Metabolic syndrome, (also known as syndrome X), is characterized by a cluster of risk factors that come together to predispose a person to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, increasing the risk for heart attacks and strokes. The term metabolic, refers to the sum of all the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. The dominant underlying risk factors for the development of metabolic syndrome are abdominal obesity and insulin resistance. Other factors include high blood pressure, altered cholesterol, (especially lower levels of HDL, or good cholesterol), and elevated triglycerides, (blood fats). C-reactive proteins are often high indicating that a body is in an overall inflammatory state.
Insulin is a hormone which is produced by the pancreas to help transport blood sugar into the cells. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body fails to use its insulin properly. Insulin resistance can affect the body’s overall metabolism. Each cell in the body depends on blood sugar, or glucose, in order to produce energy. Resistance to insulin causes too little glucose to enter the cells, thus leaving extra sugar in the blood. In response, the body produces additional insulin. The result is that higher than normal levels of both insulin and sugar are found in the blood.
Blood sugar levels of people with metabolic syndrome are not high enough to qualify as diabetes. However, moderately elevated glucose levels interfere with normal body processes. Increased insulin can raise triglyceride levels. Elevated insulin also interferes with proper kidney function, which can contribute to high blood pressure. These combined effects of insulin resistance increase an individual’s risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.
About 50 million Americans are believed to have metabolic syndrome. The incidence of metabolic syndrome increases significantly after age 50, with Hispanics and Asians more frequently effected. Males with waists of 40 inches and females with waists of 35 inches or more are especially at risk for developing the problem. Other markers include fasting triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL, fasting blood sugar levels above 110 mg/dL, blood pressures of 135/85, or higher, and HDL levels, (good cholesterol), which fall below 40 mg/dL for males and 50 mg/dL for females. Lack of physical exercise is also a predisposing factor.
In many cases, early onset metabolic syndrome can be successfully treated without medication. Weight loss, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and smoking cessation are potently effective in improving the various components of metabolic syndrome. These lifestyle changes require a lifelong commitment to truly be effective.