What is the Metabolic Syndrome?
It is estimated that one in three Americans may be at risk for the “metabolic syndrome” (also known as Syndrome X and Insulin Resistance Syndrome). Syndrome X is a cluster of conditions that places one at increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and liver disease.
What Causes the Metabolic Syndrome?
The exact cause of the metabolic syndrome is unknown. It is currently thought that a cluster of risk factors may be responsible including poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, and genetic factors.
What are some of the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome?
The only symptom of the metabolic syndrome is abdominal obesity. Other symptoms one may experience such as low back pain, knee pain, or sleep apnea are directly related to the obesity and are not specific to Syndrome X.
How is The Condition Diagnosed?
According to the National Heart and Lung Institute, any 3 of the following are needed to diagnose the metabolic syndrome:
- Abdominal obesity (abdominal girth greater than 40 in males, 35 in females)
- Elevated fasting blood sugar level (greater than 100 mg/dl)
- Blood pressure greater than 130/85
- Good cholesterol level less than 40mg/dl
- Triglyceride level greater than 150 mg/dl
In order to make the diagnosis, your physician may perform any of the following:
- Fasting blood sugar level
- Fasting lipid profile
- C-reactive protein
- Blood pressure measurement
- Measurement of abdominal girth
- Hemoglobin A1C
- Insulin levels
- Urine measurement for protein
- Calculation of body mass index (BMI)
- Calculation of the New York Heart Association (NYHA) 10 years risk for heart attack
What is the Treatment?
The treatment of the metabolic syndrome includes both treating the underlying conditions and preventing progression of the syndrome to frank diabetes and heart disease. For example, if your blood sugars are elevated, your physician may opt to treat you with an oral glucose lowering medication. Similarly, if your blood pressure is elevated, an antihypertensive medication may be considered. Efforts to reverse the syndrome and prevent progression may include dietary modification and exercise supervision. The goals of these two interventions would be a 10% weight loss in the next 6-12 months and increasing physical activity to 30-60 minutes four or more times per week as judged by your physician.
How Can I take Care of Myself?
The best treatment for the metabolic syndrome is prevention. For those who have been diagnosed with this condition, managing weight (maintaining an idea body mass index), decreasing carbohydrates and saturated fat in the diet, regular exercise, and managing stress are the cornerstones of self care.
1) Cinnamon – Preliminary studies have been encouraging, showing blood sugar lowering with as little as ¾ teaspoon (2 capsules) daily. Taking cinnamon along with other diabetic medications could cause the blood sugar to drop lower than expected and could result in hypoglycemia (too low a blood sugar level). Consult with your physician prior to using cinnamon as a remedy. For more info: Healthy Eating – Cinnamon
2) Asian Bitter Melon – Has not been extensively studied in humans, but test tube studies have shown a blood sugar lowering effect. Care should be exercised when taking Bitter Melon with glucose lowering medications as it can potentiate their effects.
3) Chromium – Chromium, a trace element, works by aiding insulin to transport glucose into cells. Take up to 1,000 micrograms of GTF chromium daily.
4) Blueberries – Blue berries have been found to lower abdominal fat, triglycerides, cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar in research performed on rats. Preliminary human studies have shown a health benefit. When consumed as a part of a well balanced diet, blueberries may help prevent the metabolic syndrome. Caution should be used when taking blueberries in combination with blood sugar lowering medications as they can potentiate the blood sugar lowering effect.