Metabolic syndrome is the term for a collection of risk factors that increase the likelihood of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. A person has to have three or more of the metabolic risk factors to be classified as having metabolic syndrome.
The five metabolic risk factors are:
A large waist (“abdominal obesity”): This condition is more popularly referred to as “having an apple shaped figure”. Studies show that large amounts of excess stomach fat increase your risk of heart disease more than excess fat in other parts of the body. Abdominal obesity is having a waist measurement of 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men.
High Triglyceride level: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood that your bodies produces with the excess calories you don’t need for energy. Triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL or higher are a metabolic risk factor. You also qualify for this risk factor if you are taking medication to treat high triglyceride levels.
A low HDL level: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is also known as “good” cholesterol. It is good because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. Low HDL levels are 40 mg/dL (1.04 mmol/L) or less in men and 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L) in women. You also qualify for this risk factor if you are taking medication to treat low HDL.
High Blood Pressure: Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing outwards on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it through your body. Prolonged high blood pressure is damaging to your heart and can lead to plaque build up. Blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher (or being on medicine to treat high blood pressure) is a metabolic risk factor. (The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.) If only one of your two blood pressure numbers is high, you’re still at risk for metabolic syndrome.
High Fasting Blood Sugar: High fasting blood sugar is an indicator of early diabetes. A fasting blood sugar of between 100-125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes, and a fasting blood sugar of 126 or higher is considered diabetes. A fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher, or being on medication to control high blood sugar is considered a metabolic risk factor.
Metabolic syndrome is caused by poor diet, obesity, and lack of physical activity, which are all products of lifestyle. However there are other uncontrollable factors that increase the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome. Risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age. In addition, genetics can add to your chances of developing metabolic syndrome, if you have a parent or sibling with diabetes you have a higher chance of developing insulin resistance. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome also have a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome affects populations differently as well. Mexican and African American women are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than the men of those ethnicities. However white men and women have the same rates of metabolic syndrome. In the United States some racial and ethnic groups are at higher risk of metabolic syndrome than others. Mexican Americans have the highest rates of metabolic syndrome, followed by African Americans and caucasians.
Your doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome by doing a physical exam and taking some blood tests. To qualify as having metabolic syndrome you need to have at least three of the five risk factors.
The best treatment for metabolic syndrome is making simple lifestyle changes. Following a healthy diet, like the diet, that reduces insulin resistance and balances metabolic hormones will result in weight loss and reduce fasting blood sugar. Reducing your BMI to 25 or less will decrease risk of complications from metabolic syndrome. Other lifestyle changes include exercising, you should get 30 minutes a day, and quitting smoking.
If lifestyle modifications are not enough your doctor can prescribe you medications to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.