Some of the most common health issues my patients face today are weight control, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Did you know that the three of them are related? Yes, they are. They belong to a group of metabolic disorders called “metabolic syndrome” and can put you at risk for developing heart and other diseases!
Metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance, is one of the most common metabolic disorders today in adults over age 40. In fact, recent Center for Disease Control statistics shows men and women ages 40-70 are between 3-6 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome!
In this article I’d like to explain why, after age 40, you can find yourself with this frustrating metabolic disorder and how you can avoid it or get rid of it!
How Does Metabolic Syndrome Occur?
In today’s world of processed foods, we are likely to eat more carbohydrates like sugar, potatoes, bread, and high fructose corn syrup than our body can efficiently use. In fact, 25% of Americans consume over 180 lbs of sugar a year! Interestingly, 25%, (some say 32%) or over 68,000,000 Americans, have pre-diabetes or type-2 diabetes! Let me explain the correlation.
Insulin is a hormone our body secretes to process the food we eat. All food is eventually converted to glucose. Some foods, like proteins and vegetables, are metabolized into glucose slowly and keep blood sugar stable. Sugar and other carbohydrates are metabolized quickly and cause blood sugar to soar quickly then fall lower than it was. This drop in blood sugar causes hunger.
As we age, most people cannot process sugar/carbohydrates like they did when they were younger. They secrete too much insulin in response to sugar/carbs and, essentially, develop a resistance to their own insulin! Less is used for energy and more is stored as belly fat!
In addition, blood pressure goes up and so does bad, LDL, cholesterol levels. This triad of belly fat, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are the cornerstones of metabolic syndrome.
Health Risks and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
As I explain to my patients, having metabolic syndrome can put you at risk not only for heart disease; it can also cause other diseases. Non-alcoholic cirrhosis, kidney failure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, colon cancer, sleep apnea, and dementia can be related to the disorder.
Does being overweight automatically mean you have metabolic syndrome? Not necessarily. In fact, it seems to be triggered by overeating, not obesity. The following are usually present in people who have metabolic syndrome:
- Predominant abdominal obesity – men waistline greater than 40, women 35.
- Elevated triglycerides – 150 mg/dL or higher.
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol – 40 mg or lower in men, 50 in women.
- High LDL (bad) cholesterol – above 100, but new studies indicate above 70 is risky.
- Raised blood pressure – 130/85 or higher.
- Insulin resistance – spiking insulin levels after eating sugar/carbohydrates.
A visit to your doctor will usually confirm if you have metabolic syndrome. They may run certain tests on you like:
- Hemoglobin A1c – measures circulating blood sugar. Levels should be under 7.
- Fasting blood sugar – can reveal type 1 or 2 diabetes. Levels should be below 110.
How Can I Avoid or Remedy Metabolic Syndrome?
As I advise my patients, metabolic syndrome can lead to other health issues. However, the good news is it can be treated successfully. Below are the best ways to beat metabolic syndrome:
- Diet changes: A low-glycemic index diet (see our recent newsletter article on low GI eating, Lose Weight, Feel Great with Slow Carbs!) stops you from over-secreting insulin and balances blood sugar levels. Avoid/limit starches (white potatoes, white rice, white bread, corn). Add good oils like olive and coconut oils. Add oatmeal for breakfast. These oils and fiber lower bad and boost good cholesterol levels.
- Lose Weight: Metabolic syndrome develops most commonly where there is a predominance of belly fat (see our recent newsletter article, Fiber Fights Belly Fat and Disease!). Lowering your weight by even 10% can reverse this disorder.
- Limit Sugar: Sugar, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup are present in many processed foods. Read labels that list sugars added in ingredients. Limit total intake to 25 grams a day.
- Limit Caffeine: Caffeine causes you to secrete insulin and crave sugar.
- Exercise: 30 minutes daily sustained, aerobic exercise every day reduces insulin levels. Resistance training 3x week builds muscle, raises metabolism, and burns fat.
- Drink A Glass of Wine: Research shows that people who never drink alcohol are at higher risk for metabolic syndrome! Polyphenols/resveratrol in red wine helps metabolize sugars and fats and lowers LDL cholesterol. Limit 1-2 glasses per day.
- Cinnamon Extract – Recent studies have shown that compounds in cinnamon can improve insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic syndrome. Be sure to use toxin-free water-extracts only. Consult a doctor familiar with nutrient medicine for its safe usage.
As you can see by statistics I’ve listed here, metabolic syndrome is running rampant in the United States along with type-2 diabetes! If you’re concerned you may have this disorder, do see your doctor. By making simple dietary and exercise changes, you can help prevent or banish metabolic syndrome, and the health risks it poses, safely without drugs!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.