If you are overweight, then you could have metabolic syndrome, which affects as many as one in three adults. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of abdominal obesity with other heart disease risk factors such as raised triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Having metabolic syndrome is described as a cardiovascular time bomb as it doubles your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart attack or stroke. If you are overweight, you could have metabolic syndrome.
Before reading any further, find a tape-measure and check the size of your waist in centimetres. If it’s greater than 80cm and you are female, or if it’s larger than 94cm and you are male, then chances are that you do have metabolic syndrome. The good news is, if you do, there are lots of things you can do to improve your health before it deteriorates any further. The bad news is, if you ignore the warning signs and carry on with your current diet and lifestyle, without losing a significant amount of excess weight, your future health is at risk. At least 80% of people with metabolic syndrome will develop type 2 diabetes if they don’t take steps to avoid it.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when you have a combination of any three of the following:
- – a high blood pressure (130/85 mmHg or greater)
- – raised triglyceride levels (greater than 150mg/dl (1.7 mmol/L)
- – low levels of ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol (less than 40mg/dL or 1.03 mmol/L for men, less than 50mg/dL or 1.29mmol/L for women)
- – high fasting blood glucose levels (100mg/dL or 5.6 mmol/L or higher)
- – abdominal obesity (BMI over 30kg/M2) or an increased waist circumference of 80cm or more for females, 94cm or more for Caucasian males, 90cm or more for South Asian or Chinese males.
The most easily identified sign of metabolic syndrome is central obesity – in other words, having a large waist or ‘beer belly’. Compared with fat cells elsewhere in your body, those packed around your internal organs are unusually active. This visceral fat leaks fatty acids into the circulation and produces a number of hormones that are associated with insulin resistance.
Once cells lose their sensitivity to insulin hormone, your blood glucose levels stay higher than normal after eating carbohydrates. Your pancreas tries to overcome this by making more and more insulin to help push excess glucose into fat cells for storage. This sets the scene for a vicious circle in which your waistline gets bigger and bigger, your cells become less and less sensitive to insulin, and your insulin and glucose levels keep rising. Eventually, your glucose levels may rise enough for your doctor to diagnose type 2 diabetes. Paradoxically, this form of obesity-related diabetes is often associated with high insulin levels, although eventually your pancreas may become fatigued, so that insulin production stops and type-1 diabetes (associated with lack of insulin) develops.
Lose some excess weight
If you are overweight with a big waist, it is important to see your doctor, who can screen you for raised blood pressure and check your blood fat and glucose levels. Your doctor may prescribe a number of drugs to improve your health, and it is important to take these as prescribed. There are also things you can do yourself that have the potential to reverse metabolic syndrome altogether. Although the tendency towards insulin resistance may be inherited, it is usually acquired due to lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of exercise and eating excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates.
People with metabolic syndrome need to lose excess weight, exercise regularly (which in itself can lower glucose levels, blood pressure and blood fat levels) and switch to a low glycemic diet that does not cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
While the traditional low-fat, calorie-controlled diet is also an option, people with metabolic syndrome tend to find it difficult to lose weight following this approach which encourages a high carbohydrate intake – the very food types that trigger insulin release in the body.
Supplements for metabolic syndrome
Several supplements can help to improve metabolic syndrome:
- Chromium helps to regulate blood sugar levels by improving insulin resistance in muscle cells. It may only help people who are chromium deficient but, as this is relatively common, there is little harm in trying a chromium supplement at a dose of 200mcg – 400mcg daily for a few months to see if it helps.
- Alpha-lipoic acid helps to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake into muscle cells.
- Conjugated linoleic acid helps to improve insulin resistance in fat cells.
- Coenzyme Q10 helps to improve the function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
- Pycnogenol pine bark extracts can significantly improve glucose tolerance through a mechanism that is not yet fully understood.
Omega-3 fish oils also have a useful protective effect on the heart and circulation to reduce the inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome.