're not able to achieve your goals with lifestyle changes, medications may be prescribed to lower blood pressure, control cholesterol or help you lose weight.
What is the prevention?
Whether one has one, two or none of the components of metabolic syndrome, the following lifestyle changes will help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke:
- A healthy diet - eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed or deep-fried foods. Eliminate table salt and experiment with other herbs and spices.
- Get moving - get plenty of regular, moderately strenuous physical activity.
- Schedule regular checkups - Check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels on a regular basis.