What is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is also known as Syndrome X. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that together cause a health problem. It’s like a room with one book left on the floor being just a room with one book on the floor, but a room with heaps of books on the floor becomes a pigsty. Consequently ‘metabolic syndrome’ is a collection of metabolic symptoms that, when you have them altogether, it significantly increases your risk of developing diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Metabolic Syndrome is diagnosed when three or more of the following measures are recorded:
Blood pressure of >130/85 mmHg
Fasting blood glucose of >6.1mmol/L
Waist circumference of > 102cm for men and >88cm for women
Triglycerides of >1.7mmol/L
HDL (good) cholesterol of <1mmol/L for men and <1.3mmol/L for women.
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome in Australia and around the world is increasing. It is not yet known whether this is due to a single cause, but what is known is that all of the risk factors are related to having a high percentage of body fat.
The two most significant risk factors for metabolic syndrome are:
High Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR)
WHR refers to the fat around the mid-section of the body between your hips and waist, known by health professionals as ‘central adiposity’. Weight around this area is particularly bad as it covers your organs.
Insulin is a hormone that is needed to control the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Insulin enables glucose to be delivered from the bloodstream to the cells. Insulin resistance causes blood glucose levels to remain high because the insulin that is being produced doesn’t work as effectively or the muscles are less sensitive to the actions of insulin.
Other risk factors include:
Inadequate physical activity
Genetics/ family history
The goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and also to manage other lifestyle conditions you might have. Therefore, the following interventions should be utilised.
Weight loss is recommended for people who are at risk of developing or have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Weight loss is crucial as it can reduce blood pressure, blood sugars and triglycerides, raise HDL (good) cholesterol and improve insulin resistance. Research has shown that even a modest weight loss of 5-10% can significantly improve the health markers associated with metabolic syndrome.
Make sure you talk to your Dietitian to ensure you are having a well balanced diet. This will ensure that you are meeting your nutritional requirements and, if you are overweight or obese, that you are able to lose weight in a healthy way! Some important dietary tips to remember are:
Avoid foods that are high in fat, especially saturated and trans fats
Avoid foods with excessive sugar
Avoid foods which are high in salt
Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to boost your intake of essential vitamins and minerals and to increase your fibre intake.
Physical activity can greatly assist with weight loss. Recommendations are to aim for at least 45 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week (five to seven days per week). If you are mindful of time, it may be beneficial for you to split up your exercise routine over the day; for example three lots of 15 minute walks to and from work or around the school drop-off. Increasing incidental activity, such as walking to the shops instead of driving or taking the stairs as opposed to the lift or escalator can be beneficial as well.
Pharmacotherapy refers to drugs/medications that are used to treat medical conditions. In order to help control the co-morbidities seen in metabolic syndrome, your doctor might prescribe you some medications that can assist in lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and/or blood glucose levels.
If you do smoke cigarettes, it is advisable that you quit smoking. Apart from the many other potentially lethal effects, cigarette smoking contributes to metabolic syndrome by increasing blood pressure.