What You Need To Know About Metabolic Syndrome

Although a recently identified condition, there is a lot you should understand about this cluster of deadly—but preventable—risk factors.

It’s rather new to the medical lexicon—first identified just 20 years ago—but metabolic syndrome, a serious health condition, is hardly uncommon. Though preventable and treatable, it affects almost 34 percent of American adults, according to the American Heart Association. Of those affected, 40 percent are over the age of 60, according to the Mayo Clinic. Driven by increasing obesity rates in adults, metabolic syndrome may eventually surpass smoking as the top risk factor for heart disease, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors, rather than a single disease, according to Bonnie Wolf Greenwald, MD, an endocrinologist affiliated with White Plains Hospital. If you have metabolic syndrome, your risk of diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, as well as type-2 diabetes, is markedly increased, she says. 

If you’re overweight, don’t exercise enough, and consume a high-carb diet, you’re at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is closely linked to insulin resistance (wherein the body can’t use insulin properly), according to the Mayo Clinic.

Race and gender are factors, too: Caucasians are at a greater risk than African Americans, and the rates are higher in women than in men. 

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There’s no specific test for metabolic syndrome, says Greenwald, but there are tests for each component of it. Still, she warns, “even if you’re on medication to treat that particular component, it still counts as part of the criteria for metabolic syndrome.” 

In order for metabolic syndrome to be diagnosed, three or more of the following must be present: 

1. Abdominal obesity: waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women. 

2. High triglycerides: greater than or equal to 150 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL, of blood 

3. Low HDL (or “healthy”) cholesterol: less than 40 mg/dL for men; less than 50 mg/dL for women  

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4. Blood pressure: greater than or equal to 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)

5. Impaired fasting glucose: greater than or equal to 100 mg/dL

According to Geralyn Plomitallo, MS, RD, clinical nutrition manager at White Plains Hospital, “The best ways to reduce the risk of, or deal with, metabolic syndrome are to keep your intake of saturated and trans fat to a minimum. That means avoiding processed foods and things like ice cream, sausage, bacon, pizza, and burgers,” she says. And aim to eat fish that is high in omega-3 fats—salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna—at least twice a week.”

Plomitallo also favors food plans like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which emphasize plant-based foods, whole grains, legumes, and nuts; low-fat or non-fat dairy foods, lean meats, fish, and poultry; healthy fats such as olive oil; and herbs and spices instead of salt. 

If you’re overweight, losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can make a big difference, Greenwald emphasizes. She advises her patients to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise almost every day of the week.  “Because we’re seeing metabolic syndrome occur more frequently in children and adolescents, the most important thing we can do for our families is to change our lifestyle and set a good example for our children.” 

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Maintaining healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way to preventing or managing the health risks that add up to metabolic syndrome. 

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