Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke.
The term "metabolic" refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body's normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease.
In this post, "heart disease" refers to coronary heart disease or CHD. CHD is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries.
Plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, reducing blood flow to your heart muscle. This can lead to chest pain, a heart attack, heart damage, or even death.
Metabolic Risk Factors
The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors. You can have any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. Typically, you must have three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity. Excess fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips or thighs.
- A high triglyceride level (or you're on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
- A low HDL cholesterol level (or you're on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). HDL sometimes is called "good" cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.
- High blood pressure (or you're on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.
- High fasting blood sugar (or you're on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.
Your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke increases with the number of metabolic risk factors you have. In general, a person who has metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes as someone who doesn't have metabolic syndrome.
Other risk factors, besides those described above, also increase your risk for heart disease. For example, a high LDL cholesterol level and smoking are major risk factors for heart disease, but they aren't part of metabolic syndrome.
Having even one risk factor raises your risk for heart disease. You should try to control every risk factor you can to reduce your risk.
The risk of having metabolic syndrome is closely linked to being overweight and obesity and a lack of physical activity. Insulin resistance also may increase your risk for metabolic syndrome.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body can't use its insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells where it's used for energy. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels, and it's closely linked to being overweight and obesity.
Genetics and older age are other factors that may play a role in causing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is becoming more common due to a rise in obesity rates among adults and children. In the future, metabolic syndrome may overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for heart disease.
It is possible to completely prevent or delay metabolic syndrome, mainly with lifestyle changes. A healthy lifestyle is a lifelong commitment. Successfully controlling metabolic syndrome requires long-term effort and teamwork with your health care providers, family, friends, and your health coach.
Tips for preventing metabolic syndrome
1. Lose weight
Studies show that losing even 10% of your body weight can help:
- Lower triglycerides
- Raise good HDL cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar
Weight loss is vital if you have a lot of fat around your middle. Your goal for preventing metabolic syndrome is to have a waist measurement of less than 35 inches for women or less than 40 inches for men.
2. Eat Well
Making healthy food choices can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Here are some tips:
- Get 21-38 grams of fiber each day from fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Choose lean sources of protein such as skinless poultry, lean meat, fish, tofu, beans and lentils.
- Keep dietary cholesterol under 200 mg/day by limiting eggs and full-fat dairy products.
- Keep saturated and trans fat low by choosing less deep-fried food, baked goods, fatty meat, full-fat dairy and fast food.
- Choose unsaturated fats such as oil or non-hydrogenated margarine instead of butter.
- Avoid salty processed foods including soup, deli meat, frozen entrees, canned goods and sauces.
- Cut out alcohol.
3. Be active
Aim to be active for at least 30 minutes each day. Regular exercise can help reduce weight and blood pressure levels. Increasing exercise to 60 minutes each day can increase the benefit. If you’re new to physical activity, talk to a personal trainer or a fitness expert to get started.
4. Quit smoking
Smoking remains as the leading cause of heart disease, so it is important to quit.
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