Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term used to describe a group of factors that raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s estimated that almost a quarter of adult Americans have metabolic syndrome. It’s linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices and certain genetic factors. But here’s the good news: you can bring metabolic syndrome under control by making certain lifestyle adjustments. In some cases, if lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough, medicines are used to treat the condition.
Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of these five factors:
- high blood pressure (130/85 mm/Hg and higher);
- waist size of 40 inches and more in men and 35 inches and more in women;
- triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL and higher;
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels lower than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women;
- fasting glucose levels of 100 mg/dL or higher.
As you can see, all of these factors are measurable. If you suspect you may have metabolic syndrome, your doctor can measure your blood pressure and order blood cholesterol and blood sugar tests.
Risk factors for developing metabolic syndrome
Factors that put you at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome include the following:
- having a close blood relative with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease
- being of African-American, Mexican-American, Asian, or Native American descent
- older age
- insulin resistance
- lack of physical activity
- having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy
- having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome
Treatment and prevention of metabolic syndrome lie in changing certain lifestyle aspects that cause the condition:
- Eat a healthier diet. Exclude processed foods and trans fats from your diet, and limit saturated fats, sugar, and salt. Doctors recommend the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet for people who are at risk of metabolic syndrome or already have it.
- Get more exercise. It’s easier said than done, but it is immensely beneficial in the long run. The goal is to exercise on most days of the week; the optimal amount is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, ask your doctor what amount and what type of exercise is safe for you. You don’t have to hit the gym every day right from the beginning – brisk walking when you have the time or cycling is great for the start. Make exercising your habit and gradually increase the amount of activity you get.
- Lose weight in a healthy way. Weight loss as a result of healthy eating and exercise is much better for your overall health than crash dieting or weight-loss surgery.
- Monitor your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol. If your doctor has told you that you have metabolic syndrome or are at risk of developing it, ask him or her how often you need to have tests to monitor the success of your treatment and your own steps to improve it.
- Don’t smoke. It’s not yet clear whether smoking increases blood pressure, but the habit is known to contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which puts you at a higher risk of a heart attack and other cardiovascular events. If you don’t smoke, good for you! But if you do, ask your doctor about ways to quit.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines for a specific aspect of metabolic syndrome (e.g. ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, or statins for high blood cholesterol). Your doctor may also recommend taking small doses of aspirin to reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke.