What is Metabolic Syndrome? (+Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors)

Metabolic syndrome (also known as “Syndrome X”), was first diagnosed by the medical community some twenty years ago. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors or symptoms of an underlying health condition.

The American Heart Association estimates that metabolic syndrome may affect as many as one in every six people. (1) The presence of such risk factors signifies the individual’s risk of developing or having cardiovascular disease, diabetes, adrenal fatigue, or other health issues.

Forty-seven million Americans live with metabolic syndrome and most are unaware that they carry the risk factors that make them vulnerable to cardiovascular disease. (2) Metabolic syndrome is common among the Hispanic, African-American, Native-American and Asian communities, affecting elderly people in most cases.

Here is everything you need to know about metabolic syndrome and how it could affect your health.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome can be best defined as a cluster of various health risk factors. When all risk factors are present, they have a compounding negative health effect that can result in the development of life-threatening events such as a stroke or heart attack. The five risk factors are the following:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Blood Sugar
  • Low HDL (Good Cholesterol)
  • High Total Triglyceride Level
  • Waist size

The presence of these risk factors signify metabolic syndrome and should be a cause for concern. Each risk factor in itself is reason enough to seek medical attention, as it is likely that critical health issues may not be far behind.

The combined effect of these conditions may double your risk of heart disease and stroke while raising the risk of diabetes five-fold when compared to a healthy individual.

People living with metabolic syndrome can experience lethargy, difficulty losing weight, and decreased cognitive ability, alongside poor mood and weakened immune function. (3)

Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

Since metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors with associated health risks, it is challenging to identify the root cause of the condition.

The probable cause of metabolic syndrome is an unhealthy lifestyle. Lack of exercise and poor dietary choices take their toll on the body, and if no healthy choices are made to correct the unhealthy lifestyle, the risk factors can, in fact, lead to negative health consequences.

Like many other medical conditions, genetics play a role in the development of metabolic syndrome. Each individual component of the syndrome may be influeced by genetic factors such as a family history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors Associated with Metabolic Syndrome

Each risk factor has been benchmarked by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a minimum of three of the following five risk factors must be present: (4)

  1. High Blood Pressure: 135/85 mmHg or higher.
  2. High Blood Sugar: A Fasting Glucose Level of 100 mg/dL or greater.
  3. Low HDL (Good Cholesterol) Levels of less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50mg/dL for women.
  4. High Total Triglyceride Level (Cholesterol profile) of 150 mg/dL.
  5. Waist size of 40 inches or greater for men and 35 inches or larger for women.

A sixth risk factor can be included with the five above — the use of any medications to manage any of the above metabolic processes.

If you are feeling tired throughout the day, have a weak appetite and gain weight easily, even though you are not eating very much, you could be living with metabolic syndrome.

The only way to be sure if you have any of the risk factors is to visit your doctor and have blood work done to diagnose your metabolic profile based on the above benchmarks. This can be done a doctor’s office and the sample will be sent to a lab for analysis. (5)

Obesity and Inflammation as Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

Obesity has become an epidemic among Americans. The western diet has been modified over the last forty years to focus on corn, flour, and sugar as the cornerstones of nutrition. Today’s modern diet includes high-calorie meals, snacks, and beverages that are loaded with sodium, sugar and bad fats.

Excess calorie consumption leads to adipose tissue gain (the increase of fat stores). However, the energy provided by these calories is very poor. Refined carbohydrates and trans-saturated fats do not have the same nutritional value as whole-grain carbohydrates, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. (6)

Instead, these foods cause high levels of inflammation in the body. Eating a diet high in sugar, fat, and sodium creates inflammation in the gut. (7) This inflammation disrupts the balance of your gut biomes that are responsible for assimilating your food.

The inflammation can spread to your bloodstream and even your nervous system. Obesity, fatigue, loss of clear, cognitive function, and poor mood resulting in depression, are common symptoms of severe inflammatory effects of a poor diet. (8)

Insulin Resistance & Hormonal Imbalances as Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

A poor diet and its inflammatory effects are responsible for the reduced or impaired production of many hormones in the body that are responsible for the following metabolic processes:

  • Thyroid hormone
  • Ghrelin & Leptin
  • Testosterone & Estrogen

The most immediately-felt hormonal imbalance that comes from a poor diet and elevated blood-glucose levels occur with insulin.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by your pancreas to assist your body in managing rising blood sugar while it is digesting carbohydrates. When refined sugars are consumed regularly and blood sugar levels are elevated for a prolonged period, insulin loses its effect.

This condition is termed ‘insulin insensitivity’, eventually leading to the onset of diabetes, with the need for self-administration of exogenous insulin management. (9)

Metabolic Syndrome can also be compounded by ethnicity and age. Mexican-Americans seem to be at highest risk of developing metabolic syndrome as compared to other ethnicities. On the age factor, the older a person is, the greater the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. It is also observed that a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome may be associated with people who have had a history of polycystic ovary syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or cardiovascular disease. (10)

Why is Metabolic Syndrome so Dangerous?

The negative health markers associated with metabolic syndrome are symptoms of underlying health conditions. The negative health markers indicate that your circulatory and cardiovascular system are undergoing enormous amounts of stress from certain health conditions that remain undiagnosed, thus putting a person at risk of a medical event.

Ignoring the symptoms increases a person’s risk of a major, life-threatening event like a heart attack or stroke. Metabolic syndrome markers should, therefore, be taken seriously and medical attention sought, to avoid any medical emergency. (11)

Treating Metabolic Syndrome – Changing Lifestyle to Mitigate Risk

Your doctor may suggest a myriad of medications to treat the symptoms of metabolic syndrome such as those to reduce blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol. However, one helpful way to address metabolic syndrome would be through improving your lifestyle and your diet.

Exposure to the key risk factors outlined earlier can be limited through implementing sensible dietary choices and an appropriate exercise regimen. By reducing your intake of sodium, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats, you mitigate a huge part of the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

The benefits of eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables include lowered blood glucose levels, improved cholesterol profile, better vitality and lowered levels of inflammation. (12)

By exercising regularly, you also improve your general circulation and cardiovascular health, and maintain a healthy weight.

Having a regular physical exam will also help prevent metabolic syndrome by tracking the risk factors related to the condition.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Struggling with changing your diet is a common issue to those living with metabolic syndrome. Habits are hard to break and often people fail to change and continue with their lifestyles, sliding deeper into ill-health.

Should you feel the need for help, enlist the services of a trained, experienced nutritionist and trainer to assist with your efforts. A trainer and nutritionist will take care of all the planning and monitoring of your diet & training.

Last but not the least, always seek the advice of a doctor or a medical professional for any health issues or before embarking on any diet or exercise program.

Your Health in the Future

Health is wealth. If you believe you may be showing symptoms of metabolic syndrome, speak to your doctor immediately. Do not waste time. Under the supervision of your doctor, you may also arrange a consultation with a nutrition specialist and exercise professional to develop a customized exercise, diet and supplementation plan.

Also, it’s important to note that adrenal fatigue symptoms may be similar to those of metabolic syndrome. If you have either metabolic syndrome or adrenal fatigue, it’s likely that you’ll also develop the other unless you commit to change.

Changing your approach to how you eat and exercise can seem like a challenge that may be impossible. In this case, ‘The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’ would be life-saving advice. Change is never easy, but it is necessary if you value your wellbeing and hope to live a long and healthy life.

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